Kleptocracy for Beginners


For decades those of the political left – or, these days, of the political centre (so far as directional descriptions of political persuasion are of any utility) – have been voicing concern about the born to rule mentality displayed by so many on the “right” side of politics. Bushfire Bill aptly describes this attitude as most recently incarnate in Mr Tony Abbott as a con, a scam, a Pea-and-Thimble trick. I have conceptualised it for as long as I can remember as kleptocracy (or “rule by thieves”):

… a form of political and government corruption where the government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials and the ruling class at the expense of the wider population …

Kleptocracy has been with us for thousands of years, and manifests itself in a variety of ways – think, for example, of the American robber barons of the 19th century. Then there’s late 20th – early 21st century Wall Street …

What interests me just now is the origin of this latest manifestation of unbridled immorality, arrogance and cupidity of our modern kleptocrats. A trawl through my magpie collection provided some interesting articles, and I have cut-and-pasted some relevant snippets below. I have also provided links to the complete articles for energetic patrons to peruse at their leisure.

First off the rank, from today’s edition of AlterNet, are Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks:

Ayn Rand’s Gospel of Selfishness and Billionaire Empowerment Is Plaguing America

Thirty years after her death, Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness and billionaire empowerment rules the world. It’s a remarkable achievement for an ideology that was pushed to the fringes for most of her life, and ridiculed on national television in a notorious interview with Mike Wallace.

But, it’s happened. And today, the United States and other independent governments around the world are crumbling while Ayn Rand’s billionaires are taking over.

With each new so-called Free Trade agreement – especially the very secretive Trans Pacific Partnership, which has less to do with trade and more to do with a new law of global governance for transnational corporations – Ayn Rand’s reviled “state” (or what we would call our democracy, the United States of America) is losing its power to billionaires and transnational corporations.

Ayn Rand hated governments and democracy. She considered them systems of mob rule. She grew up in Russia, and as a child watched the Bolsheviks confiscate her father’s pharmacy during the Russian Revolution. Likely suffering from PTSD from that incident, Ayn Rand devoted her future writings to evil government, including the “evil” of its functions like taxation, regulation, and providing social services to the poor and sick.

She divided the world into makers and takers (or what she called “looters”).

On one side are the billionaires and the industrialists. People like Dagny Taggert, a railroad tycoon, and Hank Rearden, a steel magnate. Both were fictional characters in her book Atlas Shrugged, but both have real-world counterparts in the form of the Koch Brothers, the Waltons, and Sheldon Adelson. According to Rand, they are the “Atlases” holding up the world.

So, in Atlas Shrugged, when the billionaires, tired of paying taxes and complying with government regulation, go on strike, Ayn Rand writes that the American economy promptly collapsed.

On the other side are the “looters,” or everyone else who isn’t as rich or privileged, or who believed in a democratic government to provide basic services, empower labor unions, and regulate the economy. They are the leeches on society according to Rand (and according to Mitt Romney with his 47% comments). And, as she told Mike Wallace in in 1959, they do not even “deserve love.”

To our Founding Fathers, looking out for the general welfare of the population was an explicit role of the government, one of its most important and the reason this nation was created when we separated from Britian.

But to Ayn Rand, a government that taxed billionaires to help pay for healthcare and education for impoverished children was not just unwise economically, it was also immoral.

Nature abhors a vacuum – both in the wild and in politics. So, when people, organized in the form of a government, are removed from power, then money organized in the form of corporations and billionaires moves into the vacuum to take power – which is exactly what’s happening today, worldwide.

In the thirty years after her death, the United States crept closer and closer to Ayn Rand’s utopia. Reagan dramatically slashed taxes on the rich and went after labor unions. Clinton deregulated financial markets for the rich, ended welfare as we know it, and committed our nation to one globalist corporate free trade agreement after another.

Next, an article by Firmin DeBrabander analysing the position of the (then) Republican presidential candidates in late 2011:

The Wrath of Ayn Rand

Many have commented on the remarkable callousness fashioned by this Republican presidential field. Most prominently, Herman Cain maintained that the poor and unemployed are responsible for their own plight; Ron Paul claimed that people who refrain from buying health insurance but become debilitated should not be bailed out by government healthcare—they should just die instead, his audience helpfully suggested (or hollered, rather); and just about all the candidates have recommended ever harsher, ever more absurd measures to keep out poor immigrants on our border with Mexico: double fences, electric fences, even soldiers with ‘real guns and real bullets,’ as Herman Cain put it.

What’s driving this show of meanness? You might say it’s just what the electorate—or some loud part thereof—wants. It seems like there are some seriously angry voters out there these days, and I’m sure the recession is taking a toll on people’s patience and generosity. And yet, I suspect this is no fleeting trend, but something with deeper ideological roots. In short, I sense Ayn Rand.

Rand has always had a good following, but her popularity has surged in recent years as conservatives repeatedly invoked her to counter Obama’s “Socialist” agenda. She has an impressive roster of conservative devotees: Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ron Paul. Paul’s son, Senator Rand Paul quoted Ayn Rand at length during a congressional committee meeting this past year—to argue against government mandates for energy efficient light bulbs, of all things. Congressman Paul Ryan, the rising star from Wisconsin who drafted the Republican’s celebrated plan to slash the federal budget, reportedly urges all his staffers to read her works.

This is a powerful fan-base, and many have feared the consequences of Rand’s influence. I think we are seeing it now, for there are clear strains of her venom in the excesses of the Republican candidates—and beyond. Her trademark callousness is increasingly evident throughout our political discourse regarding the poor and vulnerable of society. The congressional super-committee charged with agreeing on a trillion dollars in federal deficit reduction is reportedly contemplating cuts to food stamps, while Republicans remain steadfast that taxes not rise on the rich. This, as the recession lingers and poverty rates soar, and we witness the greatest concentration of wealth among the rich since the 1920s. The Republican stance is mind-boggling in these circumstances—but Rand would certainly approve; indeed, she might favor far worse.

Is there any cure from this dreadful dystopian disease? Sara Robinson, writing in AlterNet earlier this year, has some interesting suggestions:

How the Ayn Rand-Loving Right Is Like a Bunch of Teen Boys Gone Crazy

If, as George Lakoff says, we view politics through the metaphor of family, then Mother’s Day is a good time to ask the question: Where’s Mom in this picture? What are all those dirty socks and pizza boxes doing in the living room? (Seriously: it looks like a frat house in here.) Who’s been drinking the beer I hid in the basement fridge?

And, sweet mother of God: how did we end up letting the 16-year-old boys take over the entire household?

Make no mistake: all this Ayn Rand libertarian me-first-and-the-rest-of-you- go-to-hell stuff — the there’s-no-government-like-no- government theology that’s now being piously intoned as Holy Received Truth by everybody, male and female, in the GOP — is, very precisely, the kind of politics you’d come up with if you were a 16-year-old boy trying to explain away his dependence on Mom.

Parents? I don’t have any parents. I raised myself, on roots and berries and small vermin I dug up in vacant lots. That lady hanging around, feeding me and nagging me and picking up my socks and driving me to practice? She’s just the nanny state. That bitch. I hate her.

Society? There’s no such thing as society. There’s only what I want right now, which is the ultimate good in my universe. And what I want right now is more time on the XBox, pizza money, and the keys to the family car.

The future? If I pursue everything I want now, then the future will magically take care of its self. Dinner will appear. So will clean socks and the next-gen XBox.

Obligations? I am God’s gift to the world. I don’t owe it anything. In fact: it owes me — just for being so magnificent, cute and special. (Even my mom thinks so.)

On behalf of America’s mothers, let me say: I have had enough of this. I don’t care how cute they are: it’s high time these so-called “libertarian” freeloaders get off the couch, stand up, and show some respect to the rest of us who’ve done the hard work that makes their cushy lives possible.

You know what I want for Mother’s Day? I want these so-called “self-made men” to grow up and get a life.

Until humans evolve into a higher altruistic state, I suspect that we are stuck with the kleptocrats. However, I for one refuse to give in: boo sucks to “If you can’t beat them, join them”!


1,493 thoughts on “Kleptocracy for Beginners

  1. Parliament does not sit again until the 12th March. Cant see why the 100 dam policy cant be debated in parly this afternoon

  2. Someone in the Liberal Party is going over ancient pie-in-the-sky ideas and reworking them as discussion papers. Someone is then ‘leaking’ them to the OM. A while back we had Fatty O’Barrell’s brainwave to put the ancient Cumberland Scheme back into action. I studied that when I was at high school in 1963, it was ancient back then and as pretty much all the land once reserved for highways was flogged off decades ago it isn’t going to happen.

    Then we had the ‘Tony’s Gone Troppo’ leak, the whole thing plagiarised from Gina Rinehart’s wishlist and poetic works.

    Now we have a ‘leak’ about water and dams. The ideas are decades old, some a century old. How’s that for a fresh new approach? All that’s missing from the discussion paper is a plan to tow icebergs up from Antarctica. Have a look at this to see for yourselves just how original Abbott’s plans are.

    We all know that none of these grand schemes will ever happen, but releasing discussion papers will fool the stupid masses into thinking Abbot has a vision for this country. All he really has is a vison of himself in the Lodge.

  3. [What works politically is in fact a compelling, ahem, narrative – whether it be manufactured from fact or fiction is not really to the point.

    Which is what the left and Labor doesn’t get. Fact checks, the record-correcting fleets of the blogosphere … these things have right on their side but they are not making the winning argument.]


    That is why i believe the Brough case matters, and the govt should pursue the coalition as playing dirty.

  4. but releasing discussion papers will fool the stupid masses into thinking Abbot has a vision for this country.

    Which is exactly why they’re being leaked. Alternatively, how to create the appearance of having policies without actually having any policies.

  5. B.Bill,
    Re Grattan, I honestly think she doesn’t care. That, or she has such a massive opinion of herself that she sees herself as being above criticism. Since her debut, she has copped an absolute pizzling. I was going to comment on her latest, which I though was pretty pathetic in that it was all cut and paste (in the finest Alan Ramsay manner) but I thought I would cut her some slack. Not to worry – someone else just jumped in with a word count and gave her the rounds of the kitchen. I wonder if she will last? It is certainly a less than dream debut.

  6. Grattan would have to have had a reality check – both from the readers comments, most of which were scathing – and surely from the Editor/Publisher of The Conversation who have their reputation to protect. I would suggest that she may be ‘reviewing her options’, although I question the judgement of those who hired her, given that her scribblings have not varied for years.

    A strange hiring for a fairly upmarket publication.

  7. Roy Orbison,
    Can you imagine the sturm und drang from Michelle Grattan if Julia Gillard had made such an inauspicious debut in a new job? 🙂

    You are correct also to allude to her hide of a Rhinoceros. Though it’s not hard to miss. 😉

  8. Just got a “welcome letter” from the SMH. My response…

    “I received an email with reference xxx, allegedly confirming my “subscription”. I do not know where this came from because I have no intention of subscribing to your publication now or at any time in the future. I contacted you recently about another one of your attempts and you didn’t bother to reply. I assume this will be the same.

    I do not intend to read the biased rubbish you serve up (it will be used to wrap scraps or be binned) and I certainly do not intend on paying for it. As long as you continue to employ poisonous writers like Sheehan and refuse to follow up obvious scandals like the Ashby/Brough one, I suspect you will continue to lose readers.

    I don’t know where you got my details from but please remove them and cancel this bogus subscription immediately.

  9. CM,
    They might have tin ears but they don’t have bottomless pockets. They might not listen to me but they will take notice of tens of thousands of those silently missing…

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