I was recently asked to write about how the U.S. evolved from a democracy to a kleptocracy. How it happened is straightforward, but the history of it happening in the U.S. is long and complicated, and one could easily write several books on the topic. So I will limit this blog to how it happened in general.
But first, a couple of simple definitions:
Democracy: governance by the people
Republic: governance by representatives elected by the people to serve the people
Kleptocracy: governance by people who serve themselves
In order to understand how governments work (or don’t work), it’s important to consider human nature. Government, after all, is nothing more than a group of people who make and enforce laws. There are a lot of differences among people, but there are also a lot of similarities and among the similarities is a certain amount of thievery in all humans.
Given that there’s a certain amount of thievery in all of us, we don’t trust anyone to run our government alone so we established a government with lots of people, divided into separate groups, each with separate powers, so that no one person or group has all the power. On top of that we set up a system whereby the people who run our government are in turn elected (hired and fired), by the people whom they serve. We call this a Republic (we don’t have a democracy) and it essentially gives the people management authority over those who run our government.
Now, any good manager knows that in order to manage subordinates effectively, it is necessary to monitor their activities and progress to ensure that goals are being met and that corrective action can be taken when goals are not met. This requires diligence on the part of the manager and objective observation and analyses of his subordinates’ activities and the results thereof. It also requires intelligent planning and execution of remedial actions when needed to correct problems.
This may appear as a blinding flash of the obvious, but I need to stress it because it is the principal cause of dysfunction and failure in our government. We, the people, are the ultimate managers of our government. (Anyone who denies that must also deny that we are a republic or a democracy in any sense of the words.) Our elected officials are our subordinates and they are there to serve us, not themselves. But, in fact, they are not. Instead, they are serving only themselves and a small group of wealthy donors and corporate executives who spend heavily on their election campaigns.
People try to blame the donor class for purchasing our elected officials and no doubt the money spent on advertising presently dominates our politics and elections. But the members of the donor class only get one vote each and corporations get none, so it’s the votes from the rest of us that determine who runs our government. Through advertising and media hyperbole the donor class can influence us, but only if we allow it. We don’t have to believe them or even listen to them. That we do willingly – instead of taking time and effort to conduct our own independent inquiry and analyses. Through our own negligence, we often elect people who are dishonest, greedy, and unfit to run our government.
Need evidence? Consider that Congress has an approval rating less than 20%, but 90% of members of Congress are re-elected year after year after year. Consider how many people recently voted for a convicted child molester. Consider how many people presently support a president who is misogynist, a racist, a cheat, a liar and an obvious kleptocrat.
No, we can’t blame the donor class, corporations or the politicians for the failure of government to serve the people. We must blame ourselves for failure to manage those we elect to run our government. By not managing them properly, we have allowed the government to be infested with kleptocrats whose only goal is to serve themselves at our expense.
That’s how we, the people, through willful negligence, have allowed our government to become a kleptocracy.