Bill Black: Is it Cynical to Believe the System is Corrupt?

Jerri-Lynn here. This Real News Network interview with Bill Black evaluates evidence that the US political and economic system is corrupt. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows most US citizens believe the political and economic system is rigged against them, and Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren also echo this sentiment. Black is a a white collar criminologist, former financial regulator, and associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He’s also the author of the book, The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and a frequent contributor to Naked Capitalism.

GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.

A new opinion poll released by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal last Sunday shows that 70% of Americans are “angry” because our political system seems to only be working for the insiders with money and power. Both Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren have also reflected on this sentiment during their campaigns. Sanders has said that we live in a “corrupt political system designed to protect the wealthy and the powerful.” Warren said it’s a “rigged system that props up the rich and powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else.”

A New York Times opinion article written by the political scientist Greg Weiner felt compelled to push back on this message, writing a column with the title, The Shallow Cynicism of ‘Everything Is Rigged’. In his column, Weiner basically makes the argument that believing everything is corrupt and rigged is a cynical attitude with which it is possible to dismiss political opponents for being a part of the corruption. In other words, the Sanders and Warren argument is a shortcut, according to Weiner, that avoids real political debate.

Joining me now to discuss whether it makes sense to think of a political system as rigged and corrupt, and whether the cynical attitude is justified, is someone who should know a thing or two about corruption: Bill Black. He is a white collar criminologist, former financial regulator, and associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He’s also the author of the book, The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One. Thanks for joining us again, Bill.

BILL BLACK: Thank you.

GREG WILPERT: As I mentioned that the outset, it seems that Sanders and Warren are in effect taking an open door, at least when it comes to the American public. That is, almost everyone already believes that our political and economic system is rigged. Would you agree with that sentiment that the system is corrupt and rigged for the rich and against pretty much everyone else but especially the poor? What do you think?

BILL BLACK: One of the principal things I study is elite fraud, corruption and predation. The World Bank sent me to India for months as an anti-corruption alleged expert type. And as a financial regulator, this is what I dealt with. This is what I researched. This is a huge chunk of my life. So I wouldn’t use the word, if I was being formal in an academic system, “the system.” What I would talk about is specific systems that are rigged, and they most assuredly are rigged.

Let me give you an example. One of the most important things that has transformed the world and made it vastly more criminogenic, much more corrupt, is modern executive compensation. This is not an unusual position. This is actually the normal position now, even among very conservative scholars, including the person who was the intellectual godfather of modern executive compensation, Michael Jensen. He has admitted that he spawned unintentionally a monster because CEOs have rigged the compensation system. How do they do that? Well, it starts even before you get hired as a CEO. This is amazing stuff. The standard thing you do as a powerful CEO is you hire this guy, and he specializes in negotiating great deals for CEOs. His first demand, which is almost always given into, is that the corporation pay his fee, not the CEO. On the other side of the table is somebody that the CEO is going to be the boss of negotiating the other side. How hard is he going to negotiate against the guy that’s going to be his boss? That’s totally rigged.

Then the compensation committee hires compensation specialists who–again, even the most conservative economists agree it is a completely rigged system. Because the only way they get work is if they give this extraordinary compensation. Then, everybody in economics admits that there’s a clear way you should run performance pay. It should be really long term. You get the big bucks only after like 10 years of success. In reality, they’re always incredibly short term. Why? Because it’s vastly easier for the CEO to rig the short-term reported earnings. What’s the result of this? Accounting profession, criminology profession, economics profession, law profession. We’ve all done studies and all of them say this perverse system of compensation causes CEOs to (a) cheat and (b) to be extraordinarily short term in their perspective because it’s easier to rig the short-term reported results. Even the most conservative economists agree that’s terrible for the economy.

What I’ve just gone through is a whole bunch of academic literature from over 40-plus years from top scholars in four different fields. That’s not cynicism. That’s just plain facts if you understand the system. People like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, they didn’t, as you say, kick open an open door. They made the open door. It’s not like Elizabeth Warren started talking about this six months ago when she started being a potential candidate. She has been saying this and explaining in detail how individual systems are rigged in favor of the wealthy for at least 30 years of work. Bernie Sanders has been doing it for 45 years. This is what the right, including the author of this piece who is an ultra-far right guy, fear the most. It’s precisely what they fear, that Bernie and Elizabeth are good at explaining how particular systems are rigged. They explain it in appropriate detail, but they’re also good in making it human. They talk the way humans talk as opposed to academics.

That’s what the right fear is more than anything, that people will basically get woke. In this, it’s being woke to how individual systems have been rigged by the wealthy and powerful to create a sure thing to enrich them, usually at our direct expense.

GREG WILPERT: I think those are some very good examples. They’re mostly from the realm of economics. I want to look at one from the realm of politics, which specifically Weiner makes. He cites Sanders, who says that the rich literally buy elections, and Weiner counters this by saying that, “It is difficult to identify instances in American history of an electoral majority wanting something specific that it has not eventually gotten.” That’s a pretty amazing statement actually, I think, for him to say when you look at the actual polls of what people want and what people get. He then also adds, “That’s not possible to dupe the majority with advertising all of the time.” What’s your response to that argument?

BILL BLACK: Well, actually, that’s where he’s trying to play economist, and he’s particularly bad at economics. He was even worse at economics than he is at political science, where his pitch, by the way is–I’m not overstating this–corruption is good. The real problem with Senator Sanders and Senator Warren is that they’re against corruption.

Can you fool many people? Answer: Yes. We have good statistics from people who actually study this as opposed to write op-eds of this kind. In the great financial crisis, one of the most notorious of the predators that targeted blacks and Latinos–we actually have statistics from New Century. And here’s a particular scam. The loan broker gets paid more money the worse the deal he gets you, the customer, and he gets paid by the bank. If he can get you to pay more than the market rate of interest, then he gets a kickback, a literal kickback. In almost exactly half of the cases, New Century was able to get substantially above market interest rates, again, targeted at blacks and Latinos.

We know that this kind of predatory approach can succeed, and it can succeed brilliantly. Look at cigarettes. Cigarettes, if you use them as intended, they make you sick and they kill you. It wasn’t that very long ago until a huge effort by … pushback that the tobacco companies, through a whole series of fake science and incredible amounts of ads that basically tried to associate if you were male, that if you smoked, you’d have a lot of sex type of thing. It was really that crude. It was enormously successful with people in getting them to do things that almost immediately made them sick and often actually killed them.

He’s simply wrong empirically. You can see it in US death rates. You can see it in … Hell, I’m overweight considerably. Americans are enormously overweight because of the way we eat, which has everything to do with how marketing works in the United States, and it’s actually gotten so bad that it’s reducing life expectancy in a number of groups in America. That’s how incredibly effective predatory practices are in rigging the system. That’s again, two Nobel Laureates in economics have recently written about this. George Akerlof and Shiller, both Nobel Laureates in economics, have written about this predation in a book for a general audience. It’s called Phishing with a P-H.

GREG WILPERT: I want to turn to the last point that Weiner makes about cynicism. He says that calling the system rigged is actually a form of cynicism. And that cynicism, the belief that everything and everyone is bad or corrupt avoids real political arguments because it tires everyone you disagree with as being a part of that corruption. Would you say, is the belief that the system is rigged a form of cynicism? And if it is, wouldn’t Weiner be right that cynicism avoids political debate?

BILL BLACK: He creates a straw man. No one has said that everything and everyone is corrupt. No one has said that if you disagree with me, you are automatically corrupt. What they have given in considerable detail, like I gave as the first example, was here is exactly how the system is rigged. Here are the empirical results of that rigging. This produces vast transfers of wealth to the powerful and wealthy, and it comes at the expense of nearly everybody else. That is factual and that needs to be said. It needs to be said that politicians that support this, and Weiner explicitly does that, says, we need to go back to a system that is more openly corrupt and that if we have that system, the world will be better. That has no empirical basis. It’s exactly the opposite. Corruption kills. Corruption ruins economies.

The last thing in the world you want to do is what Weiner calls for, which he says, “We’ve got to stop applying morality to this form of crime.” In essence, he is channeling the godfather. “Tell the Don it wasn’t personal. It was just business.” There’s nothing really immoral in his view about bribing people. I’m sorry. I’m a Midwesterner. It wasn’t cynicism. It was morality. He says you can’t compromise with corruption. I hope not. Compromising with corruption is precisely why we’re in this situation where growth rates have been cut in half, why wage growth has been cut by four-fifths, why blacks and Latinos during the great financial crisis lost 60% to 80% of their wealth in college-educated households. That’s why 70% of the public is increasingly woke on this subject.

GREG WILPERT: Well, we’re going to leave it there. I was speaking to Bill Black, associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Thanks again, Bill, for having joined us today.

BILL BLACK: Thank you.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.


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  1. fdr-fan

    Well, Sanders certainly knows that elections are rigged. But he’s not quite right when he says that money does the rigging. It would be more accurate to say that powerful people are powerful because they’re criminals, and they’re rich because they’re criminals.

    Money is a side effect, not the driver. Specific example: Hillary and Bernie are in the same category of net worth, but Bernie isn’t powerful. The difference is that Bernie ISN’T willing to commit murder and blackmail to gain power.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > Hillary and Bernie are in the same category of net worth

      Clinton’s net worth (says Google) is $45 million; Sanders $2.5 million. So, an order of magnitude difference. I guess that puts Sanders in the 1% category, but Clinton is much closer to the 0.1% category than Sanders.

      1. Steve H.

        There’s also a billion-dollar foundation in the mix.

        We had our choice of two New York billionaires in the last presidential election. How is this not accounted for? It’s like the bond market, the sheer weight carries its own momentum.

        Very similar to CEO’s. I may not own a private jet, but if the company does, and I control the company, I have the benefit of a private jet. I don’t need to own the penthouse to live in it.

      2. Yves Smith

        One of my private equity friends said in 2016 that the question to ask Hillary was the last time she flew commercial (as opposed to on private jets). He was highly confident that she’d never been on a commercial plane since Bill was president. A log of her travel while she was campaigning (comprehensive for the month to six weeks it showed) revealed she regularly hitched rides on private equity private jets, most often of TPG.

        Another colleague who is a very well plugged in international tax expert thought it was very likely Hillary had not been on a commercial plane since Bill was governor. Merely garden variety rich people in Arkansas have private planes and offer rides freely.

        By contrast, I bet Sanders could count the times he’s been on a private jet on one hand and have fingers left.

    2. Bugs Bunny

      I despise HRC as well but those kinds of accusations would need some real evidence to back them up. Not a helpful comment.

      Sorry, but I had to call that out.

      1. Ian Perkins

        “We came, we saw, he died. Tee hee hee!”
        “Did it have anything to do with your visit?”
        “I’m sure it did.”
        From a non-legal perspective at least, that makes her an accessory to murder, doesn’t it?

      2. Anarcissie

        Clinton’s vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq puts her in the cold-blooded murderer class. By the standards of the Nuremberg Trials, many of the people in power at that time were and are war criminals, and Clinton was certainly one of the people who could be charged with war crimes. (But I suppose she could have pleaded ignorance, incompetence, and indolence in mitigation.) All of this is completely out in the open.

        I don’t know if it should be considered ‘corruption’, however. A crime against humanity is not exactly corrupt if the perpetrators and almost everyone else believe the perpetrators ought to be doing the crime, that it is their duty, their job. It might be better if they were corrupt, if they slacked off. But Clinton, going by some of her other well-known activities, seems to have been enthusiastically industrious at getting people killed — or maimed, tortured, terrorized, raped, starved, impoverished, and the other normal works of war. Not that this makes her much different from a lot of other people.

        1. Ian Perkins

          corrupt (adj.)
          1 morally evil.
          2 involving bribery.
          3 dishonest.
          4 said of a text: so full of errors and alterations as to be unreliable.
          5 computing said of a program or data: containing errors and therefore no longer reliable, eg as a result of a fault in the hardware or software.
          [Chambers 21st Century Dictionary]

      3. Procopius

        I agree that the right wing fairy tales that she explicitly murdered people or directly ordered their murder are absurd, but aside from her open advocacy of the destruction of Libya, have you ever heard of Victoria Nuland? The one who was caught on a recorded telephone call saying, “[Family-blog] the Europeans.” The one who arranged the neo-nazi take-over of Ukraine? Who promoted Victoria Nuland? Who had to approve her coup? There were lots of deaths involved in that, certainly predictable and intended

    3. WestcoastDeplorable

      Last election, Bernie lost me when he didn’t stand up to the DNC for screwing him and his supporters. Instead he accepted the WH visit with Obama, came out with the deed for a beachfront mansion in his pocket and a smile on his face. He’s no more honest or truthful than the rest of the carpetbaggers in D.C.

      I went with Trump and will vote for him again; MAGA 2020. He’s the most solution-based President we will likely ever have in our lifetimes. Just look at what he’s accomplished thus far despite fighting off a coup de ‘tat by his own FBI/DOJ!

      1. katiebird

        NOTHING Trump has done as president has upset you as much as Bernie sticking to his 2016 promise to support the Democratic Nominee?

      2. Temporarily Sane

        Just look at what he’s accomplished thus far despite fighting off a coup de ‘tat by his ownFBI/DOJ

        The attempted internal coup is a massive own goal by the Democrats and the Democrat aligned establishment. Continually flogging the dead Russiagate horse and hyping up Trump’s alleged ‘collusion’ with Putin, but never producing any credible evidence for either, gives Trump instant credibility every time he talks about fake news and the liberal witch hunt against him.

        As for Trump’s accomplishments, not starting any shooting wars (yet) is good but using sanctions to run “enemy” economies into the ground while starving civilians and depriving them of life’s basic necessities is pretty much a description of siege warfare. It’s straight out of the Clinton administration’s Iraq policy playbook. Ripping up the JCPOA and various nuclear arms limitation treaties is shortsighted and dangerous. But the Democrats and their media partners have no real problems here. In fact, they’ve often criticized Trump for not being sufficiently belligerent and they almost lost their minds when he wanted to bring the troops home from Syria.

        We will know in the next few years if Trump’s version of trickledown economics boosts full time employment and brings wages up enough to have a longer term impact. He’s repeating failed strategies of the past that didn’t work then so there’s a very good chance they won’t work now. Of course they will, as designed, keep the 0.1%’s trough well stocked and their gravy trains running on time.

        Donald Trump’s most valuable contribution to American politics is the often impulsive, and very public, slaughtering of sacred cows, beginning with his epic take down of Jeb Bush. It this that most horrifies liberals (and the bipartisan foreign policy establishment), who are used to hiding their nefarious deeds and dedication to neoliberal hegemony with smoothly delivered rhetorical tricks and linguistic mind-familyblogery.

        Notice how it almost always something Trump says that causes the Democrat aligned media and their Twitter signal boosters to fly off the handle and trigger the, by now almost ritual, hysterical outrage spectacles that blast through the mediasphere every few weeks. Nothing freaks out Wall Street’s neoliberal henchmen, er, henchpeople more than someone who doesn’t respect their reality distorting speech codes. What will they do if the language manipulation tricks they use to sweeten their otherwise unpalatable pap before shoving it down the public’s throat no longer has the desired effect? The answer, at least for the time being, is….panic.

    4. Seamus Padraig

      Their personal wealth is not the point at issue. The real issue is who’s behind them. Hillary’s friends run Goldman-Sachs and she’s got George Soros on speed-dial. Can Uncle Bernie say the same? I doubt it.

  2. Tyronius

    Is it fair to say the entire system is rigged when enough interconnected parts of it are rigged that no matter where one turns, one finds evidence of corruption? Because like it or not, that’s where we are as a country.

      1. Susan the other`

        Yes. And it is also fair to say, and has been said by lots of cynics over the centuries, that both democracy and capitalism sow the seeds of their own destruction.

        1. jsn

          Shaw said,”cynicism is a word frequently used to describe accurate perceptions by people who don’t have them.”

  3. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

    Burns me to see yet another “water is not wet” argument being foisted by the NYT, hard to imagine another reason the editorial board pushed for this line *except* to protect the current corrupt one percenters who call their shots. Once Liz The Marionette gets appointed we might get some fluff but the rot will persist, eventually rot becomes putrefaction and the polity dies. Gore Vidal called America and Christianity “death cults”.

    1. inode_buddha

      “Due to technical difficulties, comments are unavailable”

      Pisses me off that I gave the propaganda rag of note a click and didn’t even get the joy of the comments section. I’m sure there’s some cynical reason why…

      1. Barbara

        NYT PicksReader PicksAll

        Ronald Weinstein commented August 26

        Ronald Weinstein
        New YorkAug. 26
        Times Pick

        Shallow cynicism vs profound naivete. I don’t know what to chose.
        57 Recommend

      2. polecat

        Imagine the eds @ the NYT* … as Co. Man Bourke .. staring psychotically at that monitor, hand nervously tapping chin .. then switching it off as Rippedoffly frantically calls for help !
        THAT’S the ethos of these news orgs in a leathery object .. er .. nut shell – more often then not, to promote the f#ckingover of ANYONE without power .. for a percentage, whilst lying about it !

        * and not just the Times – you could throw a dart blindfolded, and hit any one of a number of establishment sycophantic “news” outlets .. including I might add, some internet sites .. who ‘moderate’ opposing comments right off the screen, as if they never existed !

    2. Jeff W

      People do get it. That struck me, too.

      The other thing is that the NYT runs this pretty indefensible piece by a guy who is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Just how often does NYT—whose goal, according to its executive editor, “should be to understand different views”—run a piece from anyone who is leftwing? What’s the ratio of pro-establishment, pro-Washington consensus pieces to those that are not? Glenn Greenwald points out that the political spectrum at the NYT op-ed page “spans the small gap from establishment centrist Democrats to establishment centrist Republicans.” That, in itself, is consistent with the premise that the system is, indeed, rigged.

  4. Spoofs desu

    I think we have to drill down another level and ask ourselves a more fundamental question “why is cynicism necessarily bad to begin with?” Black’s response of parsing to individual systems as being corrupt is playing into the NYT authors trap, sort to speak.

    This NYT article is another version of the seemingly obligatory attribute of the american character; we must ultimately be optimistic and have hope. Why is that useful? Or maybe more importantly, to whom is that useful? What is the point?

    In my mind (and many a philosopher), cynicism is a very healthy, empowering response to a world whose institutional configuration is such that it will to fuck you over whenever it is expedient to do so.

    Furthermore, the act of voting lends legitimacy to an institution that is clearly not legitimate. The institution is very obviously very corrupt. If you really want to change the “system” stop giving it legitimacy; i.e. be cynical, don’t vote. The whole thing is a ruse. Boycott it….

    Some may say, in a desperate attempt to avoid being cynical, “well, the national level is corrupt but we need to increase engagement at the community level via local elections…”, or something like that. This is nothing more than rearranging the chairs on the deck of the titanic. And collecting signature isn’t going to help anymore than handing out buckets on the titanic would.

    So, to answer my own rhetorical question above, “to whom is it useful to not be cynical?” It is useful to those who want things to continue as they currently are.

    So, be cynical. Don’t vote. It is an empowering and healthy way to kinda say “fuck you” to the corrupt and not become corrupted yourself by legitimizing it. The best part about it is that you don’t have to do anything.

    Viva la paz…(Hows that for a non cynical salutation?)

    1. jrs

      Uh this sounds like the ultimate allowing things to continue as they currently are, do you really imagine the powers that be are concerned about a low voting rate, and we have one, they don’t care, they may even like it that way. Do you really imagine they care about some phantom like perceived legitimacy? Where is the evidence of that?

      1. kiwi

        Politicians do care about staying in office and will respond on some issues that will cost them enough votes to get booted from office. But it has to be those particular issues in their own backyard; otherwise, they just kind of limp along with the lip service collecting their paychecks.

        IMO, it is sheer idiocy to not vote. If you are a voter, politicians will pay some attention to you at least. If you don’t vote, you don’t even exist to them.

        1. Spoofs desu

          Thanks for the comment.

          Of course the politicians care about staying in office. Though the people that them there don’t really care which politician it is. The elites don’t really care who you vote for, since in general they are the ones who serve them up.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Michigan voters got marijuana state-legalized by voting to state-legalize it. So voting rather than not-voting worked at that level for that purpose. It may not affect “legitimacy” but it got results.

      2. Spoofs desu

        I think they do care about perceived legitimacy. What do think this whole charade is about? It is certainly not to make sure the will of the people are expressed through a democratic process.

        Consider two simplified scenarios: 1) a 10% voter turn out and nothing changes and massive corruption. 2) 60% voter turnout and nothing changes and Massive corruption. Which scenario is more likely to result in any institutional reform? It seems 1) is more likely. Scenario 2) has no incentive to reform.

        Even if they don’t care about legitimacy as you say, at least you wouldn’t have given them your de facto vote of legitimacy by engaging in the process. And nothing meaningfully changes either way. So, again, why would give them legitimacy by voting.

        One of the main reasons we are constantly being encouraged to hyperventilate about Trump is that it is a way to increase engagement (to use the marketing vernacular) and retention in the process. Engagement/voting lends itself to legitimizing the process.

        Anyway, if it makes one feel better, go ahead and vote if the alternative is complete despair. But I don’t it is healthy for yourself or society in the long run to be delusional. And we shouldn’t be conflating the intentions of our actions (voting for change) with the consequences (legitimizing a corrupt institution) of those same actions.

        Thanks for the comment…

        1. kiwi

          There are a lot of strawmen in your comment, too many to wack individually.

          ‘Nothing changes’ is a strawman. Maybe changes are not to your liking, but politicians do, here and there, cause changes. And some do get dumped for taking unpopular actions.

          I understand the frustration of having only a tiny impact. But if you don’t vote, you have zero impact.

          Why do you think the dems are fighting so hard for non-citizens and promising them the sun, moon, and stars, more than they have ever promised their own voters? Have you ever in your life seen them fight so hard for US citizens? I haven’t. It’s only because they think they will eventually–and likely within a decade or so–mine the votes of non-citizens. They can’t bury the repubs with US citizens’ votes, so, to them, giving voting rights to non-citizens is the only way to bury the repubs.

          Dems are trying to change policies now just to get future votes of the non-citizens.

          1. Spoofs desu

            Thanks for the comment.

            Maybe i should have said “no meaningful change” instead of “nothing changes”

            To answer “why do I think the dems are fighting so hard for non citizens? “…I don’t think they are or have been fighting so hard. It is hot-button-issue used to keep people engaged. I.e. to get you to vote.

            Recall Obama ran on the exact same issue in 2008 and it was framed almost exactly the same way; as an anti republican/bush issue where deportations and detention centers were front and center. And what happened when he was elected on this issue? Nothing.

            In fact, not only did he not even incrementally make any changes, he actually increased detentions and deportations by 300%!

            Then the issue magically disappeared because this was not part of the narrative of Obama era, only to return when a republican became president.

          2. juliania

            Sorry kiwi (I am one too) but Spoofs desu was making the claim that not voting does have an impact, while voting has a negative impact, in a system (Sorry Bill, have to use that word) that is rigged. Because then they know that we know that it is. If you follow me.

            A lot of us are getting to feel that way. Somebody brought up “A Man for All Seasons.” Maybe what we need is a Man. Not seeing Him (or Her) yet.

    2. Hamnet

      Like most things, cynicism can be overrated. Cynical people who view vaccination as a cause of autism or a government scheme to enrich big pharma are missing something. To be a good skeptic you have to do your homework and unfortunately many people are lazy or short on time so critical thinking often goes AWOL.

      When I read Greg Weiners piece, I asked myself, does he really believe this BS or is he just saying this because it’s his job and he has mortgage and tuition payments to meet. Is that cynical?

      As a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, I do take exception to your position on voting. I consider voting a requirement of citizenship not an option. And this option also requires some homework, if it is done properly. If you don’t vote then, you should be field stripping your piece and cleaning it for what will come next. No one, especially not the cynics, expected the French revolution.

  5. inode_buddha

    “I don’t think it should be legal at ALL to become a corporate lobbyist if you’ve served in Congress,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “At minimum there should be a long wait period.”
    “If you are a member of Congress + leave, you shouldn’t be allowed to turn right around&leverage your service for a lobbyist check.
    I don’t think it should be legal at ALL to become a corporate lobbyist if you’ve served in Congress.”

    –AOC, as reported by NakedCapitalism on May 31, 2019

      1. ambrit

        She is a celebrity now. That cachet should, barring some serious misstep, get her re-elected for cycles to come.

      1. Off The Street

        I try to be despairing, but I can’t keep up.
        Attributed to a generation or two after Lily Tomlin’s quote about cynicism.

        Out of curiosity, would it be cynical to question that political scientist’s grant funding or other sources of income? These days, I feel inclined to look at what I’ll call the Sinclair Rule*, added to Betteridge’s, Godwin’s and all those other, ahem, modifications to what used to be an expectation that communication was more or less honest.

        * Sinclair Rule, where you add a interpretive filter based on Upton’s famous quote: It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

        1. jrs

          It’s good to look at funding sources. But it’s kind of a slander to those who must work for a living when assuming it’s paychecks (which we need to live in this system) that corrupt people.

          If it’s applied to the average working person, maybe it’s often true, maybe it has a tendency to push in that direction, but if you think there are no workers that realize the industry they are working in might be destructive, that they may be exploited by such systems but have little choice etc. etc., come now there are working people who are politically aware and do see a larger picture, they just don’t have a lot of power to change it much of the time. Does the average working person’s salary depend on his not understanding though? No, of course not, it merely depends on him obeying. And obeying enough to keep a job, not always understanding, is what a paycheck buys.

  6. timbers

    With all the evidence of everyday life (airplanes, drug prices, health insurance, Wall Street, CEO pay, the workforce changes in the past 20 years if you’ve been working those years…etc) this Greg better be careful as he might be seen as a Witch to be hanged and burned in Salem, Ma a few hundred years ago.

    It’s cynical to say it’s cynical to believe the system is corrupt.

    Greg Weiner is cynic, and his is using his cynicism to dismiss the political arguments of people he disagrees with.

  7. MyMoneysNotGreenAnymore

    And just this week, I found out I couldn’t even buy a car unless I’d be willing to sign a mandatory binding arbitration agreement. I was ready to pay and sign all the paperwork, and they lay a document in front of me that reserves for the dealer the right to seek any remedy against me if I harm the dealer (pay with bad check, become delinquent on loan, fail to provide clean title on my trade); but forces me to accept mandatory binding arbitration, with damages limited to the value of the car, for anything the dealer might do wrong.

    It is not cynical at all when even car dealers now want a permission slip for any harm they might do to me.

  8. Donald

    Three words— climate change denial.

    Okay, a few more. We are literally facing the possibility of a mass extinction in large part because of dishonesty on the par of oil companies, politicians, and people paid to make bad arguments.

    1. Donald

      A few more words

      “Saddam Hussein has WMD’s.”

      “Assad (and by implication Assad’s forces alone) killed 500,000 Syrians.”

      “Israel is just defending itself.”

      I can’t squeeze the dishonesty about the war in Yemen into a short slogan, but I know from personal experience that getting liberals to care when it was Obama’s war was virtually impossible. Even under Trump it was hard, until Khashoggi’s murder. On the part of politicians and think tanks this was corruption by Saudi money. With ordinary people it was the usual partisan tribal hypocrisy.

      1. pretzelattack

        a lot of gibberish in those 2 words, dearie. are you going to grace us with your keen scientific insights on the issue?

  9. Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

    The motivator is “Gap Psychology,” the human desire to distance oneself from those below (on any scale), and to come nearer to those above.

    The rich are rich because the Gap below them is wide, and the wider the Gap, the richer they are.

    And here is the important point: There are two ways the rich widen the Gap: Either gain more for themselves or make sure those below have less.

    That is why the rich promulgate the Big Lie that the federal government (and its agencies, Social Security and Medicare) is running short of dollars. The rich want to make sure that those below them don’t gain more, as that would narrow the Gap.

    1. Off The Street

      Negative sum game, where one wins but the other has to lose more so the party of the first part feels even better about winning. There is an element of sadism, sociopathy and a few other behaviors that the current systems allow to be gamed even more profitably. If you build it, or lobby to have it built, they will come multiple times.

  10. The Rev Kev

    A successful society should be responsive to both threats and opportunities. Any major problems to that society are assessed and changes are made, usually begrudgingly, to adapt to the new situation. And this is where corruption comes into it. It short circuits the signals that a society receives so that it ignores serious threats and elevates ones that are relatively minor but which benefit a small segment of that society. If you want an example of this at work, back in 2016 you had about 40,000 Americans dying to opioids each and every year which was considered only a background issue. But a major issue about that time was who gets to use what toilets. Seriously. If it gets bad enough, a society gets overwhelmed by the problems that were ignored or were deferred to a later time. And I regret to say that the UK is going to learn this lesson in spades.

  11. Ian Perkins

    ‘Sanders has said that we live in a “corrupt political system designed to protect the wealthy and the powerful.” Warren said it’s a “rigged system that props up the rich and powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else.”’
    Yet the rest of the article focuses almost entirely on internal US shenanigans. When it comes to protecting wealth and power, George Kennan hit the nail on the head in 1948, with “we have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity.” This, which has underpinned US policy ever since, may not be corrupt in the sense of illegal, but it certainly seems corrupt in the sense of morally repugnant to me.

    1. dearieme

      Warren said it’s a “rigged system that props up the rich and powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else.”

      Is she referring to the system of race privilege that she exploited by making a false claim to be a Cherokee, or some other rigged system?

      Still, compared to some of the gangsters who have been president I suppose she’s been pretty small time in her nefarious activities. So far as I know.

    2. Susan the other`

      About Kennan’s comment. That’s interesting because no one questioned the word “wealth”. Even tho’ we had only 6.3% of the world’s population we had 50% of the wealth. The point of that comment had to be that we should “spread the wealth” and we did do just that. Until we polluted the entire planet. I’d like some MMT person to take a long look at that attitude because it is so simplistic. And not like George Kennan at all who was sophisticated to the bone. But that’s just more proof of a bred-in-the-bone ignorance about what money really is. In this case Kennan was talking about money, not wealth. He never asked Nepal for advice on gross national happiness, etc. Nor did he calculate the enormous debt burden we would incur for our unregulated use and abuse of the environment. That debt most certainly offsets any “wealth” that happened.

      1. Ian Perkins

        I’m not sure what exactly Kennan meant by wealth, but I’ve come across similar numbers relating to that period in relation to US consumption or control of global resources, measured in monetary terms no doubt.
        As for the point of his comment being that the US should spread the wealth, he goes on to say:
        “We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction … We should dispense with the aspiration to ‘be liked’ or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded international altruism. … We should cease to talk about vague … objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization.”
        [Some allege that such quotes are taken out of context. I can’t for the life of me see why.]

      2. mpalomar

        “The point of that comment had to be that we should “spread the wealth” and we did do just that.”
        Am I misunderstanging? Probably. Doesn’t Kennan refute your interpretation here?
        “Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity.” – Kennan
        Kennan is sometimes cited as a rational voice in the foundational notion of the disastrous Cold War philosophy of containment through adversarial posturing and peace time armament, pointedly directed, most likely needlesly, at a valued former ally against the Axis forces in WWII.

        1. Susan the other`

          I can’t really comment on what he meant either. It would take a clairvoyant. From reading his book I came away with the feeling he was more a humanitarian than most of his peers. Certainly he had a deep patience and a willingness to guide the world in our direction. But he clearly was interested in power and maintaining it. I don’t think he was a reactionary right wing nut. Maybe the alternative he was looking at was always something he saw as inferior government; inferior civil rights. And it seems to be true, to have been true all along, that the poorer countries of the world had less of a grasp of their individual human rights and were such a long term project that many people like Kennan worried we would squander our own wealth and power trying to help them help themselves. It was the virtual mindset of elites after the war.

  12. shinola

    Approaching from the opposite direction, if someone were to say “I sincerely believe that the USA has the most open & honest political system and the fairest economic system in human history” would you not think that person to be incredibly naive (or, cynically, a liar)?

    There has been, for at least the last couple of decades. a determined effort to do away with corruption – by defining it away. “Citizens United” is perhaps the most glaring example but the effort is ongoing; that Weiner op-ed is a good current example.

    1. JBird4049

      Shinola, I’m reminded of the statement “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.” in the movie Manchurian Candidate. Much of what is said today just pops out as prepackaged propaganda.

      It was possible twenty, thirty, forty years ago to make a reasonable case that the federal government, as well as many of the state and municipal ones, were fairly honest and functional. It is still possible that the writer believes what he wrote, but I think saying that the belief that our system is rigged is mere irresponsible cynicism is at best an example of charming naïveté and more likely cynical propagandistic fiction itself.

  13. jef

    What is cynical is everyone’s response when point out that the system is corrupt.

    They all say ” always has been, always will be so just deal with it “.

  14. Susan the other`

    Strawmannirg has got to be the most cynical behavior in the world. Weiner is the cynic. I think Liz’s “the system is rigged…” comment invites discussion. It is not a closed door at all. It is a plea for good capitalism. Which most people assume is possible. It’s time to define just what kind of capitalism will work and what it needs to continue to be, or finally become, a useful economic ideology. High time.

  15. polecat

    I, just the other day, had my 1st direct exposure to someone with TDS, who would only monologue about how awful the Donald was .. being the lying, embarrassing, uncouth monster that he was .. without my words, when I could get them in between the constant F-bombs .. having any effect what-so-ever in trying to explain just how corrupt the Other side was. MSDNC was uttered as a source of reliable information .. as he inferred that I was some arch conservative, always tapping into Fox News .. even after I stated that I don’t watch Broadcast, nor Cable news programming, in formulating my political opinions ..
    This ‘conversation’ was predicated on my explaining how, after realising the screwing Sanders was receiving by the DNC/HER-> in the Primary, that I felt compelled to vote for the Orange of Julius as an FU dagger pointed directly at the very people who I had once thought had the plebian’s interests at heart.

    The ‘conversation’ ended with his saying quite tearsly .. that we had to vote in someone .. ANYONE !! to replace our current pres. The propaganda force was strong in this one .. It was all quite surreal.

    1. Lambert Strether

      One of the more surreal aspects of TDS is that they seem to regard Trump as worse than Bush. No memory of history at all. Evil entered The Shire on January 17, 2017. Etc.

      1. polecat

        “No memory of history at all.” Damn right, Lambert ! It’s as though Sauron went into overdrive casting rings for any weak mind who’d wear them.

  16. Susan the other`

    Another thing. Look how irrational the world, which is now awash in money, has become over lack of liquidity. There’s a big push now to achieve an optimum flow of money by speeding up transaction time. The Fed is in the midst of designing a new real-time digital payments system. A speedy accounting and record of everything. Which sounds like a very good idea. But the predators are busy keeping pace – witness the frantic grab by Facebook with Libra. Libra is cynical. To say the least. The whole thing a few days ago on the design of Libra was frightening because Libra has not slowed down; it has filed it’s private corporation papers in Switzerland and is working toward a goal of becoming a private currency – backed by sovereign money no less! Twisted. So there’s a good discussion begging to be heard: The legitimate Federal Reserve v. Libra. The reason we are not having this discussion is because the elite are hard-core cynics.

  17. Nels Nelson

    “the power of accurate observation is called cynicism by those who have not got it” George Bernard Shaw

  18. Chauncey Gardiner

    Weinar’s oped exemplifies one of their tactics to counter opposition to corruption and other damaging behavior, to their neoliberal policy framework, the Citizens United court decision, and the enormous concentration of wealth and economic inequality that has resulted; i.e., “The best defense is (a good) offense.”

    Rather than addressing the economically and socially damaging causes and effects of corruption in a constructive way, they engage in a coordinated media effort to portray the opponents of corruption as cynical, envious, or having some other offensive personality or behavioral characteristic that resonates with the public. Further, they present corruption as an acceptable value, and that it is even economically and socially constructive in the face of the statistical evidence.

    In my view this tactic is similar in many respects to their many socially damaging “divide and conquer” initiatives based on demographic differences (race, religion, age, national origin, etc). Instead of these defenses of an ethically and intellectually bankrupt status quo, we need constructive policy makers and policies that meaningfully address the many challenges we face as a society in a rapidly changing world.

  19. timbers

    Campaign slogan:


    To paraphrase Network.

  20. Andy Raushner

    Its just from slow growth and the Boomer deleveraging era. Its a global phenom and its impacts are global into the cultural realm. The college degree boom is a great example of this phenom. It was really based on the surge in consumer debt boom after WWII boosting these supply chains in the US to increased consumption to GDP and reduced manufacturing, which fell in real terms during the 1950-2000 period. This created traditionally required college degree jobs into a nexus that was originally based around the Baby Boomer generation and strengthened afterwards. Once growth petered in 2007(and we developed a oversupply since 2000) we now have too many people with college degrees.

    Even the rich aren’t as rich as they were in 2007. Real profits are struggling this cycle and are showing up with weak job growth this year. The unemployment rates flaws are showing up this cycle as well, as total numbers mean little compared historically than the potential that is lowest unemployment can go.

    Based on that, the current level of labor market saturation seems to be at a late 70’s cycle level. In otherwards, if you adjust the population growth and total size this cycle is doing no better than the Carter era top in 1979………….then we see the whining. Both the Reagan and Bush II era expansions were a bit better and probably onto a intro of a “boom”. Obviously it is noticeably the Korean,Vietnam and Tech era booms which would require unemployment to fall below 3% to reach, maybe down to 2.5%, which tells you something about potential unemployment drop peaks.

    1. tegnost

      Even the rich aren’t as rich as they were in 2007.
      Among the many laughable points you make, this one is total BS

  21. Paul Hirschman

    There’s a prettier way to say “corruption.” Magic Circle. The Magic Circle is the dense web of connections and resources that reproduce advantage in our society: family, friends, race, religion, money, ownership of this and that company, political hangers-on, college, private clubs (and schools), hired hands, and so on. You get the picture. In addition to the specific kinds of corruption Black describes, which are plenty bad, there is the Magic Circle. The Magic Circle increases your odds of acquiring power, money, and influence as you grow up–not because of anything in particular about you, but because of the advantages your world showers you with. This kind of corruption we call injustice and inequality. People either believe the existence of the Magic Circle is part of God’s Plan, or they believe the Magic Circle is where real and undeserved influence over other people originates. When the Magic Circle is on a bender, you get the kind of corruption Black and so many others have studied. But at other times the Magic Circle is more sober, and the injustice harder to see. Every now and then, for all sorts of reasons, ordinary folks see the world for what it is, and they make life uncomfortable for the Magic Circle. (The Magic Circle is always, everywhere, aware of itself.) Let’s hope our time is one of these times.

    Am I a cynic or just a more-or-less observant person of the way social stratification works? Rousseau said that the only reason he could see for allowing some people to become rich is that they contribute something extraordinary to the rest of the community. (Not as an incentive, but as a reward.–Calvinist soul that we was!) Not a bad standard if you ask me.

    1. Paul Hirschman

      LOL. Even the thing economists call a Nobel Prize is phony! No wonder real scientists consider economics a joke. Perhaps even a corruption of the intellect. Certainly of the moral sense. When Michael Hudson is seriously considered for this “prize,” we can talk about economics as a serious enterprise apart from being the mouthpiece of ruling elites.

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