The Pious Predator State: The Cookiecutter Shark and the New Regime in Turkey

Jerri-Lynn here. I’m posting this piece because I confess I’m envious of Adem’s cookiecutter shark image. It’s such a good description of what predator states do: they don’t necessarily kill you outright, but come back occasionally to take another chomp. Umm, umm good. I wish I had thought of the image myself! But since I didn’t, the least I can do is help disseminate it more widely.

Adem Yavuz Elveren is an associate professor of economics at Fitchburg State University, Massachusetts. He is the author of Brain Drain and Gender Inequality in Turkey, Palgrave Pivot, 2018 and The Economics of Military Spending A Marxist Perspective, Routledge, 2019. 

This short piece argues that the new regime in Turkey is a unique form of the predator state introduced by Galbraith (2008). In fact, I have modified his concept to the Pious Predator State to explain the symbiotic relationship between the so-called pious private sector and the state during the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi-Justice and Development Party) era, underscoring the critical role of religion in constructing and sustaining this relationship (Elveren 2018). However, there has been another unique feature of the predator state in Turkey that has become remarkable recently, and it is worth discussing.

Veblen’s concept of predation is highly functional to explain business life in the twenty-first century. According to his theory, the history of modern capitalist societies is a process of fierce competition between capitalist groups. The role of government is to regulate business life to tame the predator actions of capitalists. John Kenneth Galbraith noted in 1967 in The New Industrial State that with the mastering of advanced technology, giant corporations displaced small firms from the business sphere. Yet, James K. Galbraith in 2008 said that in the era of globalization and financialization, government’s strategies of controlling the predator actions of these giant corporations failed. The predator had escaped its cage, was now seeking the “complete control of the apparatus of the state” (Galbraith 2008, 131). Galbraith illustrated this new predator state with examples such as the government allowing pharmaceutical companies to enjoy a monopoly price, or with the case of some Bush family members exploiting the No Child Left Behind program-introduced by Bush administration-by selling test preparation programs (ibid, 135).

The new regime in Turkey is very similar to what Galbraith described. A strict dichotomy between government and the market as opposed forces has faded. Rather, so-called pious capitalist has entirely relied on growing the authoritarian role and size of government in the economy. The substantial increase in public education expenditures was one key area for the Pious Predator State in Turkey. The Turkish government now provides textbooks to students free of charge -similar to the No Child Left Behind program- and the publishing and delivery of textbooks was privatized, transferring enormous public funds to the private sector. Similarly, the government introduced a new project to provide a laptop and a smartboard to each classroom and a tablet to each student, creating unprecedented profit opportunity for the pious private sector (Elveren 2018).

Yet, the main beneficiary of the Pious Predator State has been the construction sector. The Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKI), a public agency, has quickly become the key agent in the housing market to provide houses for low and middle-income groups as well as to build roads, schools, hospitals, mosques, and government buildings. The Pious Predator State was ready to exploit TOKI. Islamist construction companies, as well as those that newly assumed a pious front, enjoyed the construction boom (Sönmez 2015). The boom has come with alleged tender irregularities and the violation of zoning laws, and a corrupt network between several real estate developers and state agencies.

I have called this new regime the Pious Predator State to underscore the role of religion, which is the key difference with the predator state. As I argued earlier, it is pious because “these pious business groups have financed charitable work in support of the party, a crucial tool that the government has used extensively to provide social aid to the poor. On the other hand, the pious charity organizations have promoted religious familism, and gendered division of labor in private and public spheres, and thereby reinforced women’s subordinate role in society. That is, religion through familialism in the hands of the Pious Predator State becomes the key tool in the transformation of the welfare regime in the absence of a universal welfare state that provides social benefits to all individuals based on citizenship” (Elveren 2018: 90).

However, I argue this corruption has created the ultimate form of the predator state in Turkey. A common definition of a predator is an organism, an animal, which catches, kills and eats another animal. However, for some animals this definition does not work exactly. For example, cookiecutter sharks –isistius brasiliensis– catch and feed on prey but don’t kill their prey (Ebert 2003). Although they can eat a whole smaller prey such as squid, they mostly feed by gouging round plugs out of larger animals such as porpoises, dolphins, and whales by biting them until they look like they have been cut with a cookie cutter. This is similar to how pious construction companies operate in Turkey.

A tangential aspect of the Turkish construction boom has been the need to repair newly completed or sometimes ongoing projects. There are several examples of collapsed highways (Cumhuriyet 2015), or a tunnel shut down due to the risk of collapse (Yeni Yaşam 2020). Needless to say, most of the time the very same pious construction companies were right there to exploit these failures. Likewise, cookiecutter sharks do not kill their prey, but keep coming back for another bite.

Perhaps the most scandalous example was when a pipeline transporting water from Turkey to northern Cyprus suddenly snapped. This project had been promoted by the government as the Century’s Project, but broke down after only five years after its completion. Winning the public procurement for repairing it, the lucky cookiecutter shark – the very same construction company who originally undertook the project- got its second bite from the same whale -the Century’s Project. This second bite – the cost to the public- was as big as about 75 per cent of the first bite when measured in Turkish Lira or about 33 per cent in US dollar terms (Muratoğlu 2020).

Unprecedented corruption in Turkey has created the ultimate version of the predator state, where the predator does not kill its prey but enjoys feeding on persistent bites, keeping its target alive so it can feast again and again.

References

Cumhuriyet. 2020. Duble yollar bir bir çöktü maliyet dörde katlandı [Double-lane highways collapsed one by one, costs quadrupled]. June 22, 2015

https://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/duble-yollar-bir-bir-coktu-maliyet-dorde-katlandi-304293
Ebert, David A. 2003. Sharks, Rays, and Chimaeras of California. University of California Press.

Elveren, Adem Y. 2018. The Pious Predator State: The New Regime in Turkey. Challenge, 61(1): 85-9.

Galbraith, James K. 2008. The Predator State How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too. Free Press: New York.

Galbraith, John Kenneth. 1967. The New Industrial State. Princeton University Press, 2007.

Muratoğlu, Murat. 2020. İnanacak ahmak aranıyor! [A fool wanted (to believe this)!] Sözcü, June 12, 2020.

https://www.sozcu.com.tr/2020/yazarlar/murat-muratoglu/inanacak-ahmak-araniyor-5869637/
Sönmez, Mustafa. 2015. Ak Faşizmin İnşaat İskelesi [The scaffolding of AK fascism]. Ankara:
Notabene.

Yeni Yaşam. 2020. Törenle açıldı, sessizce kapatıldı [Opened with a ceremony, shut down quietly] July 8, 2020. http://yeniyasamgazetesi1.com/torenle-acildi-sessizce-kapatildi/]]]]]]

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10 comments

  1. caucus99percenter

    Europe’s elite caste of globalist ideologues still insist on the reality of what is obviously — as right-wing populists are happy to point out — a delusion or distant mirage: the notion that Turkey is on a path to full EU membership.

    Reply
    1. Uwe Ohse

      I haven’t seen anyone arguing for a full EU membership for turkey for many years now. Of course the reverse is true, too: nobody is willing to state that turkey will not get a full EU membership, but that’s how the game is played. Whoever says “no” takes the responsibility for whatever follows (like open borders or so).

      Mind you, i’m not saying that the EU will stop welcoming dictators and predators. It just seem the turkish dictator is bad, and the eastern ones are good, for whatever reason.

      Reply
      1. Susan the other

        Back in the 80s there was a full propaganda blitz in Germany in favor of Turkey joining the EU. I remember the German movie “Im Juli” about two footloose hippies hitchhiking off to Turkey; going down the Danube to the Black Sea. Fun movie. And all the talk back then looked like Turkey was in. German TV series Tatort did a whole season on a Turk who was a secret agent, etc. Then one on a detective from Istanbul. And then nothing came of it. Secular Turks migrated to Germany for work, often living in borderline ghettos. Then war in the Balkans. Then the long failure of global capitalism. Then Georgia. Then Ukraine. And the death blow was probably Syria, politically. Turkey looks to have been caught in the middle on every turn. So along comes Erdogan and plays the Islam card. So I assume there is also now plenty of social unrest in Turkey. Especially given all the official paranoia against the Kurds and certain militant factions of IS. And the most confusing thing of all is Erdogan’s latest power grab for oil in the eastern Med. He doesn’t seem to be aligned with Russia as they disagree over Haftar. I just don’t understand how Erdogan can be so blunt as to claim a corridor between Turkey and Libya for exclusive oil transport; drill for more oil in contested waters near Greece, and insinuate herself into the conflict still smoldering in northeast Syria. The thing that is obvious is that Turkey is not a rich country. So where does Turkey get all it’s financing to be such an adventurer? I’m inclined to think it is NATO but it seems to be a big secret if that is true.

        Reply
        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          West Germany wanted Turkey in a weaker EU, but Berlin wields power over the EU. The eastern states are glorified colonies, and Turkey would simply be too big to manage out of Berlin and might give Paris, Rome, and formerly London ideas about anti-German or at least not pro-Berlin blocs. Erdogan wasn’t even that bad for his first three years as a national figure because he still believed Turkey would become a full member.

          Erdogan is deploying thugs not troops for the most part. They are cheaper, and Haftar is an idiot. Gaddafi fired him after multiple screw ups. France would need of abandon much of its current operations of intervene, and politically, Macron isn’t popular and Sarkozy went into Libya to cover up his crimes in the first place, not that there weren’t reasons for France to get involved (my own suspicion is Obama and the Pentagon were terrified of a non-US NATO operation).

          I suspect he sees a tied up Berlin with EU mismanagement , a messy UK, Macron’s France, and an Italy which needs France to make major policy decisions (again I think Paris and Rome were going to intervene on their own a decade ago) for the region. The US is everywhere and completely out of sorts going back to the previous administration. Without vagueoy reasonable US policy which we haven’t had since 41, there isn’t much to deter Erdogan. The Russians put a lot into Syria, and they have problems in the Caucuses that needs management. I’m not sure the Chinese would care too much, and Iran like Russia is really overstretched and distant.

          Erdogan strikes me as what the msm pretends Putin is.

          Reply
      2. Olivier

        Macron did in fact break the taboo: just google “macron turkey eu membership”. This is more an issue for Germany than for France anyway, for obvious reasons (millions of turks in Germany).

        Reply
  2. divadab

    All this is true so why is the US Empire of sweetness and light encouraging Erdogan’s Turkey against Greece (in Cyprus and Mediterranean basin), against France and Italy (in Libya), and against Syria and Iraq and “friends” (more like useful idiots) the Kurds?

    It’s almost like the US seeks out the most evil and uses them to keep other “allies” on the back foot.

    Reply
  3. The Rev Kev

    Turkey is going to encounter serious strong headwinds as time goes by. Erdogan has pushed a religious-nationalist agenda and wants to recreate the Ottoman empire which means taking land from neighbouring countries. He already is occupying parts of Syria and has expanded the number of illegal bases in Iraq. He has tens of thousands of Jihadist on tap and has sent several thousand over to Libya to fight for a Turkish enclave there. I also read that he is sending Jihadists to Yemen for whatever reasons.

    Turkey has invested heavily in their military for some time now though his economy has major problems. So apart from the predatory capitalism, he is also pushing a religious-nationalist expansionary empire. Syria and Iraq are too weakened to resist too much and crossing Russia proved too costly. When I think about it, Erdogan said a long time ago that his foreign policy was to have a zero problems policy with his neighbours. He dumped that idea a long time ago but I am hard pressed to think of many nations, apart from Qatar, that are in his corner.

    Reply
    1. Synoia

      Yes this is my perception as well, Ottoman 2,0.

      It is nice for Turkey that the US is softening up the ME for Ottoman 2.0. If the US continues its N Africa program, then it might even become s large as the pre Ottoman Roman Empire.

      Reply
      1. wilroncanada

        It seems to me sensible that Turkey would make common cause with the two other countries pushing their own religious-nationalist expansionary empires: the US and Israel. Vultures of a feather.

        Reply

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