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20180722 – The Republic of Virtue



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The main idea here is to review history of corruption in Democratic society, especially in USA, and demonstrate how it worked in the past, how it works now and propose some technical measures to diminish corruption and some legislative measures that could curb it at least somewhat.


  2. Our Machiavellian Moment:Pay-for-Play Networks Republican Virtue

Author starts here with a movie plot when FBI set up sting operation when agent pretending to be foreign businessmen bribed American politicians. Then author somehow links it to “Citizen’s united”. From here author goes to real “Pay to Play” operations like Clinton foundation. Author uses this to present Republican Virtue as counter force that was acting in America since it’s beginning and actually was a part of the reason of its creation as reaction to corruption of British officials.

  1. Excusing Corruption:The Mutual Protection Association; The Polemarchist;

The Apologist.

This chapter refers to Tocqueville who clearly saw political corruption in America and compared it with family centered aristocratic institutions of France that he preferred. The interesting thing here is an idea that politics is kind of remedy against American individualism, creating sort of mutual help society, which just one of many mutual help organizations that were so popular in America at the time, but now declined with expansion of government. Author also discusses here Polemarchism that he defines as different attitude of network member to fellow member vs. out-of-network others. He illustrates it by referring to rich experience of Clinton and Obama networks. Finally, author presents a point of view of Apologist who basically states that for example Clintons should be allowed to be corrupted, because they do a lot of good and/or because they comply with various formal procedures.

  1. The Silent Killer: Rent-Seeking; Measuring Corruption; The Cost of Corruption; The Rule of Law

To estimate cost of corruption, author refer to TARP and sugar subsidies, but does not come up with any quantitative estimate.  It follows by discussion of rent seeking behavior, regulatory capture, and a couple examples of how it is done. Then author presents estimates of corruption via polling:

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  1. The Dream of a Virtuous Republic: The Separation of Powers Federalism;

Money; Three Proposals

This starts with deviation to history and reference to earliest dreams of virtuous republic without corruption. After that author reviews ideas that were supposed to prevent this problem at American foundation, but mainly failed to do so:

  • The separation of Powers
  • Federalism
  • Limitations on money in politics.

Instead author proposes his own 3 rules to curb corruption:

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  1. An Anticorruption Covenant:The Constitutional Convention Filtering Virtue; Choosing a Virtuous President

This is about Constitutional convention and how founding fathers tried to set up rules that would prevent corruption. Franklin suggested unpaid public officers so it would make it unattractive for individuals without sufficient wealth. Madison and majority preferred division of power with checks and balances and with general election of a virtuous president. It was expected that limited franchise would produce electorate of self-sufficient men who would not be easy to bribe, consequently assuring elected official acting in interests of common good for all people.

  1. What Corruption Meant to the Framers:Republican Virtue; Extensive Virtue; Governing Above Faction Private Virtue; Religious Virtue—and Vice

This is an interesting peace because 250 years is a long time and culture changed a lot. So, the notion of corruption was somewhat different. It was based, for example, on experience of king James who just used treasury at will and other processes of wealth transfer typical for monarchy – gifts, patronage, and such. Founders were looking to instill republican virtue, which meant work on behalf of public with no pecuniary interest whatsoever. Author defines supporters of this vision as Country party. Other vision was that individuals always greedy and it is inevitable that voters will be bribed. Therefore it is necessary to have powerful and wealthy leaders and independent voters so these leaders could not be corrupted. Author also discusses different types of virtue, as it was perceived at the moment, including, private and religious.


  1. The Promise of Virtuous Government:Reining in the Presidency; Electing a President; Impeachment;

This is about the debate that followed decision to establish powerful presidency that involved search for methods of limiting this power just in case when president happen to be not that virtuous. The first step was clear separation of power, preventing members of legislature to be included into executive power at the same time. It was done mainly to prevent corruption observed in British parliament. Another issue was presidential election, that was decided by Electoral College, which originally gave power to choose electors to the states and only over time moved to much more democratic form of nearly direct elections when majority within states and their weighted representation are deciding, leaving open possibility of minority of voter effectively distributed providing for majority in Electoral College. Author also discusses solution for vice-presidential position and election that proved to be ineffective and was changed early in the history of Republic. Finely, some serious attention was paid to Impeachment process to prevent Executive power from taking over.

  1. How Did That Work Out?Minoritanian Misbehavior; The Democratic Presidency Power and Corruption; A Grim Logic

The final part is about how did it eventually worked over the next 250 years and it is not the pretty picture. Congressmen bring home bacon, bribing voters and, as result, stay congressmen for live. Interest group capture legislation all the time, getting nice staff like indestructible sugar subsidies, and so on and on. Democratically elected president courting specific groups of population in strategically selected areas to obtain college majority and often does something in interest of small group of supporters at the expense of majority. In short American Constitution proved to be no match to human ingenuity in pursuit of corruption. However, it is still the best working system comparatively with all others ever tried.


  1. Federalism and Corruption:Bigness and Badness; Smalliness and Badness

It starts with discussion of origins of American Federalism. It was not an original intention of founding fathers, but rather necessity to accommodate small states without which any agreement would be impossible. Madison’s original idea of federal veto over state led to nowhere and eventually the principle of federal power as controller of interstate interactions rather intrastate live was established. Over time state power diminished and federal power grew dramatically and consequently corruption distributed among the state moved up to federal level. One exception is power of courts and author discusses in some details corruption of local courts in one specific case of money extorsion from Canadian company Loewen.

  1. The Mississippi Story: Mississippi Burning; Mississippi Cashes In

This is discussion of another clash between local Mississippi courts and Federal power, this one the older case of civil rights era. The second part of the chapter is about more contemporary story of tort lawyers’ extortion racket backed up by unwavering support of local judges.

  1. Designing a Virtuous Justice System:The Genius of the Framers’ Constitution; Genius Frustrated

This starts with discussion of design of American Justice system. It was based on 3 main decisions: selections of judges, their removal if corrupted, and allocation of judicial power between state vs. federal courts. All three decisions were based on multiple compromises and author briefly describes the final system established by the Constitution. After that author discusses complete diversity precedent established by Supreme Court in 1806 and how it allows everybody to sue everybody in any court, creating a mess and huge opportunities for corruption.

  1. The Silver Bullet: The Way Back; State Judicial Elections; A Judicial Aristocracy

After condemning American plaintiff friendly justice system in the previous chapter author points out here that there is no simple solution. He starts with discussion of McDonald coffee case that he presents not as aggreges as it is usually thought. The solution author proposes: state court should be permitted to compete in their judge made rules for out of state parties; Class action Act should be modified and author proposes how; State judicial elections processes should be modified. Finally, author praises American quasi-aristocracy of federal judges.

  1. MONEY
  2. Bribes: The Ordeal of Francis Bacon Corruption of the Heart; The Limits of Bribery Law

It starts with warning about problem of corruption of judges and then moves to the story of Francis Bacon, his bribery and eventual confession. After that author discusses contemporary bribery case when judge took bribes to sentence juveniles to prison terms in order to supply prisoners for private jail. The final part of the chapter is about political bribery when everything done without direct money transfer and often is not even possible to clearly identify as a bribe.

  1. The Republic of Defection: The Dismal Dialectic; Crimes of Democracy; The U-Curve

Here author compare what he believes are low and high trust countries: USA and Canada. He uses immigration issue in which Canada provided more assistance and on better terms than USA with wide support of all political forces. As crimes of Democracy author reviews cases of Dinesh D’Souza and his unusually harsh treatment and operation of political democrats in Wisconsin against Scott Walker. Finally, discussion moves to overall dynamics of Anti-corruption laws that usually are not very effective and often just become a tool for corrupted officials. Here is graphic representation of this dynamic:

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  1. Policing Crony Capitalism: What Doesn’t Work; Disclosure Requirements;

Contribution Limits; Spending Caps

The next stop is Crony capitalism when government helps some private businesses at the expense of others. Author demonstrates how typical legislative measures: Disclosure, Contribution Limits, or Spending Caps work to this end.

  1. Three Reforms: Mandated Anonymity; Suspect Donors; Chinese Walls

Here author suggests a few reforms that he believes could help to limit political corruption:

  • Mandated Anonymity – politicians should not know who gave them money
  • Completely forbid donations from donors suspected in expectation of potential payback, such as government contractors
  • Similarly to suspected donors, Chinese wall between donors, bundlers, or lobbyists and appointments to various government positions

17.The Heavenly City of the Enlightened Reformer

Here author reviews various schemas for keeping politics clean such as public financing or voter vouchers for political donations and demonstrates that they basically not really workable. Author ends quite pessimistically pointing out that in election of 2016 highly corrupted Hillary Clinton received majority of votes indicting that people in democracy do not really object to corruption that much.


This is an interesting review, but it does not touch at the core of corruption common for all societies democratic or not. This core is ability of individuals with place in political/bureaucratic violent hierarchy of society to use this place for control over application of violence resulting in transfer of resources produced by other people to themselves. The idealistic form of corruption, when these people use control over violence to satisfy not their material, but rather psychological needs by forcing other people do something they do not want or not do something that they want, somehow is not considered as corruption, even if it causes people often much more pain and suffering than any amount of taxes and bribes could ever do. It is also often demonstrates that power is fungible, meaning that forbidding something, for example homosexuality creates opportunity for individuals in power exchange laxity of enforcement for bribes.

This corruption is inevitable and will always be with us as long as we have violent hierarchy of society involved in any activity that is not prevention, retaliation, or retribution for violence. As long as such hierarchies of individuals in power are involved in the redistribution of resources and/or control over individuals, they will always use this power to satisfy their needs and wants, which is practically definition of corruption.

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