Kleptocracy: The Dark Side of Globalization


In the 1960s and 1970s, scholars studying postcolonial states began increasingly to focus on corruption as an impediment to prosperity, notes journalist Oliver Bullough, the author of The Last Man in Russia: The Struggle to Save a Dying Nation (2013).

Stanislav Andreski, a Polish-born academic who founded the sociology department at England’s Reading University, drew on his knowledge of his homeland to compare the “socialist handshake” (the paying of a bribe) to corrupt practices in countries such as Nigeria, he writes for the January 2018 edition of the Journal of Democracy:

The difference, he said, is that “nobody can become a millionaire by accumulating the proceeds of graft” in a communist country.  The countries of the then-Soviet bloc were corrupt, but what was happening in the ex-colonies was something so much larger and more pervasive, that he thought it needed a new term. He called it “kleptocracy.”

This kleptocracy was something new. Some fresh impetus was driving corruption in the ex-colonies, allowing officials to steal more than ever before. This volume of money could not be hidden under a mattress or passed from palm to palm during a handshake. Processing such large sums required banks willing to accept the money without asking questions and a way for politicians to draw on their illicit funds to purchase luxuries.

Bullough’s latest book Moneyland: Exploring the Secret Country of the Very Rich is forthcoming in 2018.

The views expressed in this post represent the opinions and analysis of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for Democracy or its staff.

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