Kleptocrats Unite!

Donald Trump's bromance with Vladmir Putin has foreign policy experts with their hair on fire. The president-elect thinks he and Putin can unite in the fight against ISIS. But they can get a lot done in other ways too. Recent books about Putin's government and the Russian economy show the degree to which Putin has melded the two for the benefit of his former KGB friends and allies and presumably himself. Putin's kleptocracy may be a role model on this score for Trump.

Kleptocracy (from Greek: κλεπτοκρατία, klépto- thieves + -kratos rule, literally "rule by thieves"). Wikipedia: "A kleptocracy is a government with corrupt rulers (kleptocrats) that use their power to exploit the people and natural resources of their own territory in order to extend their personal wealth and political power. Typically this system involves the embezzlement of state funds at the expense of the wider population, sometimes without even the pretense of honest service."

Trump's intention, so far, of keeping control of his own vast holding in the family while appointing government officials with oversight has raised a mighty stir on potential conflicts of interest and ethical issues. Paul Krugman points out it could be even more serious. Trump's  "plan calls for equity investments from private companies that are then given tax cuts and ownership stakes in a final product," i.e. privatizing public assets.

There goes Flint's new water system! And the rebuilt LaGuardia airport as well as the highway turn-off to your town.


Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages.

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