It should have dawned on most of us that greed has finally screwed our productive economies. It’s the triumph of Wall Street and the decline of America writ worldwide. Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism reposts this:
‘Whatever the deeper story, however, Madrick’s subtitle gets it right: what we have experienced is, in a very real sense, the triumph of Wall Street and the decline of America. Despite what some academics (primarily in business schools) claimed, the vast sums of money channelled through Wall Street did not improve America’s productive capacity by “efficiently allocating capital to its best use”. Instead, it diminished the country’s productivity by directing capital on the basis of financial chicanery, outrageous compensation packages and bubble-infected stock price valuations.
My suspicion is that it has mainly been intellectual fashion, fanned with the backing of any number of corporate backed think tanks spewing out “research” that was anything but real research; rather pro-business propaganda. A sort of flat earthism, helped by some unsavoury support from those who benefit the most. But in the end its supreme illogic is catching up with it. When the contradictions of greedism only affected peripheral economies, such as Latin America and Asia, then those “other countries” could safely be blamed. But now it is affecting the major developed economies of Europe and the US, and it is becoming harder to avoid the obvious conclusion. It is not a choice between no government or bad government. It is a choice between bad government or good government.’
My own view is that organised crime is a better metaphor (and possibly real model) for what’s going on. What we need are other models of enquiry to understand what organisation does. Police corruption looks small enough to make a start on (though I believe this is a pin-prick in wider CJS corruption). My starting point is people like Shijuro, Gadget and others who more or less deny police corruption. I take them as straight people. I saw little police corruption when I was a cop and heard a lot of complaint from obviously bent bastards that it was rife – they sometimes claimed the same of me and I know I was ‘hopelessly straight’ (tea and bacon butties aside). This might seem to lead me to agree with the ‘deniers’. Indeed, I do believe in the heavy presence of bent and idiot complaining.
My interest is in a wider and practically applicable theory (nothing is more practical than good theory) to organisation in general -my subject specialism is organisation theory. The police case will hopefully lead to this wider understanding. One might think here that a finding of no police corruption would rank against this wider interest, but in fact a ‘clean case’ would help a lot in establishing it. If we knew how to build such a clean system we could build clean financial services (at least in principle).
We regularly see corruption emerge, reluctantly, to daylight – Parliamentary expenses, the hacking scandal and so on. Those around it claim they weren’t aware of it. And as said, like Shijuro and others working more recently, I saw little and was offered little. At least, this was true when I was plodding. There was a bit, but it was pathetic Undertakers turning up single-manned offering a fiver to carry out a body sort of stuff. I saw more later, but the question as to whether blokes like me and Shijuro would ‘see’ corruption going on remains. Not wanting any part of it, being subject of false complaints and other factors probably work against your average Joe being part of corruption or ‘seeing’ what might be there. The most obvious way to find corruption is probably to be invited into it. If one accepts, then silence or denial follows – and we all know the dangers of trying to blow the stuff out of the water. The evidence we can give at this level needs explanation, but is not decisive.
I’d want to establish the full picture of complaints, cases and convictions. I don’t know of one and the absence of a freely available source is itself disturbing. There is a website that has a ‘rough catalogue’ – http://www.bentlawyersandcops.com/index.htm – and reading through it I found quite a lot I’m aware of missing. As it is, it’s big enough to be worrying. We should have a reliable official source. The IPCC is the obvious agency that should insist on and collate such. Quite how they think they can submit a paper to the Home Secretary without this base information, or reference to its lack, I don’t know. I believe they may be the paradigm case of how not to do independent evaluation.
I doubt we can legislate or preceduralise some of the worst behaviours out of our organisations, though a lot is not being done to make things better and outcomes straighter. A key word in my subject discipline is ‘transparency’, making realistic teaching of accounting, finance and organisational design somewhat farcical if one takes this seriously. Dark pool and shadow financing dwarf balance sheets about anything one could shine a light on. If we are teaching practice, we should be teaching ‘how not to get caught holding the baby’. How one stops the revolting cop who sexually exploits children and women of whom a colleague might say ‘not even with yours’ is always going to be difficult (yet it should be easier to prosecute on real matters than words exchanged in jest and isn’t). The accountant who presents management finances showing great bonuses for the senior group through the creation of a toxic subsidiary should be sacked, yet its the honest Joe who will be.
What we could do, both in policing and banksterism, is demonstrate the model we believe should be in place. Even this is more difficult than at any first glance in the honest assumptions most of us share. Greed was supposed to be ‘good’ and provide a cake so big we’d all be well off with its crumbs than through honest business, properly regulated. The cop equivalent is to say the job can’t be done with all kinds of regulation of their back – yet the rich get the ‘judge on the shoulder’ of judicial review.
‘Transparency’ is, in fact, a weasel-word – like ‘learning lessons’ and other pap. 95% of its use is naive or cynical. The input words will be that we must have a robust, transparent, full and rigorous investigation and the output (intended before the outset) will be that ‘Blair didn’t lie to us on Iraq’ (speaking of weasels – watch Dispatches on Monday). We need to break this kind of hold and risk more direct democracy. One way f doing this is to do the real casework on matters like police corruption to establish how it works.
I’m not really interested in exposing more bent cops than surface at the moment. This would be a good side-effect if this is the case that pertains. There is already substantial work on ‘how we corrupt the organisations we work in, are corrupted by them and conceal this from others and ourselves’. It’s disparate. I’d point to some really good field work on eye witness evidence and the general issue of ‘working blind’ – police and forensic work are considerably corrupted by ‘personal and group Idols’. We should be very concerned that people with scientific training are often so bad in this respect. Much of the work that needs doing is in producing organisation theory that isn’t the sort of poncy piffle found at academic conferences, and instead approaches the moral corruption of work, bullying bosses, the jobsworth and incompetence. My own start in this is 400 years old and can be found in the otherwise unreadable, arse-licking of Francis Bacon.
I think the key is money and our lack of control over it. I didn’t take the five quids (maybe £60 now) from Mr B the undertaker. This level of corruption is profoundly uninteresting, if often hilarious (60 cops in a fishing contest, all without necessary licences). Much worse has taken place in an entirely legal framework. Much ‘evidence’ produced in our courts is as doctored as Enron accounts. But the point is the discovery of how this comes about and is so easily legitimated until reality is breached to the point of miscarriage. We need, in the first place to establish what the Idols that legitimate corruption are. In this sense, I agree focus on our cops is unfair because other groups are much worse. The rich are notably unprepared to be regulated and whilst it must now be obvious they have no case, there is a problem with regulation that becomes red tape. This is actually classic in avoiding the intent of regulation, especially in writing unusable legislation.
We can now at least ‘write’ organisational forms that limit corruption. These challenge vested interest. In wide academic reading one finds that all the general suggestions politicians come up with have been tried and failed. Police in the UK have always managed to resist an independent body with its own investigators who can get in quick, prevent collusion on evidence and that would be responsible to the public directly, with its work subject to speedy public scrutiny. The tiny IPCC is no such animal. .
Organisation theory as taught fails to address our complexity as social animals. It gives recipes for ‘herding cats’ as though cats do herd. Not content with this incompetence it provides those bright enough to know this is crap with elaborate diversions into critiques of power also based on fantastic notions of human nature or hopeless hopes like the ‘State withering away’. Some of this work, like Lyotard’s is really witty, much like that of Habermas is so boring (if sometimes accurate) you lose the will to live. The standard fodder is in textbooks fit only for bit parts in Fahrenheit 457, taught by pedants who shrike over whether I got the temperature of ‘book burning’ right. Left behind are barkingly obvious thingies like it being unfair for a few to get filthy rich (important because we end up in serfdom to their money), a work ethic fit for the 13th century and the fact most of us don’t want to suffer crap bosses and jobs so dull monkeys are smart enough not to do them. To talk like this is against manners, and if you want a theory of that you can use Norbert Elias. Most people can’t do much maths, so we base economics on it. Humour is everywhere crushed and one suspects regarded as uncouth. The dullest departments of all are the business schools, where empowerment, kwality, innovation and creativity drown under the weasel use of the terms. Here, dworks teach excellence, not realising the concept blew up within 6 months of publication of the book they think businesses use and don’t. None of us, under this barrage of drivel have a clue of how much work needs to be done in our society and how this might be fairly managed.
My model would start in tracking real work – this happens in manufacturing, If we find miserable crooked families making life hell for neighbours and living lives of welfare sponsored crime over and over again and using housing, police, social worker and legal aid money over and over how can we call this a ‘success’? And I don’t say this lightly because the agencies concerned are claiming to be successful rather than bungling, serial incompetents. I believe something like this is the case in many spheres of work activity. We are stamping qualifications out all over – but where is the real educational success? Bankers stamp out mega-bonuses whilst losing our shirts. You get the drift – some corruption must be involved. We’ve been pumping aid out – where is the real success?
I believe the corruption is such a ‘mechanism’ that it must be known and expected by some of the players – we may blame Mugabe because aid money turns up in his “Swiss” account – but maybe other players know this will be the case and turds like him are just a front like a bent jewelry store fronting money laundering and usury? The corruption ‘mechanisms’, whatever they are, make it impossible to sensibly invest either money or effort.
To get to a model we need something like police enquiry in terms of being able to demand evidence. One reason there is so much ‘theorising’ is that there is no access to evidence to derive facts from. Imagine being black in Rhodesia dreaming of freedom from white colonialism – then imagine what this spring moment would be like knowing you wouldn’t get freedom but Mugabe. Lack of knowledge of ‘corruption mechanisms’ sticks us in something like this situation. To think of curbing banksterism, obscene excess and settling for a peaceful world in which we shifted from planet burning to something more communal is impossible why? In my view, at least one possibility is the lack of corruption control models of organisation that would facilitate new and fairer forms of work. There are, incidentally, economic models that predict success from handing out money to the poor instead of the banking black hole of the rich Politburo. There have also been anti-corruption organisational designs in policing (they were utter bureaucratic piss).
My suspicion is that the ability to hide transactions is a major part of any ‘corrupt mechanism’. Some stuff is private and we don’t want members of any anti-vice and promotion of purity squad peering into our houses to check our partners are wearing burkhas. A register of complaints and process against police officers isn’t that and is something we should be able to demand. Banks should not be able to assure us the investment we put into a local factory is now safely hedged in Zimbabwe delta-bonds either. Black pools, shadow banking and bureaucratic secrecy, along with control through hot money and capital flight threats ain’t democracy either.