The other day in a comment thread I saw someone asking for a theory of kleptocracy. I think one of the things I’ve accomplished here is to elaborate such a theory. The most relevant posts can be found in places like my Corporatism and Neoliberalism pages.
But I thought I’d briefly sum it up:
1. Non-kleptocratic government (the liberal welfare state; representative government which was responsive and accountable at all; periods of actual reform, the Progressive Era, etc.) was a manifestation of the Oil Age. These phenomena never existed prior to it (the ideas did, ineffectually). They won’t exist after it. This was all ahistorical and context-specific.
2. The fossil fuel surplus was so extravagant that, given real competition from communism and nationalism, the path of least resistance for capitalist governments was to actually spread some wealth, allow a temporary mass middle class to arise, and pretend to be accountable.
3. I’ll add here that under regimes of economic competition, the Rule of Rackets always applies – no one is willing to capitalistically compete for one day longer than he has to. The day he can switch to racketeering – using market muscle to suppress competition and get favorable government intervention in the form of subsidies and pro-oligopoly courts, laws, and regulations – he does so.
Then we have the fact that any power concentration automatically tends toward looting and tyranny. Modern modes of organization and technology have exacerbated this.
4. So those are the universal structural parts. Specific to the capitalist age, the maturation of all sectors and subsequent fall of the profit rate requires that all these oligopoly/kleptocratic effects be imposed in a more intensive form.
5. Peak Oil looms. The US oil Peak in 1970 was a wakeup call. If the elites were to complete the looting of the entire fossil fuel surplus in time, they had to start then with dismantling the welfare state, demolishing all reforms and social advances which had been achieved, eradicating all actualities of government responsiveness and accountability, and imposing the forms of the neofeudal tyranny which would succeed the Oil Age.
6. Finally, capitalism itself was never anything but a modification of feudalism. Feudalism was just temporarily refitted for the fossil fuel age. The system’s real nature remained feudal throughout. Corporatism and financialization, imperialism and globalization, have been the most clear manifestations of this.
Now that the fossil fuel age is ending, the goal is to restore full feudalism, in an even more vicious and exploitative form than that which existed previously.
So there’s a basic theory of kleptocracy. I didn’t include subjective greed, powerlust, sadism, hatred on the part of cadres and elites. But since the system selects for these, these too become a structural, objective feature.