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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

UNACCOUNTABLE Shadow Elite and the New Corruption


“Shadow Elite”, ovvero élite-ombra: è il titolo di un libro completamente ignorato, scritta da una docente universitaria molto rispettata, Janine Wedel, che «con straordinaria precisione documentaria spiega come operao le élite che riescono a condizionare democrazia e libero mercato», spiega Marcello Foa. 

La Wedel le definisce “flex-net” e porta numerosi esempi concreti, con tanto di nome e cognome. «La sua tesi, ampiamente comprovata, è che la fine della Guerra Fredda, l’avvento di nuove tecnologie soprattutto nel campo dell’informazione e della comunicazione, la diffusione della retorica di un finto neoliberismo, che solo in apparenza porta alla deregolamentazione e alla riduzione del ruolo dello Stato, abbiano permesso l’affermazione di queste nuove reti di potere».
In realtà, «buona parte delle privatizzazioni sono finte: non portano a una vera concorrenza per abbattere i costi e migliorare i servizi, ma a incredibili regalìe monopolistiche». 
Un viaggio nel nuovo super-potere internazionale, quello che detta i tempi delle crisi, delle austerità e delle speculazioni.
«La Wedel – continua Foa nel suo blog sul “Giornale” – spiega come queste élite possano essere di destra o di sinistra, a seconda delle convenienze, di come operino nelle istituzioni e nell’economia privata, di come i suoi membri possano assumere diverse identità e di come approfittino della globalizzazione con un solo scopo: l’arricchimento personale. E che se ne infischino degli interessi del proprio paese e del proprio popolo, benché apparentemente patriottici». 
Un saggio denso, documentatissimo, trascurato dai grandi media in America e in Europa
Intervistata da “Radio Free Europe”, l’autrice spiega: siamo alle prese con «una nuova generazione di giocatori, le cui manovre sono al di là dei tradizionali meccanismi». Lavorano come consulenti del governo e delle imprese, ma anche se appaiono sui media «è molto difficile, per il pubblico, sapere chi rappresentano, esattamente». In realtà «lavorano per conto di più organizzazioni, così sono meno trasparenti e meno responsabili».
Secondo Janine Wedel, «viviamo in un’epoca molto più pericolosa di ogni altra, da quando siamo entrati nella storia dello Stato moderno». In sostanza, «chi soffre in questa storia è la democrazia». 
Idem il libero mercato: i signori delle lobby sabotano la concorrenza e costruiscono intrecci opachi tra governo e imprese, tra Stato e privato. E ottengono benefici di governo da utilizzare a loro vantaggio, alterando le regole del mercato. 
Lo dimostrano anche le rivelazioni di Wikileaks: la nuova élite-ombra vive di segretezza e teme ogni forma di trasparenza. «L’avvento delle nuove tecnologie dell’informazione – continua la Wedel – è una delle ragioni principali per cui ci troviamo in questo nuovo sistema di potere e di influenza, che ancora una volta scavalca i meccanismi tradizionali di controllo democratico. Questo è il pericolo».
Siamo in una nuova era: «Gran parte del nostro mondo, ora, è molto meno prevedibile: ogni giorno ci svegliamo e sempre nuove tecnologie appaiono all’orizzonte». E non siamo noi a controllarle, ma gli uomini invisibili della “Shadow Elite”.
Janine Wedel is a professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the book "Shadow Elite: How The World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, And The Free Market," in which she applies the insights of anthropology to the relationships between government, business, and universities. 

RFE/RL's Christopher Schwartz speaks with her about how the whistleblowing web entity WikiLeaks opposes today’s “new powerbrokers” by dangerously mirroring them.

RFE/RL: What exactly are the “shadow elite” and why should the public be concerned about them?

Janine Wedel: What I argue in "Shadow Elite" is that a new breed of players has arisen in the past several decades...whose maneuverings are beyond the traditional mechanisms of accountability. They, for example, play multiple, overlapping, and not fully disclosed roles. They have their people and work themselves individually [as] government advisers, think tankers, consultants to businesses. They appear in the media. And it’s very difficult for the public to know who exactly they represent. [For example, Wedel uses former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, retired U.S. General Barry McCaffrey, and Obama economic adviser Larry Summers as examples. -- Eds.]

[T]hey have their own agenda, although they are typically working on behalf of [or] they are purporting to work on behalf of an organization or multiple organizations. So they are less transparent and less accountable than powerbrokers of the past, and we are in a much more dangerous era than we have been in the history of the modern state.

RFE/RL: How is this new power arrangement detrimental to society?

Wedel: What suffers in this story is democracy. Democracy and accountability suffer. So also does the free market because these players are not really interested in the chief mechanism of the free market, which would be competition. They are all about the interdependency between government and business, so the intertwining of state and private power. And they get government benefits to use to the advantage of the market.

RFE/RL: How can we understand the role of WikiLeaks, then, in the light of – or, as the case may be, in the darkness of – the “shadow elite”?

Wedel: 
WikiLeaks is a kind of declared combatant in this information warfare, conducted by high-tech good government vigilantes, [and] in that regard it can play a crucial role in the "shadow elite" era because it’s willing to push the envelope in that it stands outside the established power structure.

So, on the one hand, [WikiLeaks] upends traditional process and flouts institutions. On the other hand, while it’s emerged as a counterweight, some of the tactics WikiLeaks takes -- like secrecy and a willingness to bend the rules, and ambiguity -- [come] precisely from this new breed of powerbroker that is the "shadow elite."

So, although it claims and it purports to, and in fact can shine light where traditional investigative reporting and watchdog organizations can’t, because investigative journalism and so on face so many challenges today...it has enormous power itself, and it’s the kind of unaccountable power that its founder decries. I mean, case in point, the founder himself doesn’t even necessarily know where a lot of this so-called information comes from, and that is unaccountability quintessential.

RFE/RL: Is there potential for conflicts of interest in WikiLeaks or an entity like it? And if so, in what form might they take?

Wedel: 
[T]here could be all kinds of conflicts of interest, all kinds of forms it could take, but it’s very difficult to answer that question more precisely because we don’t know necessarily where the information comes from.

RFE/RL: How, then, can WikiLeaks be held accountable?

Wedel:
 Investigative journalis[ts] can help by providing a counterweight, as can watchdog organizations, by actually doing the kind of investigative journalism they used to do much much more of. But again the problem is that forms like WikiLeaks have emerged precisely because investigative journalism isn’t doing its job. So therein lies the conundrum.

RFE/RL: But if that’s the case, instead of "can it be held accountable," should it be held accountable? Or does journalism and society need them to be beyond accountability?

Wedel: 
Well, I’m not sure that it can be, because it is this high-tech model that precisely is outside accountability, and that is a feature of our age.

RFE/RL: What role, then, is technology playing in both the rise of the “shadow elite” and the opposition to them in the form of WikiLeaks?

Wedel: 
[T]he advent of new information technologies is a key reason that we’re in this new system of power and influence, again, which puts us outside of the traditional mechanisms [that] a democracy has for monitoring power and influence. So that’s a danger.

We’re in a new age. So much of our world is now much less predictable in large part due to these new ever-complex information and other technologies that develop and that will be developing.

Everyday we wake up and new information technologies are being invented and tried and on the horizon. I would be irresponsible if I sat here and fantasized about precisely what kind of form might emerge. I do think that there may well be some development that will respond to it, to which of course it will respond.

When people think corruption, they think freezers full of money. Or Rolex watches. They think Congressman William Jefferson and Governor Robert McDonnell.
But then there are those who engage in what George Mason University Professor Janine Wedel calls “the new corruption.”
“These players — some of them big names, some of them virtual unknowns — violate our health, pocketbooks, our trust,” Wedel writes.
“Their actions compromise our health, pocketbooks, or security and can lead to deep and lasting inequalities.”
“And their behavior is typically legal, making it next to impossible to hold them to account.”
Wedel’s new corruption is practiced by elite power brokers who assume a tangle of roles in government, business, nonprofits, and media organizations.
These elites are enmeshed in a “systemic unaccountably.”
How can we know whom to trust when “experts” pronounce on crucial policy issues and present themselves as impartial, while concealing that they have a dog in the fight?
“Transparency International pioneered the corruption index in the early 1990s,” Wedel told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “They rank countries from most corrupt to the least corrupt. And they are based on public perception – perception of business people and experts from outside the country.”
“They come up with these numbers that are attractive to the press. And it has put Transparency International on the map. They are simple minded surveys. But they don’t really mean a lot. The idea of corruption in these surveys is simple bribery — cash changing hands. It’s the proverbial cash in the piano or the freezer. Corruption is reduced to bribery.”
“In fact, today’s most savvy power brokers are engaged in a kind of corruption that is much more subtle and more difficult to detect. Today’s most corrupt players, at least in the West, don’t need this quid pro quo corruption. They are far beyond that. That’s for the little players. That’s for the small fry. That’s a key point of Unaccountable.”
Wedel says that the new corruption involves “a violation of public trust that can’t be reduced to a simple quid pro quo.”
“It’s the difference between need based corruption — the customs official in Nigeria or the Ukraine who takes bribes to supplement his meager income — and greed based corruption,” she says.
Greed based corruption is practiced by key opinion leaders — for example, physicians taking money from the pharmaceutical industry to promote particular products or courses of treatment without making it clear that that is what they are doing.”
“When we go to a physician, the physician might have been swayed by the views of these key opinion leaders without even knowing it. They are very prominent people usually in the public press or the most reputable journals.”
“Or retired generals and admirals who continue to get access to inside information by sitting on government advisors boards, while at the same time consulting for the defense industry.
“The problem is that the public has no way of knowing whose interests they are serving. We can’t know what they are up to. That’s why this kind of corruption is so insidious and dangerous. Or take the top academic economists.”
“The University of Massachusetts at Amherst did a study a few years ago that looked at 19 top prominent academic economists. They found that in the run up to and just after the 2008 financial crisis that these economists were promoting specific financial reform proposals, both in the media and before Congressional committees. At the same time, they were not disclosing their links to private financial institutions, like big banks. There is an information problem.”
“This is not the old fashioned quid pro quo corruption. These are elites. These are sometimes people whose names we recognize. And they believe they can police themselves. This pattern of activity leaves us without information about what they are really up to. And we have no way of knowing whose agenda they are serving — ours or theirs.”
The new corruption also spills over into the non profit arena.
“What you describe is straight out of the Shadow Elite and the Unaccountable playbook,” Wedel says. “It reflects the unaccountability that so many organizations and players are operating in. In the book, I describe the systemic nature of this new corruption, the cornerstone of which is unaccountability. I look at unaccountability in different arenas of activity. One of them is in so called grassroots organizations. Grassroots and non profits organizations are sometimes funded by industry or billionaires. And that funding is laundered through the grassroots and non profits organizations. Some people in the organizations know about this, but that information is not fully disclosed.”
“Let’s say you hear an ad about a group to support Alzheimer patients. You might think it’s a grassroots group. But no, it’s funded by a company that has a particular dog in the fight. That is endemic.”
“We see the laundering of influence by billionaires or industry through think tanks. The billionaires or industries have specific agendas. And the reason they want to launder the money through think tanks is because think tanks have a neutral imprimatur. If the think tank comes out with a study, we take it at face value. If a company comes out and says the same thing, we are more skeptical about it. It’s a form of trickery that is in vogue.”
In her book, Wedel lays out the grim details of the new corruption that pervades the American political economy. She’s admittedly short on solutions. She talks about “reinventing shame” and redefining corruption as “a violation of public trust.”
Wedel says that people no longer trust the institutions of our society. And when they don’t trust formal institutions, they look to private ones — friends, family.
What’s wrong with defaulting to friends and family?
“There is nothing inherently wrong with that. But it represents big cultural and societal shifts,” Wedel says.
“This is Eastern Europe all over again. If people don’t trust the official system, and trust only their own — what happens to the public interest? We have a violation of public interest. There is a growing group of outsiders and just a few insiders. The loss of institutional trust, combined with growing income inequality, creates an larger and larger group of outsiders and a sense that the system is being gamed.”
“People sense that something new and different is happening — that there is a violation of trust en masse. But until now, it hasn’t really been laid out in the way that I have laid it out. It hasn’t been shown to be a systematic phenomenon, which it is. It exists in all of these arenas that we have discussed. It affects our pocketbooks, habitats and our security.”
“The Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements, while they may diverge ideologically, are really peas out of the same pod. They both grew out of a grassroots sense that something is amiss, there are more and more outsiders, and the system is gamed by insiders. People do have a deep sense of that. I’ve shown in the book how the pieces fit together. And we have to recognize that campaign finance is not the only problem. It is a big problem. But we really have to go beyond that. And before we start jumping to quick solutions, we have to start recognizing the breadth and depth of the problem.”
Wedel says that once people start distrusting public institutions, they default into their own “private silos.”
“And I get that, because that’s what happened under Communism,” she says. “That’s exactly what happened under Communism. “
Sooner or later, that leads to some sort of institutional collapse?
“Well, that raises the question — to what extent is this sustainable?” she asks “How it ends, I don’t know. It’s very difficult to know the unknowable because there are so many factors that will shape it.”

Janine Wedel on the New Corruption  January 21st, 2015

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