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Najib Razak
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Rajib Nazak who was involved in a multi-billion dollar corruption and embezzlement scandal.

All government is theft, but some governments steal more than others. There are entire states founded on the basis of corruption, bribery, and graft. The term for this is kleptocracy. Related is the idea of kakistocracy: rule by the worst men.

Kleptocrats aren’t in power because they’re capable of good governance. They’re in power because they’re expert rent seekers. They know how to work the system not for maximum efficiency, but for personal enrichment.

What Causes Kleptocratic Governments?

Kleptocratic governments don’t arise because of bad intentions. They arise because of common sense and political reality.

Take a budding kleptocrat in a small post-colonial country. He wants to fight crime, put out fires, cure diseases, etc. Problem is, those noble intentions don’t pay the bills — and neither does his salary.

So he compromises a little. Maybe takes a few bucks to move someone up the line. That’s where it starts, but that’s not where it ends. No one ever gets caught the first time. And nothing creates a hunger for success quite like success.

But it is deeply unfair to concentrate on only the grunts at the bottom. The real thieves are running the governments and the central banks. This is the true source of kleptocracy. Anything stolen by these men comes at the expense of fundamentally necessary public works.

Does Kleptocracy Work as a Form of Government?

Kleptocracy works — for those who benefit. So we should not consider the kleptocrats to be feckless or foolish men. They are incredibly skilled. Examples of kleptocracy are plentiful with men like Russian President Vladimir Putin squeezing hundreds of billions of dollars out of their national economies.

The question then becomes not “why do they steal?” but “why does everyone else not?”

When we come to this understanding, kleptocracy becomes quite distinct from kakistocracy. It is not the worst men who run a kleptocracy. It is very capable men who have chosen personal enrichment over their duties.

As Western governments crumble we will increasingly see our own leaders treating the state like their own private piggy bank, stuffing their briefcases with public funds as they look for the exit.

And who can blame them? Everyone else is doing it. There’s very little action in being the only honest man in the game. While there’s not much we can do to stop them, there is quite a bit we can do to prepare for the final fruits of their theft.

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