Structural Corruption

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

James Fallows flags Peter Orszag's migration over to Citibank:


Shocking, in the structural rather than personal corruption that it illustrates. I believe Orszag (whom I do not know at all) to be a faultlessly honest man, by the letter of the law. I am sorry for his judgment in taking this job,* but I am implying nothing whatsoever "unethical" in a technical sense. But in the grander scheme, his move illustrates something that is just wrong. The idea that someone would help plan, advocate, and carry out an economic policy that played such a crucial role in the survival of a financial institution -- and then, less than two years after his Administration took office, would take a job that (a) exemplifies the growing disparities the Administration says it's trying to correct and (b) unavoidably will call on knowledge and contacts Orszag developed while in recent public service -- this says something bad about what is taken for granted in American public life. 

When we notice similar patterns in other countries -- for instance, how many offspring and in-laws of senior Chinese Communist officials have become very, very rich -- we are quick to draw conclusions about structural injustices. Americans may not "notice" Orszag-like migrations, in the sense of devoting big news coverage to them. But these stories pile up in the background to create a broad American sense that politics is rigged, and opportunity too. Why do we wince a little bit when we now hear "Change you can believe in?" This is an illustration.

Indeed this is the sort of thing that really robs any politician of the right to criticize Americans for being cynical about politics. As Fallows points out, a lot of us will totally miss this story. But still it feeds an inchoate sense, a broad feeling across lines of race, geography, and politics, that the game is indeed rigged. 

To switch gears a bit, I've always thought that among the most hurtful of urban myths collected by African-Americans was the notion that white people created AIDS as a weapon of genocide. The myth feeds cynicism and fear of the health care system which African-Americans so desperately need. But that said, I've also always thought that those who laugh at that kind conspiracy talk, would do well to think about how a group comes to consider such thoughts.

The notion that shadowy forces are at work is pretty common among humans. This is the sort of thing--among many things--that just stokes the flame.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/12/structural-corruption/67947/