Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Kleptoplutocrats have much in common

Apart from an eerie facial resemblance, just-deposed former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and often-indicted Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi appear to have much in common. Not only are they both billionaires and among the richest heads of state in history, but both are widely suspected to have come by much of their wealth through corrupt political machinations.

Hosni Mubarak having a bad day

Hosni Mubarak looks for guidance in choosing his words.
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Silvio Berlusconi at an apparent loss for words

Silvio Berlusconi appears to be at a rare loss for words.
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It has often seemed to me that if such gentlemen hadn’t gone into politics, they would have had to content themselves with honest — or at least candid — careers in organized crime. But perhaps a third photo will help bring the question into focus.

Al Capone

Al Capone: Never at a loss for words.
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However, this may not be wholly the fault of either of the “leaders” portrayed further above, nor even that of Al Capone. Is it possible that this attraction of a certain kind of personality to power, whether through politics, organized crime or both, is actually systemic in origin? Let’s ask Al what he thinks.

In an interview with New York Times reporter Claud Cockburn (for a story that the latter never published, for reasons explained elsewhere), Capone was inspired to flights of oratory: “This American system of ours,” he shouted, “call it Americanism, call it Capitalism, call it what you like, gives to each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it.” This (in)famous speech constituted Capone’s defense of his description of capitalism as “the legitimate racket of the ruling class.”

Is it possible, then, that a system that rewards ruthlessness, narcissism and duplicity naturally tends to elevate into its highest offices and positions of power those least afflicted with the constraints of conscience?


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