Does Power Corrupt or are the Corruptible Attracted to Power?

The “Crowded Bookcase” reviews Brian Klaas’s new book Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How it Changes Us. Ryan Boissonneault writes,

It’s a familiar story: A corrupt leader rises to power, is often willingly allowed to do so, and proceeds to leave a trail of destruction in his wake (it’s usually, but not always, a male). We see this time and time again throughout history and across the globe. But we never seem to learn. How can we account for this?

The conventional answer is to blame power itself, as in the proverbial saying “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But as political scientist Brian Klaas explains in his latest book, Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us, things are not so simple. While power can indeed corrupt, more often bad people are drawn to positions of power in the first place, and pursue these positions within systems that actually encourage bad behavior. To ensure that the right people are placed in power, we have to do more than focus only on individuals; we need to fix the underlying systems that allow them to thrive. As Klaas wrote:

“What if power doesn’t make us better or worse? What if power just attracts certain kinds of people—and those are precisely the ones who shouldn’t be in charge? Maybe those who most want power are the least suited to hold it. Perhaps those who crave power are corruptible.”

Check out Boissoneault’s blog for the rest of the review of the book, and spoiler alert – sortition is mentioned as a possible remedy.

Ideas, hacks, representation by sampling and political theory

In response to an exchange of tweets I wrote what seems like a long post on Twitter — lasting 7 tweets —which is a short post here. In any event it tries to crystalise something I think is important in the way I see things — and in how I see them differently to those who give more weight to political theory than I do.

Seems to be working well in New Zealand. But while such topics occupy the minds of the political ‘thinkers’, that’s because academia in particular is so given to ‘big debates’ with ideal types with long histories in the literature.

I think much more progress is possible by paying less attention to theory and the endless set-piece debates between this and that (say FPTP v PR) and more attention to specific hacks which look like they could make a major contribution

In the language I developed in that article, juries are both an ‘idea’ and a ‘hack’ — which is to say they intimate a whole repertoire of possible institutions based on a different idea of what makes someone ‘representative’. (here representation by sampling not election)

And they are the ‘hack’ because they provide a concrete action that can be taken. I think there’s a lot to be said for bringing citizens’ juries into our understanding of checks and balances. Not only are they a different way to do democracy.

They’re time honoured institution. So, in seeking the populace’s support, we wouldn’t be asking them to back some professor’s theory but rather the chain of legitimacy back to Magna Carta and beyond and into people’s trust of their neighbours (and distrust of politicians).

I’d LIKE to think that greater PR here would improve things, but I just don’t know. New Zealand has done some good things since greater PR, but nothing DIFFICULT that I can think of. And the alternative is Italy which doesn’t appeal.

I think we can point representation by sampling at specific problems our system has and, in so doing give ourselves a very good chance of making them a lot better.