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Money is the root of all politics


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It is true, politicians have an extremely poor reputation - but if you assume that every politician is like this, then sad to say, it is devoid of good sense or judgment. If they were, then whole infrastructure would collapse before you could even say “Jack Robinson”.

They are a terrible, unpleasant lot no doubt. They change their minds and reverse it? They are a weak tribe and do not have the ability or the wherewithal to lead. Many politicians are clearly in it for themselves. 

But looking at our political systems and our politicians, it is very clear that doing or saying unintelligent things is no barrier to political success. Unfortunately, there are several psychological mechanisms that lead to apparent idiots being elected into powerful positions. 

 

Psychological explanation

In the field of psychology, there is something called the Dunning-Kruger effect.  It is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority comes from the inability of low-ability people to recognise their lack of ability.  

So the Dunning-Kruger effect reveals that less-intelligent people are usually “Incredibly Confident”; more intelligent people, by contrast, aren’t at all. Self-appraisal is a useful metacognitive skill, but one that requires intelligence; if you don’t have much of it, you don’t consider yourself flawed or ignorant, because technically you don’t have the ability to do so.  

An apt definition of our politicians in a nutshell. 

 

Hanna's most lasting contribution to politics is probably this light-hearted quip:

"There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can't remember the second."

Jesse Unruh, Speaker of the California State Assembly in the 1960s, put it more succinctly. “Money”, he said, "is the mother's milk of politics."

 

Effectively running a country of tens of millions citizens, all of who have different requirements and demands, is an incredibly complicated job. There are just so many variables that need to be considered. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to condense all this into a convenient soundbite for use with the modern media. 

And thus, we have the less intelligent personalities being more confident, more persuasive, and so on. This is also demonstrated by Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, where people will spend far more time and effort focusingon something trivial that they do understand than something complicated that they don’t. The former offers far more scope for contribution and influence. And people do love trivial things. Consequently, less-intelligent people condensing down the big issues into brief but inaccurate snippets.

It is an unfortunate situation, but it just seems to be the way people’s minds work. And our media, print as well as the audio-visual, use this low mentality thinking as a weapon to support and guide or misguide in accordance with their self-interests, expediencies and egocentricities.

 

Organised crime and political money 

Now coming to the question of politicians and their inordinate love for power and wealth - It is believed that the intervention of corrupt politicians are to blame in their support of organised crime in the appointments of the judiciary and law enforcement officers, for the misappropriation of billions of rupees of the country’s wealth,and various other offences that have left this poor country’s financial affairs in disarray.

The power of these crime groups stems primarily from their ability to operate with ease across the country because of the support and protection afforded by corrupt politicians. They have the expertise to complete a detailed risk assessment at national level and then choose the least vulnerable approach to conduct their illicit activities, whether in narcotics, human trafficking or the massive money laundering exercises that follow such crimes. 

The problem for national law enforcement is that, by definition, it cannot follow this type of crime easily. Modern crime schemes are designed to have very short lives to avoid detection, lasting sometimes just months before the associated companies and bank accounts are wound up and replaced by new ones.  The advantages available for criminals of operating locally and on a global scale are unlimited.  

 

The dangers faced by those enmeshed in deadly narcotic networks describes the choices available to police officers, government officials, and common citizens – they can either accept bribes for taking part in illegal activities or for looking the other way or even a bullet if they fail to do so.  The vast wealth and chronic violence generated by the drug trade is an egregious example of how criminal behaviour undermines efforts to establish the rule of law and effective government institutions. It can be seen distinctly and incontrovertibly that money is the root of all politics. It sounds so obvious, it’s hardly worth writing down

 

Such criminal schemes are designed by creative and intelligent, if misguided, people. Some of them could have been the next Steve Jobs, but found crime more appealing. They often work for what we call the ‘criminal services industry’ -  the lawyers, physicians, business intelligence firms and other legitimate businesses that earn lucrative income from servicing the needs of criminal clients and aided and abetted with no less persons than those wielding political power and positions. 

There are myriads of problems related to money in politics: financial scandals, the abuse of public funds, drug kingpins supplying illicit money to weddings and parties of politicians, and private corporations funnelling vast sums to party figures in order to garner favours – thelist can continue indefinitely – the involvement of Makandura Madush with the top politicians in Sri Lanka is just one case in point.

It will be interesting to note that Mark Hanna of Ohio was one of the first modern political bosses, responsible for putting William McKinley in the White House in 1896 in large part because he raised an unprecedented amount of money--more than $3 billion in today’s economy. And Hanna’s most lasting contribution to politics is probably this light-hearted quip:

“There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember the second.”

Jesse Unruh, Speaker of the California State Assembly in the 1960s, put it more succinctly. “Money”, he said, “is the mother’s milk of politics.”

It is common for money in politics to operate behind closed doors and involve shadowy practices. The exact amounts and origins of donations to political parties or candidates are often unknown. This creates a system that is open to abuse by big business or organised crime, which contributes money in return for influence. Donations seen as an investment by corporate interests have been reported from virtually all regions - where drug money has infiltrated political life and elections.

In all regions of the world there is a deeply worrying trend of money in politics drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens. 

As surely as water flows downhill, money in politics flows to where the power lies. Individuals and interest groups will give campaign contributions to politicians in the best position to deliver what they’re looking for. 

Money and politics are closely intertwined; the way that parties and candidates access their funding greatly affects how the political system functions. The contribution of money to political parties and candidates is an important way in which large corporations and wealthy capitalists exercise disproportionate influence over politics in Sri Lanka, yet it also poses serious challenges and threats to the political process, because it is not only the wealthy capitalists and large corporations it is also the deadly and pernicious influence of drug money which dominates the political arena today.

When corruption fails, there is always violence.

The dangers faced by those enmeshed in deadly narcotic networks describes the choices available to police officers, government officials, and common citizens – they can either accept bribes for taking part in illegal activities or for looking the other way or even a bullet if they fail to do so.  

The vast wealth and chronic violence generated by the drug trade is an egregious example of how criminal behaviour undermines efforts to establish the rule of law and effective government institutions.

It can be seen distinctly and incontrovertibly that money is the root of all politics. It sounds so obvious, it’s hardly worth writing down.

From a sermon given by Frederick Lewis Donaldson in Westminster Abbey, London, on March 20, 1925:

“The Seven Social Sins are: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice and Politics without principle.”

The writer counts over 50 years in the insurance industry and is an Associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute [London] and also holds the title of Chartered Insurance Practitioner; as well as an Associate of the Insurance Institute of India. He could be reached via email at zul523@sltnet.lk


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