It helps tremendously to understand that countries have de-facto shareholders, usually invisible by design, except with a bit of digging or their own carelessness.
We have witnesssed an example of carelessness resulting in increased attention and unmasking of the game after the tragic Genoa bridge collapse. It soon became public knowledge that:
1) Italy’s highways are operated by a private company, Autostrade.
2) Autostrade’s parent company is registered in Luxembourg and pays fuck all in taxes.
3) It is ultimately owned by the Benetton family, famous for selling bad overpriced clothes by means of achingly utopian, politically correct advertisements.
4) Italy’s highway tolls are the most expensive in Europe.
This is patrician kleptocracy, the only system of government Italy has ever had.
The shareholders are rarely if ever the mass of “normal” citizens, or even their elected representatives. Even if so, there are majority shareholders alongside and over them.
Oligarchic families, mafia, high finance … the lines blur into a single cloud of yacht diesel fumes, cocaine and Chanel.
The shareholding comparison is apt, because it means that true power and financial benefits are held by private persons without formal roles in the management – the actual, visible government.
It is, of course, oligarchy. Oligarchy is an attractor state, and all societies gravitate towards it by the natural operation of human behavior. Power – true power – always ends up in relatively few hands. Those hands then inevitably use it to grab wealth. What democratic (or other types of) controls might be applied to prevent and counter this tendency is a topic for another time. Today, we describe reality.
Neither is oligarchy necessarily bad – the argument has often been made for long-term interests moderating the excesses of pure democracy, a sort of adult supervision thinking beyond the election cycle, like a constitutional monarchy, which is itself a legalized oligarchy. I have always found this argument suspect and self-serving, an instance of mercenary logic arriving at predetermined conclusions, those being “the plebes can’t be trusted to make rational decisions”, and the unspoken “I should be in charge”.
But even the advocates of “adult supervision” of democracy have to concede that ultra-corrupt patricians bobbing about on 100 meter yachts are not what they had in mind – such an extractive oligarchy is unequivocally bad. The proponents of oligarchy usually mean some idealized, morally virtuous natural aristocracy – but to the degree that such a natural aristocracy exists, we don’t want the job precisely because of our moral virtue ;-).
Extractive or not, a stable oligarchy can’t be conspicuous, and ideally not even visible. Extractive oligarchies are however going to be doubly unpopular, so they should also be doubly hidden, unless they are willing to risk being doubly repressive (Russia). A low profile is the correct course of action in most cases.
It’s easy to storm the presidential palace and kill the genocidal asshat with the golden Kalashnikov. It’s harder to track down and pitchfork the owner of a 20% stake in a company that just so happens to get all the infrastructure contracts in the country, for decades.
In fact, one measure of civilization is the quality of the masquerade of the ultimate beneficial owners.
For example, they’re virtually impossible to find in Switzerland (except when they meet in Davos). In Italy, on the other hand, the patrician families and their arrangements are open secrets. In particularly backwards countries, they actually visibly and personally sit in government, rather than controlling it remotely. Putin, Saudis, Xi. African warlords. Those are fragile arrangements open to coups and revolts. Ideally, you shouldn’t even be in the country you (co-)own.
Only the most cretinous oligarchs make themselves visible.
Ego is the enemy of security.
Strutting and rubbing the plebes’ noses in it is unhealthy. If you gotta strut, do it in the designated locations – Monte Carlo, Mayfair, Macau, Milan, Manhattan, St. Moritz, Portofino, Geneva … you get the idea.
Countries as shareholders of other countries
Companies can and frequently do own shares in other companies. Likewise, it is quite usual for the majority shareholder in a country to be another country – and by proxy, that country’s oligarchy.
Control of reserve currencies and holdings of large amounts of other countries’ debt do that in ways that primitive, boots-on-the-ground vassalage never could.
China is now in the process of economically colonizing other countries – “buying shares” in them, both literally and figuratively. The Belt and Road initiative isn’t a new Silk Road – moving boxes of stuff around by trucks and trains is not so important, since the economy is dematerializing, and initiating a global gigaproject of this sort makes no logistical sense, any more than investing in the world’s largest candle factory just as lightbulbs are invented. If you’re ready for a huge red pill, the real Chinese game is to force unrepayable debt on other countries, and when they inevitably default on it, to demand compensation in strategic assets. They did this before.
As a final aside on this topic, it’s going to be interesting in Central Asia, where new Chinese colonialism will clash with existing vassalage to Russia – both countries understand the strategic importance of the region, and both are unashamed neo-imperialist and neo-colonialist powers.
The ultimate beneficiery of the corporation called China – for a corporation it essentially is, call itself a government or a country as it may – is still the same tightly knit circle at the center of the Party. But they’re idiots for even having a visible Party, and having the functionaries actually be the true rulers, rather than their secret employees (although who knows where the links eventually lead?)
There are shareholder meetings for the whole planet – think the World Economic Forum in Davos, where people who pretty much own the world, public servants – which is to say, their publicly visible servants – and a vast retinue and subservient priestly caste of auxiliary academics, thinktankers, journalists and other motley cocksuckers (often literal), eager to insert themselves into the action, mingle fraternally at pretty much your expense.
Present no palaces to storm, no evident elite to lynch. The visible ruling class have to be your employees and vassals. Also, legal culpability for the illegal stuff they’ll be doing for you (or else) must end with them.
Rule at a distance, and be as anyonymous as possible.
Like Machiavelli before me, I’m not saying this to provide a handbook for the assholes, but to unmask the game, and hopefully to make the assholes’ lives a bit more difficult.
A realistic exploration of the nature and dynamics of corruption in civilized lands was already published on Wisdomination years ago, and you can read it here.
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