Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rank fetishism

Elias Khalil gave an excellent talk yesterday at ICES, providing a compelling explanation for why we continue to put up with politicians. Here's the abstract:

The dominant view of corruption is based on the principal-agent framework: corruption undermines the interest of the principal. This view cannot explain why corruption, in many cases, is accepted and even demanded by the public, the principal. This paper provides a general theory that provides an answer. It redefines corruption as privileges enjoyed by people of high rank, what is called "rank fetishism." The principal demands people in authority to indulge in privileges to enhance, via heightened neurotransmitters, their own neural capital.

Essentially, blame Smithean sympathy, the peculiar kind. Peculiar sympathy is when we imagine ourselves as others, to avoid the pain of our own frustrated ambitions. Setting up leaders thus psychologically benefits us, the followers. Likewise the designated leaders benefit in more than the obvious way, they psychologically rise to the occasion, e.g. Sarah Palin. It is therefore a kind of free lunch, up to a point. Eventually the process can get out of hand, e.g. the French revolution, or Emelda Marcos and her 3000 shoes. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

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