How to Stop Vladimir Putin’s Mafia

The real enemy is a group of about 100 beneficiaries of the regime and several thousand accomplices.

By Mikhail Khodorkovsky

After Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, I predicted that Russia’s stance toward the U.S. would become more antagonistic. Vladimir Putin always needs a foreign enemy to rally his nation around him and divert attention from the poor Russian economy. Mr. Putin’s aggression has indeed managed to raise tension between the U.S. and Russia. But instead of reinforcing Mr. Putin’s narrative by punishing Russia as a whole, the U.S. should target its response toward Mr. Putin and his inner circle. 
Mr. Putin’s conflicts with the U.S. are clearly intended to improve his reputation among the Russian people. Through his policy and rhetoric, Mr. Putin has spread the notion that the U.S. is a cunning enemy trying to undermine Russia and is responsible for Russia’s every problem at home and abroad.

Kremlin propaganda makes clear that Russia’s fights in eastern Ukraine and in Syria are aimed specifically at opposing the U.S. Mr. Putin sees the rest of the West—with the exception of the United Kingdom—as nothing but feeble U.S. puppets. And even the U.K. is a weak but crafty opponent.

But to sustain his illusion of strength at home, Mr. Putin must be seen scoring victories over the entire U.S. alliance. This is why he has targeted the internal cohesion of Western nations. The Kremlin has funded fringe movements in France and Germany, provoked conflict in Catalonia, attempted to influence elections in the U.S., and brutally punished Russian defectors in the U.K. and Austria.

While the Kremlin sees its target in clear focus, the West has often failed to identify its enemy correctly. It is only in recent statements by British Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, following the Kremlin’s poisoning of a Russian defector to the U.K., that a gradual awareness has begun to appear. The enemy is not Russia, a country of nearly 150 million people like you. It is not even the Russian government as a whole, which is composed of nearly three million civil servants, most of whom receive a modest salary and work for the benefit of society as best they can.

      Illustration: David Gothard 

The West’s real enemy—and the enemy of the Russian people too—is a group of about 100 key beneficiaries of the Putin regime, and several thousand of their accomplices, many of whom hold posts in the Federal Security Service and the presidential administration.

Most of these people began their careers in the criminal underworld of St. Petersburg. Despite having now taken control of the presidency, the group retains every aspect of the criminal ilk from which they came. They are even conscious that they are a band of criminals whose goal is to steal money and avoid accountability by holding on to power. Their methods include buying people off, blackmail, murder and phony elections. But now they can operate world-wide, not merely in one city.

Acknowledging the mafia origins of Vladimir Putin’s entourage will allow the U.S. and its allies better to understand and resist the group’s actions. Mr. Putin’s strategy is often incomprehensible from a normal political perspective, but the background of his circle indicates his aims and vulnerabilities.

They are unconcerned about people—to them ordinary Russians are mere cattle and rabble. They are unconcerned about the country’s long-term future—for them Russia is something to be plundered and, at the same time, serves as a means of protection.

Mr. Putin’s cronies don’t mind being known as ruthless and unconscionable brutes, so long as their critics pose no challenge to their interests. They don’t rely on the law, so only power matters to them; they want to be feared in the international arena.

On the other hand, these people are very sensitive to exposure—to having their activities become public knowledge—because they are used to hiding from society. They also place a high value on money and luxury; losing wealth and comfort is painful to them.

This is a mafia, after all. But it is a mafia with access to the finest lobbying firms, corrupt politicians, and lawyers (who have forgotten that they are also accountable to the law). They also boast the support of the politically obedient Russian mass media.

The effective method of fighting mafia groups is already well established. It isn’t diplomacy, though negotiations are necessary. It isn’t broad economic sanctions, which hit ordinary people but are ineffective against the mafiosi.

The best method of targeting Mr. Putin’s circle is to identify its individual members, along with their accomplices and the politicians they have paid off. Then, the U.S. and its allies could act to cut them off from the mechanisms of their influence loot—the people, money, and corporations they control in the West.

The Magnitsky Act, passed by Congress in 2012 to punish murderous Russian officials, shook the sense of impunity among Mr. Putin’s allies. A recent Spanish probe uncovered one of their criminal groups—with connections to the very top.

Resisting Mr. Putin’s regime will require this type of action. Identifying the group’s members, cutting them off from their overseas resources, and making their crimes public—that is the recipe for success in the confrontation with one of the most dangerous mafia gangs of the century.

Mr. Khodorkovsky is founder of Open Russia.

Getting the Inequality We Want

Roland Kupers

 People shop in the centre of Walsall

AMSTERDAM – Everyone, it seems, is talking about inequality. Media outlets publish article after article on the topic. Politicians include it in their speeches and platforms. Yet, even though economists like Thomas Piketty and Joseph E. Stiglitz have proved, through meticulous research, the causal link between inequality and policy choices, politicians have yet to establish what level of inequality they consider ideal.

Eliminating inequality, after all, is not the point. Too much inequality impedes social mobility, thereby potentially stoking political instability; as Stiglitz has often pointed out, it also tends to lead to weaker economic performance. Yet some amount of inequality is vital to create appropriate incentives, support competition, and provide reasonable rewards. That is why it is important to define what level of inequality is fair, and work actively to achieve it.

Whatever that level is, it seems clear it is lower than the actual level of inequality in much of the world today. Yet, far from establishing – or even debating – a specific target level to which to reduce inequality, politicians continue to allow it to rise. This will change only when policymakers treat inequality more like GDP growth, health care, or climate-change mitigation: as the subject of serious debate and concrete action.

They should start by considering the Gini coefficient, a simple and widely used measure of a country’s income or wealth distribution. Ranging from zero (fully equal) to one (fully unequal), the Gini coefficient is a straightforward mechanism for comparing inequality over time and across countries. While it is not perfect – reducing a country’s distribution of income or wealth to a single number inevitably requires some mathematical shortcuts – it is clear, functional, and broadly accepted.

But the Gini coefficient can be different, depending on what one is measuring: inequality of incomes or assets. These two kinds of inequality are obviously connected: income flows into assets, like a river flows into a lake. But there are key differences, exemplified by the fact that assets are much more unevenly distributed than income.

Globally, asset inequality ranges from 0.55 in Japan to 0.85 in Zimbabwe (notwithstanding questions about the quality of Zimbabwean data). In the developed world, asset inequality is particularly high – 0.80 – in Denmark, Switzerland, and the United States. It is particularly low – around 0.58 – in Ireland, Italy, and Spain.

Income inequality ranges from 0.25 in Iceland to 0.64 in South Africa, though of course the figures differ depending on whether one is considering before- or after-tax income. All countries redistribute some income through taxation, but in vastly different proportions, with more unequal countries, such as the US and the United Kingdom, tending to redistribute more. Redistribution levels are the direct result of policy choices, which typically also reflect cultural and historical factors.

The point is not to get lost in endless comparisons or arcane mathematics, but to underscore that it is possible – and, indeed, necessary – to have a meaningful discussion of inequality, based on concrete figures, with the goal of establishing clear targets. If the right targets are to be selected, the debate must be better informed.

As it stands, surveys show that people tend to believe that inequality is lower than it actually is, but still higher than the level they would consider ideal. This is true in most countries – including in the US, where inequality is among the highest in the world – though there are a few countries, such as Norway, where people have a more realistic view. Correcting these misperceptions will change people’s opinions of redistributive policies.

Moreover, the debate must account for all relevant perspectives. It should be noted, for example, that most economists argue that the ideal level desired by many would undermine economic performance, leaving everyone worse off. So, as with other complex issues, politicians need to balance voter aspirations with expert views. And because political factions will disagree (as they should) voters will be able to have their say as well.

Inequality is not some inevitable, uncontrollable feature of any economy; like the level of redistribution, it is the direct result of policy choices. If it is too high, it is the responsibility of our leaders to choose different policies.

Roland Kupers is an adviser on complexity, resilience, and energy transition, and is associated with the Institute of Advanced Studies in Amsterdam.

Short of War in the South China Sea

By Phillip Orchard

It’s been an awfully eventful year in the South China Sea – and it’s not even halfway over. In just the few first months of 2018, U.S., Japanese, Australian and Singaporean warships paraded their power around the waters by making several high-profile port visits to the Philippines and Vietnam. Meanwhile, in an uncustomarily overt show of military force, China launched a series of live-fire naval and air force exercises, including one involving at least 40 warships. In late March, the U.S. conducted a freedom of navigation operation, sailing a warship near a Chinese-controlled artificial island in disputed waters to discredit Beijing’s legal basis for its territorial claims. The same week, Chinese warplanes chased off Philippine surveillance aircraft monitoring developments in the disputed Spratly archipelago, even as the governments in Beijing and Manila were agreeing to jointly pursue and extract oil and natural gas in waters just off Philippine shores. Two days later, Vietnam canceled its second foreign-backed drilling project in disputed waters in less than a year. Both the Philippines and Vietnam were capitulating to repeated Chinese threats to disrupt any drilling project undertaken with another outside power.

But the list of events doesn’t end there. In early April, the Pentagon released satellite imagery showing that China had installed radar-jamming equipment on Fiery Cross Reef – one of several artificial islands China has gradually been militarizing in the Spratly archipelago, which are located, as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte put it, just a jet ski ride from Philippine shores – and landed military transport planes on neighboring Mischief Reef. The same day, 20 U.S. warplanes took off from and returned to the nearby USS Roosevelt aircraft carrier in just 20 minutes, an impressive display of operational tempo intended to demonstrate to the region just how far China has to go to achieve parity with the Americans. Shortly thereafter, China’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier started sea trials, underscoring the remarkable pace of China’s own naval modernization.

More recently, on April 17, shortly after Duterte returned from a trip to China, the U.S. finally broke ground on base facilities in the Philippines, agreed to under a 2014 pact that Duterte had once threatened to cancel. (He also threatened to cancel the annual U.S.-Philippine Balikatan naval exercises, which will formally open next week with expanded Australian and Japanese participation.)

Two days later, Chinese warships had an unexplained “encounter” with three Australian warships sailing from Manila to Vietnam. Then, a week ago, Chinese researchers proposed replacing the infamous “nine-dash line,” which traces Beijing’s sweeping but nebulous claims in the South China Sea, with a fixed boundary more clearly outlining the area in which China would have exclusive rights to fish, drill for oil, station military assets and so forth. (Beijing often uses “researchers” to submit contentious proposals and gauge international reaction before deciding whether to adopt them formally.) Finally, at last weekend’s annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, while U.S. bombers were cruising over the South China Sea, Chinese pressure once again prevented Southeast Asian leaders from demonstrating even a shred of unity in opposition to Chinese assertiveness. Member states succeeded only in issuing yet another watered down communique that addressed the South China Sea disputes in oblique terms.

At issue, as always, is whether any of this will amount to more than shadowboxing. It’s difficult to say for sure, considering how performative so much of the behavior in the South China Sea can be. Perhaps the clearest signal came last week from Adm. Philip Davidson, the incoming chief of U.S. Pacific Command, who told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that “China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.” Equally notable were Davidson’s milquetoast recommendations to counter China’s expansion: more freedom of navigation operations, more development of advanced weaponry, and a steadier U.S. presence in the region. His recommendations echoed the case made by the commander of the USS Carl Vinson on a visit to Manila in February: that a consistent U.S. presence is what underpins regional security. Neither called for the U.S. to actually do anything to roll back the Chinese advance.

Davidson’s comments make sense. China is the only country that seems to know exactly what it wants in the South China Sea and that has settled on a strategy for getting it. Beijing is betting that it can draw Southeast Asian states firmly into its orbit, eventually securing access to the greater Pacific Ocean merely by never giving an inch and creating a sense that Chinese domination is inevitable. The U.S. wants to counter this impression with occasional shows of force intended to demonstrate how much better its Navy is, while nudging littoral states to unite against the Chinese. But a demonstration of force isn’t the same thing as a demonstration of willingness to use force on another state’s behalf, and the U.S. has too much to do elsewhere to supply the resources needed for an anti-Chinese coalition among Southeast Asian states to have any teeth. Southeast Asian states are trying to play all sides to their benefit, but they are too wary of Chinese coercion, too uncertain about U.S. interest in intervening on their behalf, too weak militarily and too internally divided to act decisively in either direction.

So to what degree does the U.S. actually care about Chinese control of the South China Sea, as Davidson put it, in all scenarios short of war? The problem for Southeast Asia is this: Chinese dominion over what littoral states do in the South China Sea’s waters isn’t actually that much of a threat to U.S. interests in the big picture, at least for the time being. The main U.S. interest in the South China Sea dispute is preventing a conflict or an erosion of maritime law that threatens to disrupt seaborne trade. Some 30 percent of global maritime trade and about half of global oil tanker shipments pass through the waters each year. But so long as the U.S. can block Chinese traffic through the first island chain – the series of islands off China’s coast that stretch from Japan to Indonesia – and through the Strait of Malacca, China can’t risk stopping traffic in the contested waters. The U.S. also cares about things like rules-based order and the narrow material interests of littoral states, but it has little interest in what would inevitably be a costly war to defend them. And it cares about maintaining a balance between East Asia’s larger powers, but it would like this burden to fall on regional partners like Japan, Australia and India as much as possible – countries that have no more apparent interest in going to war over the drilling rights of Vietnam and the Philippines.

The risk of this approach is that, over the long term, it could dramatically raise the cost of a U.S. intervention to address issues it does care about, such as sea lane control. China’s military modernization will narrow the gap with the U.S. somewhat, particularly in an area where the Chinese would have home field advantage, where it could amass forces and supplies quickly beneath the umbrella of its mainland-based missiles and air power. And if Southeast Asian states feel that U.S. indifference has given them no choice but to accept Chinese regional domination, it would undermine the United States’ regional position altogether since it would prevent Washington from using the first island chain to block the Chinese. Notably, Davidson also warned that China’s domination of the South China Sea will allow it to “extend its influence thousands of miles to the south and project power deep into Oceania” and “use these bases to challenge U.S. presence in the region.” And if the U.S. concludes that a clash with China is inevitable, it’d have an interest in pushing back before China makes it even more costly to do so.

These are long-term threats, ones that the combination of China’s own internal woes and, say, Japan’s re-emergence may very well derail. But what we’re seeing in the South China Sea today is preparations grounded in the assumption that the fragile status quo won’t necessarily hold forever.

In Uzbekistan, Attempts at Liberalization Aren’t What They Seem

By George Friedman and Ekaterina Zolotova

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, which governed Uzbekistan as a satellite state, the country had had only one ruler: Islam Karimov, a strong-armed, unapologetically clannish dictator. He died in 2016 and was replaced by Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Shortly thereafter, Mirziyoyev announced reforms meant to open the country up to the outside world economically. He cultivated ties with potential patrons, including Russia, Europe, and China. More important, he began to improve relations with other Central Asian states. Cross-border disputes related to access and usage of energy and water resources are gradually being solved.

Source: Geopolitical Futures (Click to enlarge)

Today, Uzbekistan has all the appearances of a country on the rise. It is prosperous and stable by the standards of the region. But appearances can be deceptive. Beneficial though Mirziyoyev’s reforms might be, their uses are merely counterfeit. The cool logic behind them is that they help Mirziyoyev consolidate power and endear him to his subjects. In a place such as Uzbekistan, the tactics a leader use may be liberal or draconian, but the outcome is the same: Uzbekistan is not going to be anything other than a centralized state where the president has great power.

Evaluating the Reforms

What has the liberalization of Uzbekistan accomplished? Economic prosperity? Not really. The structure of the economy is largely the same as it has always been, dependent as it is on materials and extractive industries and on the countries that buy their wares. Inflation is still high and unemployment artificially low, as millions go abroad for work. The state is still active in the financial sector.

The end of strongman rule? Not so fast. Yes, some of Karimov’s opponents have been released from prison and their power curbed. Yes, the National Security Service, which unofficially controlled all spheres of life under Karimov, has been neutered, and its leader, Rustam Inoyatov, has been dismissed. Yes, purges in the defense and finance ministries have rid the system of Karimov acolytes. But the system, which remains vertical and top-heavy, is still largely intact. Mirziyoyev himself was prime minister before he was president. As prime minister, he practiced the same kind of authoritarianism Karimov did and eschewed the same kind of liberal reforms he purports to pursue now. And now that he is president, he faces the very same situation his predecessor did: He must achieve internal political stability from within and ensure security from without. He can only do that if he stays in power, and he can only stay in power if he wins the support of the people.

Did liberalization open up the country to external markets? In theory, yes. In practice, no.

Mirziyoyev does support trade. He visits the countries with which Uzbekistan trades, provides platforms for solving problems, participates in organizations such as the Commonwealth of Independent States, signs bilateral agreements, and reduces transit fees. But these practices precede him. In fact, Uzbekistan has a long tradition of trade. Like all Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan has no access to the sea but has nonetheless been a major trading center since antiquity. Trade created some opportunities for Uzbekistan, but it also created dependencies on its neighbors and on existing trade routes. China accounts for nearly 19% of Uzbek trade; Russia nearly 18%; Kazakhstan roughly 8%; and Turkey some 6%. These dependencies prevent the government in Tashkent from entering new markets.

Karimov diversified his country’s trade partners as best he could, careful not to rely too much on any one country. Central Asia, after all, is a region in which the interests of East and West overlap. Uzbekistan in particular has recently been courted by countries in the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Uzbekistan values neutrality above all else and so is careful to find a balance among all its suitors.

Mirziyoyev is following in his predecessor’s footsteps. Having strengthened ties with China and Russia under Karimov, the government under Mirziyoyev has sought to expand contacts with partners such as India, South Korea, and the European Union in an attempt to diversify partners and, more important for his landlocked country, build new transport corridors to other, preferably Western, markets. To that end, Mirziyoyev has already made some changes to convince the world it is high time to invest in Uzbekistan. Government officials have invited several Turkish investors, who were previously expelled from Uzbekistan, back to the country.

They have signed contracts with US companies for $2.6 billion, they have come to an agreement on financial cooperation with Germany, and they continue to look for more markets. This is all well and good for Uzbekistan, but it is not especially new.

Cozying Up to Russia?

Has liberalization improved relations within the region? Yes and no. It’s no secret that under Karimov relations with the rest of Central Asia were tense and that Mirziyoyev inherited a number of Karimov’s problems in that regard. There have been territorial disputes, disputes over access to resources, and personal animosities among leaders. The president has indeed endeavored to resolve some of these issues. But his decision to make nice with the region is less of a paradigmatic shift and more of a pragmatic decision. His country is in a precarious position. It is not receiving as much money from Russia as it once was, thanks in part to Russia’s own financial woes. China is viewed with apprehension. Uzbekistan may be able to forsake one but it cannot afford to forsake both. Solidarity among its neighbors helps dampen the blow.

The final question is: Has Uzbekistan under Mirziyoyev cozied up to Russia? The answer is yes, but only for now, and not because of anything Mirziyoyev has done. The reorientation began under Karimov, who, having rebuked the West when he removed a US air base from his country, repaired relations by reorienting trade and investment to Western states, mainly the US, and to South Korea and Japan. He was, in fact, the first Central Asian leader to spurn Russia. But relations between Uzbekistan and the West soured in 2005 when the Uzbek government killed hundreds of protesters (or thousands, depending on the source) in Andijan province. (The West condemned the government and levied sanctions against it.) Without a partner to turn to, Uzbekistan had to turn back to Russia to avoid total international isolation.

Since then, Russia and Uzbekistan have agreed to implement a variety of joint projects worth more than $15 billion. They have also discussed the possibility of increasing trade ties. Russia already buys agricultural products and foodstuffs from Uzbekistan, and Uzbekistan suspended excises on a wide variety of Russian goods.

None of this is to say that Uzbekistan is set to become a full and faithful Russian ally.

Uzbekistan’s loyalty is notoriously hard to secure. Russia is buying less natural gas from Central Asia than it once did. And Tashkent still hasn’t joined the Collective Security Treaty Organization or the Eurasian Economic Union.

Mirziyoyev’s reforms are less radical than they appear. He faces the same challenges Karimov did and he has largely responded to them as Karimov did. There is little to compel him to create the institutions necessary for liberal democracy. There are no real steps to develop the institutions necessary for a market economy. The only real reform has been the purge of the National Security Service—the main competitor to the government. The reforms in the financial sector and taxation are aimed at improving the business climate in the country and attracting foreign investments to Uzbekistan, not at opening up to new and better markets.

Flashes of liberalization are not the same as fundamental, systemic changes.

The Inevitability of Snollygosters

by Jeff Thomas

Snollygoster is an archaic term for, “A fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principles, and who, whenever he wins, gets there by the sheer force of monumental talknophical assumnancy.”

All right, that’s a rather antiquated definition, but then, “snollygoster” is a very antiquated term. It hasn’t been in use since the mid-1800s.

Another definition is, “A shrewd, unprincipled person, especially a politician.”

So, of what interest is this bygone nomenclature to us today?

Well, the definitions are exactly in keeping with our present-day politicians. When we look at our senators, parliamentarians, presidents and prime ministers, we see that, even with the passage of considerable time, the term “snollygoster” is applicable today.

And, we, the constituents, could be referred to as “grumbletonians,” a word common in England in the 1600s for those who are angry or unhappy with their government.

And we’re just as likely to be so exasperated with our political leaders that we resort to a “whipmegmorum”—a Scottish word from the 1700s for a noisy quarrel about politics.

These ancient and forgotten terms may be entertaining, but they may additionally raise a question in modern minds: Do you mean that it isn’t just that our present leaders are virtual cartoons—and destructive ones at that? Do you mean that (gulp) it’s always been this way?

…’Fraid so.

But, how is this possible? How is it that, regardless of the times we’re in, and regardless of whether we have literally hundreds of millions of citizens to choose from (in the larger countries), we end up with cartoon characters as leaders? Is it that we’re so bad at making a selection that we always choose the worst person?

Well actually, there the answer would be, “No.”

Voters don’t actively seek out the worst. The problem is that they’re presented with the worst. In the UK, we can complain about how useless Theresa May is; that she continually drops the ball and repeatedly acts with foolhardy overconfidence. But, if asked, “Would you rather have Jeremy Corbin?” those of us who grumble are likely to respond vehemently in the negative. (We don’t wish to jump from the pan into the fire.)

Similarly, across the pond in the US, Americans (including republicans) cannot help but laugh at their president as being an arrogant and petulant buffoon. (For the record, those of us outside the US also regard him as a source of perverse entertainment.) Still, I expect that most of those same people, if asked whether they think Hillary Clinton would be closer to their ideal of the perfect leader, they’d emphatically say, “No.”

So, the problem is not that the voters “get the leader they deserve.” The problem is that the game is rigged—that there are no good choices. In a small country, it’s easy to introduce a candidate whom the electorate actually believe in, then to push him forward to victory. But, the larger the country, the more impossible it is for anyone who deserves a leadership position to actually achieve it. (The system promotes its own kind.)

But, this notion presupposes that the majority of people within the political structure are already “contaminated,” that they, too, for all practical purposes, are undesirable. Can this actually be the case?

Again… ‘fraid so… But how is this possible?

Well, as long as we’re discussing definitions, there are two more that we might want to investigate.

Let’s look at this one:

A long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others’ feelings.

People affected by it often spend a lot of time thinking about achieving power or success.

Well, that certainly fits virtually all political leaders and political hopefuls. This definition is used to describe “narcissistic personality disorder.” A fuller description is:

Persistent grandiosity, excessive need for admiration, and a personal disdain for, and lack of empathy for other people... Arrogance, a sense of superiority... actively seeks to establish abusive power and control over other people... openly disregards the feelings and wishes of others, and expects to be treated as superior, regardless of their actual status or achievements... usually exhibits a fragile ego, an inability to tolerate criticism, and a tendency to belittle others in order to validate their own superiority.

Take a moment and ask yourself whether the above describes a leader near you.

And, here’s another interesting definition:

A pervasive and persistent disregard for morals, social norms, and the rights and feelings of others. Individuals with this personality disorder will typically have no compunction in exploiting others in harmful ways for their own gain or pleasure and frequently manipulate and deceive other people, achieving this through wit and a facade of superficial charm.

This is a definition for sociopathy, or “antisocial personality disorder.” To expand, sociopaths demonstrate a:

Disregard for right and wrong, persistent lying or deceit to exploit others, callous, cynical and disrespectful of others, using charm or wit to manipulate others for personal gain or personal pleasure, arrogance, a sense of superiority and being extremely opinionated… repeatedly violating the rights of others through intimidation and dishonesty, impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead, hostility, significant irritability, agitation… lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others, unnecessary risk-taking or dangerous behavior with no regard for the safety of self or others… failure to consider the negative consequences of behavior or learn from them.

Initially, we may be tempted to say to ourselves, “Surely, it’s not as bad as all that.” But, if we really want to get an accurate picture, a useful exercise might be to picture a specific leader whose behaviour we’ve witnessed repeatedly and then read the above descriptions once again, whilst picturing his face.

The surprising truth is that many political leaders and political hopefuls display these characteristics exactly. Many are clearly narcissists, sociopaths, or both.

But, why should this be? Well, the easy answer is “obsessive behaviour.” Those who have the above disorders will literally do anything to achieve superiority over others and will have no remorse or regret whatever. Therefore, it’s perfectly predictable that, over time, any government will become populated by pathological individuals.

This is not a new occurrence. ‘Twas ever thus. The snollygosters have been a chronic dominant presence in governments for millennia. And they’ll continue to be dominant.

However, there is a positive takeaway here. If we recognise that this syndrome is in fact the norm, in any age, in any country, we can stop hoping for a hero to arise and save us from the parasitical dominance of governments. We can accept that, if we’re to thrive, this may only be accomplished through our own independence of mind and action, not through the empty promises of pathological leaders.