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Griftocracy

(Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)

The second edition of Brent H. Cameron’s book, “The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade: Options for a new globalization is available now on Amazon worldwide.

If you look up the definition of the word ‘grifter’, you will get slightly dissimilar reads. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “A person who engages in petty or small-scale swindling.” The Cambridge Dictionary refers to the term as describing “someone who gets money dishonestly by tricking people.” At the risk of igniting another Oxbridge feud, this article sides with the latter, for no other reason than Oxford’s use of the phrase ‘small-scale.”

There is nothing small-scale about the grifting taking place right now.

In various previous pieces, I have referred to ‘elites’ as the ‘cognoscenti’ or the ‘kakistocracy.’ The former term implies intelligence and forethought, but given the level of incompetence the world has been subjected to, that does not seem appropriate. ‘Kakistocracy’ comes close, as it refers to “a system of government that is run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens.” For me, though, it lacks an emotive, visceral feel.

That’s why I prefer ‘grifters,’ or in this case, the collective – ‘griftocracy.’

Let’s review the record.

In 2016, they said ‘Leave’ wouldn’t win the EU referendum as late as a week before the vote – they were wrong. In the following 3 years, they have taken what – under normal circumstances – would have been easily achieved in two years and have created a crisis that not only imperils the expressed will of the public, but will likely deliver a once in a century shock to the political system – and still leave Brexit as unfulfilled.

The griftocracy gave Hillary Clinton a 95 percent chance of becoming US President even after polls opened on election day – they were wrong.

They laughed along with Barack Obama in 2012 when he chided Mitt Romney during a Presidential Debate for considering Russia an imminent threat to the global order, and high-fived one another when Obama said “the Cold War is over.” Within five years, they would spend vast amounts of time and treasure to prove that America had fallen under the Kremlin’s cold grip.

In the late 1990’s, the griftocracy assured us that if we opened our markets to a Communist dictatorship in Beijing without precondition, the sheer force of our moral example and superior system of government would induce them to become just like us. They were wrong.

They allowed a humanitarian crisis and power vacuum to occur in Syria, precipitating the largest movement of humanity since the Second World War, and causing all manner of socioeconomic and political tension on at least 3 continents.

They heralded the election of Emmanuel Macron in France and Justin Trudeau in Canada as the last best hope for the liberal international order, and we know how that has turned out.

They made grandiose statements on all manner of universal laws and truths, then quickly came out with a litany of codicils and exceptions that exempted their political allies from running afoul of those same iron laws. And when their hypocritical treatment of different people under the same set of circumstances was exposed – like the Harvey Weinstein mess – their characteristic eloquence was absent.

They tout the idea of a meritocracy, but in the most curious of circumstances, the people they deem to be ‘meritorious’ all seem to share the same surnames, addresses and postal codes. Who knew that the single most intelligent and talented people on earth just happened to be in their basement rec room playing Xbox? What fortuitous luck! And when they are not sure that their progeny is up to the task, they apparently slip some people money to take tests, or make a donation for “rowing equipment” to the school of your choice.

The sad truth is that we are being led largely by this class of people – individuals with no commitment to anything other than enriching themselves and staying at the top of the pecking order. When you consider that as the all consuming motivation, it makes sense. Consider Russia, and the fact that the billionaire oligarchs of today were typically high ranking Communist Party officials and KGB officers in the days of the former Soviet Union. The people who made a career oppressing and trying to extinguish capitalism have now become some of the richest capitalists on earth. When you are a grifter, self-interest trumps. Morals and philosophical constructs are for chumps.

The griftocracy also rightly understands that the fate of all is inextricably tied together. That is why incompetence is rarely called out or sanctioned. To expose the mind numbing idiocy and dimwittedness of some grifters is to expose the incompetence of all. That is why your television screen still displays people who have made wrong predictions on every major event of the last two decades. For the overwhelming majority of the population, incompetence and poor performance mean demotions or getting fired. But, to be part of the griftocracy is to be part of an ecosystem where consequences and accountability are suspended as a mutual courtesy. It is omertà for talentless hacks, agreeing not to expose one another for the frauds they actually are.

It never used to be this bad.

The elites of previous generations were pretty smart cookies. They had to grapple with two world wars, depression, the threat of nuclear annihilation, and the great ideological battle of the last 200 years – that of communism versus capitalism. At any number of moments, the world could have been put on a different path. A happy outcome was not guaranteed, and it really did take the inspired efforts of the best and the brightest to not allow the world to slip into anarchy and chaos.

Consider Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1933, the United States went through economic depression and devastating crop failures in the southwest – the ‘dust bowl’. Unemployed men were camped out across the street from the White House, and plots to overthrow the government were real (look up General Smedley Butler). Even consider the positive words about fascism from a national hero like Charles Lindbergh.

Roosevelt and his contemporaries in the western world navigated that minefield because they had brains and foresight. But then, they got old, and like the historical examples, they handed off to the current crop of caretakers – the ones who can’t manage Brexit, the opioid crisis in the US, the SNC Lavalin mess in Canada, or weekly protests in Paris that have been going on for half a year. Instead, they collapse like a cheap deck chair when subjected to mean words on the Interweb.

They have proven to be an untalented and uninspired lot. It is only on one measure that they have exceeded the measure of their august predecessors – in the level of their malignant narcissism.

And so, populism – and the pent up anger that feeds it – grows. And the griftocrats continue to pretend that fumbling the ball is as good as a touchdown.

Almost a decade ago, American writer Matt Taibbi attempted to address this phenomenon in his 2010 book “Griftopia”, but even he could not shake himself of the pervasive influence of the griftocracy. Taibbi talked of the problem largely in terms of some right-wing Ayn Rand-inspired fever dream where greedy bankers and their political surrogates game the masses. That would be fine if every grifter were right-of-centre on the political spectrum, but they are not. If self-interest and cronyism trumps ideology, why would griftocrats choose to cram themselves into one ideological corner? That leaves you on the outside looking in fifty percent of the time, and griftocrats would never be satisfied with just half, would they?

So, what is the answer?

Well, the griftocracy can address the rise of populist anger by creating conditions where populists are…wait for it…less angry.

That means actually implementing changes people voted for, rather than playing out the clock. You’ll still get to be the bosses – still rewarding yourselves handsomely with money, perks and all those titles that massage your egos and grant you bragging rights – but you’ll actually have to do some work to justify it. If you are even a tenth as smart and talented as you brag about being, you have it within your power to fix these problems in short order. You’re resourceful – you’ll make it work.

On the other hand, if you can’t, then do everybody the courtesy of quitting or resigning in favour of someone more qualified. And please do it while the average person is still patient enough to ask politely.

About Brent Cameron

Profile photo of Brent Cameron
A writer and commentator on Commonwealth trade issues, Brent Cameron is the author of 'The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade' (2004, 2018) and numerous essays and articles. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of Commonwealth Exchange, a London, UK-based research group. Cameron worked as Telecommunications Coordinator for the Federal Ministry of Labour in Ottawa, Canada before joining SES Canada Research (now Nanos Research) as a Research Associate. He also worked as an assistant to former Ontario MPP Harry Danford, Member for Hastings-Peterborough and Parliamentary Assistant to Ontario's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. Cameron was a member of the Advance Team for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney during the 1988 Canadian federal general election. During the 2007 Ontario Referendum on Electoral Reform, he acted as Coordinator for the 'No MMP' campaign for eastern Ontario (excluding Ottawa). Cameron has also served as a member and contributing columnist on the Community Editorial Board of the Kingston (ON) Whig-Standard newspaper. He holds an honours degree in politics from Queen's University and a Certificate in Municipal Administration from St. Lawrence College (Kingston, ON). In 2014, Brent Cameron was elected to the municipal council for the Township of Central Frontenac, in southeastern Ontario, Canada, and serving as Deputy Mayor in 2017.

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