Saturday, January 8, 2022

Quote of the Day (Anne Applebaum, on the Business Links Among Dictators)

"Nowadays, autocracies are run not by one bad guy, but by sophisticated networks composed of kleptocratic financial structures, security services (military, police, paramilitary groups, surveillance), and professional propagandists. The members of these networks are connected not only within a given country, but among many countries. The corrupt, state-controlled companies in one dictatorship do business with corrupt, state-controlled companies in another. The police in one country can arm, equip, and train the police in another. The propagandists share resources—the troll farms that promote one dictator’s propaganda can also be used to promote the propaganda of another—and themes, pounding home the same messages about the weakness of democracy and the evil of America….

“Unlike military or political alliances from other times and places, the members of this group don’t operate like a bloc, but rather like an agglomeration of companies—call it Autocracy Inc. Their links are cemented not by ideals but by deals—deals designed to take the edge off Western economic boycotts, or to make them personally rich—which is why they can operate across geographical and historical lines.”—American journalist Anne Applebaum, “The Autocrats Are Winning,” The Atlantic, December 2021

Russia’s Vladimir Putin—featured prominently in Ms. Applebaum’s informative and disturbing cover story of last month’s issue of The Atlantic, as well as in the photo accompanying this post—might not lead a sprawling international bloc dedicated to one ideology, the way Soviet dictators for most of the 20th century did.

But he is certainly a charter member of and inspiration for what Ms. Applebaum calls “Autocracy Inc.” Combining the black arts of disinformation and dissent-crushing he learned while in the KGB with the realization that capitalism provides rich new opportunities for corruption that can sustain him in power, he has pioneered the most disturbing form of top-down control seen so far in the 21st century.

In judging the value of American politicians and pundits, it’s not a bad yardstick to see which ones have continued to hail Putin for his strength (as discussed in Jonathan Chait’s March 2021 piece for New York Magazine), even as his methods of corruption, harassment and murder have become all too brazen.

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