Category: Political Science
Kathleen Kingsbury of the NYTimes editorial page is proudly announcing that instead of following their historic practice of talking with the candidates off-the-record and then announcing an endorsement they will be utterly “transparent.”
On Jan. 19, the @nytimes editorial board will publish our choice for the Democratic nomination for president. It won’t be the first time we’ve endorsed a candidate — we’ve been doing that since 1860 — but we aim to make it our most transparent endorsement process to date. Historically, endorsement interviews are off-the-record — meaning nothing said leaves the room, other than the board’s final judgement.
[But now,] in a first for @nytopinion, all presidential candidate interviews will be on the record and filmed. Next week, we’ll be publishing the full, annotated transcripts online.
What an awful idea, sure to neuter whatever influence the NYTimes might once have had.
Here’s the problem. Under the off-the-record system a candidate could sit down with some smart people and say things like “look, I know tariffs won’t help but the WTO will knock them down anyway and I need to appeal to my base.” Or, “taxes on billionaires won’t raise enough to fund everything I want but to raise taxes on the middle class we need the middle class to know that everyone is going to pay their fair share.” Or “Our troops are demoralized and the plan isn’t working.” If everything is recorded, none of this can happen.
Indeed, what possible value-added can the NYTimes make with a “transparent,” “public” process? Everything that will be said, has been said.
In contrast, a non-transparent, off-the-record process can reveal new information because less transparent can be more honest. The off-the-record system isn’t a guarantee of useful information, as the NYTimes has its biases and the off-the-record system only works because it is coarse, but coarse systems can reveal more information.
The demand for transparency seems so innocuous. Who could be against greater transparency? But transparency is inimical to privacy. And we care about privacy in part, because we can be more honest and truthful in private than in public. A credible off-the-record system leaks a bit of honesty into the public domain and thus improves information overall. Too much transparency, in contrast, makes the world more opaque.
Using detailed data on individual campaign contributions to Democrats and Republicans, our estimates show that firms are considerably more likely to announce a merger, complete a merger, and a have shorter time-to-completion when their political attitudes are closer. Furthermore, acquisition announcement returns and post-merger operating performance are significantly higher when the acquirer and the target have more similar political attitudes.
Farmers are getting billions of dollars in bailout money to compensate for the trade war with China. If big banks or big business were being bailed out there would be an uproar but big farmer bailouts seem immune to opposition as Dan Charles points out in this piece from NPR:
…a few weeks later, the USDA announced another $16 billion in trade-related aid to farmers. It came on top of the previous year’s $12 billion package, for a grand total of $28 billion in two years. About $19 billion of that money had been paid out by the end of 2019, and the rest will be paid in 2020.
…it’s an enormous amount of money, more than the final cost of bailing out the auto industry during the financial crisis of 2008. The auto industry bailout was fiercely debated in Congress. Yet the USDA created this new program out of thin air; it decided that an old law authorizing a USDA program called the Commodity Credit Corp. already gave it the authority to spend this money.
“What’s unique about this is, [it] didn’t go through Congress,” Glauber says. Some people have raised questions about whether using the Commodity Credit Corp. for this new purpose is legal.
This is a telling example of how politics works–the process rather than the fundamental question determines much of the outcome. In this case, since the spending was not authorized by Congress there was no debate. No debate in Congress meant no opportunity for soundbites, no debate in the media and thus no debate among the public. The battle for attention was lost before it was begun. On the plus side there was no opportunity for grandstanding in Congress either and the money was approved and spent quickly.
There is now transcript and audio from the Holberg debate in Bergen, Norway, courtesy of the CWTeam, here is their summary of the event:
This bonus episode features audio from the Holberg Debate in Bergen, Norway between Tyler and Slavoj Žižek held on December 7, 2019. They discuss the reasons Slavoj (still) considers himself a Communist, why he considers The Handmaid’s Tale “nostalgia for the present,” what he likes about Greta Thunberg, what Marx got right about the commodification of beliefs, his concerns about ecology and surveillance in communist states like China today, the reasons academia should maintain its ‘useless character,’ his beginnings as a Heideggerian, why he is distrustful of liberal optimism, the “Fukuyama dilemma” we face, the importance of “empty manners,” and more.
COWEN: You know the old joke, what’s the difference between a Communist and a Nazi? Tenure.
ŽIŽEK: You mean university tenure?
COWEN: Yes. It’s a joke, but the point is you don’t need Communism. You are much smarter than Communism.
I would describe the proceedings as “rollicking,” including the segment about “smoking the prick.”
I promised you an entire synthetic post of my own on that topic, but your own comments on that query were so good and interesting that I don’t feel I have much to add. If you have not already, do read them here, recommended.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
Maybe Trump’s threat to attack cultural sites was not meant literally, but rather as a brash reminder that his retaliatory actions will not be constrained by world opinion, international law or the views of American elites. If so, such a signal, to be effective, has to harm the Iranian regime. Trump’s message shows that he doesn’t understand the calculus of retaliation very well.
Assassinating a military leader by drone, by contrast, is something the U.S. can do but the Iranian government cannot, at least not easily or without provoking even greater retaliation. That makes such a policy an effective deterrent in the short run, as it hurts the actual decision maker, and indeed that is what Trump chose to do.
By mentioning cultural sites, he in essence has decided to follow a very strong signal of action with a much weaker signal of words. If you are a hawk, you should understand that Trump’s talk of cultural sites is weakening his core message that retaliation will be effective. It is usually better game theory to follow up a highly impactful action with relative silence, but silence never has been Trump’s strong suit.
There is much more to the argument at the link.
The tendency to see life as zero-sum exacerbates political conflicts. Six studies (N = 3223) examine the relationship between political ideology and zero-sum thinking: the belief that one party’s gains can only be obtained at the expense of another party’s losses. We find that both liberals and conservatives view life as zero-sum when it benefits them to do so. Whereas conservatives exhibit zero-sum thinking when the status quo is challenged, liberals do so when the status quo is being upheld. Consequently, conservatives view social inequalities—where the status quo is frequently challenged—as zero-sum, but liberals view economic inequalities—where the status quo has remained relatively unchallenged in past decades—as such. Overall, these findings suggest potentially important ideological differences in perceptions of conflict—differences that are likely to have implications for understanding political divides in the United States and the difficulty of reaching bipartisan legislation.
Please leave your suggestions in the comments, only on-topic comments are welcome. If you are not quite up to speed, again here is a link to the relevant Dominic Cummings blog post. Or here is a good summary from The Economist.
After digesting all of your marvelous inputs, I will write a synthetic post of my own, with the best of your ideas and some of mine as well.
M.B. Malabu, travel grant to come to the D.C. area for helping in setting up a market-oriented think tank in Nigeria.
Nolan Gray, urban planner from NYC, to be in residence at Mercatus and write a book on YIMBY, Against Zoning.
One other, not yet ready to be announced. But a good one.
Here are previous MR posts on Emergent Ventures.
Having tracked the libertarian “movement” for much of my life, I believe it is now pretty much hollowed out, at least in terms of flow. One branch split off into Ron Paul-ism and less savory alt right directions, and another, more establishment branch remains out there in force but not really commanding new adherents. For one thing, it doesn’t seem that old-style libertarianism can solve or even very well address a number of major problems, most significantly climate change. For another, smart people are on the internet, and the internet seems to encourage synthetic and eclectic views, at least among the smart and curious. Unlike the mass culture of the 1970s, it does not tend to breed “capital L Libertarianism.” On top of all that, the out-migration from narrowly libertarian views has been severe, most of all from educated women.
There is also the word “classical liberal,” but what is “classical” supposed to mean that is not question-begging? The classical liberalism of its time focused on 19th century problems — appropriate for the 19th century of course — but from WWII onwards it has been a very different ballgame.
Along the way, I believe the smart classical liberals and libertarians have, as if guided by an invisible hand, evolved into a view that I dub with the entirely non-sticky name of State Capacity Libertarianism. I define State Capacity Libertarianism in terms of a number of propositions:
1. Markets and capitalism are very powerful, give them their due.
2. Earlier in history, a strong state was necessary to back the formation of capitalism and also to protect individual rights (do read Koyama and Johnson on state capacity). Strong states remain necessary to maintain and extend capitalism and markets. This includes keeping China at bay abroad and keeping elections free from foreign interference, as well as developing effective laws and regulations for intangible capital, intellectual property, and the new world of the internet. (If you’ve read my other works, you will know this is not a call for massive regulation of Big Tech.)
3. A strong state is distinct from a very large or tyrannical state. A good strong state should see the maintenance and extension of capitalism as one of its primary duties, in many cases its #1 duty.
4. Rapid increases in state capacity can be very dangerous (earlier Japan, Germany), but high levels of state capacity are not inherently tyrannical. Denmark should in fact have a smaller government, but it is still one of the freer and more secure places in the world, at least for Danish citizens albeit not for everybody.
5. Many of the failures of today’s America are failures of excess regulation, but many others are failures of state capacity. Our governments cannot address climate change, much improve K-12 education, fix traffic congestion, or improve the quality of their discretionary spending. Much of our physical infrastructure is stagnant or declining in quality. I favor much more immigration, nonetheless I think our government needs clear standards for who cannot get in, who will be forced to leave, and a workable court system to back all that up and today we do not have that either.
Those problems require state capacity — albeit to boost markets — in a way that classical libertarianism is poorly suited to deal with. Furthermore, libertarianism is parasitic upon State Capacity Libertarianism to some degree. For instance, even if you favor education privatization, in the shorter run we still need to make the current system much better. That would even make privatization easier, if that is your goal.
6. I will cite again the philosophical framework of my book Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals.
7. The fundamental growth experience of recent decades has been the rise of capitalism, markets, and high living standards in East Asia, and State Capacity Libertarianism has no problem or embarrassment in endorsing those developments. It remains the case that such progress (or better) could have been made with more markets and less government. Still, state capacity had to grow in those countries and indeed it did. Public health improvements are another major success story of our time, and those have relied heavily on state capacity — let’s just admit it.
8. The major problem areas of our time have been Africa and South Asia. They are both lacking in markets and also in state capacity.
9. State Capacity Libertarians are more likely to have positive views of infrastructure, science subsidies, nuclear power (requires state support!), and space programs than are mainstream libertarians or modern Democrats. Modern Democrats often claim to favor those items, and sincerely in my view, but de facto they are very willing to sacrifice them for redistribution, egalitarian and fairness concerns, mood affiliation, and serving traditional Democratic interest groups. For instance, modern Democrats have run New York for some time now, and they’ve done a terrible job building and fixing things. Nor are Democrats doing much to boost nuclear power as a partial solution to climate change, if anything the contrary.
10. State Capacity Libertarianism has no problem endorsing higher quality government and governance, whereas traditional libertarianism is more likely to embrace or at least be wishy-washy toward small, corrupt regimes, due to some of the residual liberties they leave behind.
11. State Capacity Libertarianism is not non-interventionist in foreign policy, as it believes in strong alliances with other relatively free nations, when feasible. That said, the usual libertarian “problems of intervention because government makes a lot of mistakes” bar still should be applied to specific military actions. But the alliances can be hugely beneficial, as illustrated by much of 20th century foreign policy and today much of Asia — which still relies on Pax Americana.
It is interesting to contrast State Capacity Libertarianism to liberaltarianism, another offshoot of libertarianism. On most substantive issues, the liberaltarians might be very close to State Capacity Libertarians. But emphasis and focus really matter, and I would offer this (partial) list of differences:
a. The liberaltarian starts by assuring “the left” that they favor lots of government transfer programs. The State Capacity Libertarian recognizes that demands of mercy are never ending, that economic growth can benefit people more than transfers, and, within the governmental sphere, it is willing to emphasize an analytical, “cold-hearted” comparison between government discretionary spending and transfer spending. Discretionary spending might well win out at many margins.
b. The “polarizing Left” is explicitly opposed to a lot of capitalism, and de facto standing in opposition to state capacity, due to the polarization, which tends to thwart problem-solving. The polarizing Left is thus a bigger villain for State Capacity Libertarianism than it is for liberaltarianism. For the liberaltarians, temporary alliances with the polarizing Left are possible because both oppose Trump and other bad elements of the right wing. It is easy — maybe too easy — to market liberaltarianism to the Left as a critique and revision of libertarians and conservatives.
c. Liberaltarian Will Wilkinson made the mistake of expressing enthusiasm for Elizabeth Warren. It is hard to imagine a State Capacity Libertarian making this same mistake, since so much of Warren’s energy is directed toward tearing down American business. Ban fracking? Really? Send money to Russia, Saudi Arabia, lose American jobs, and make climate change worse, all at the same time? Nope.
d. State Capacity Libertarianism is more likely to make a mistake of say endorsing high-speed rail from LA to Sf (if indeed that is a mistake), and decrying the ability of U.S. governments to get such a thing done. “Which mistakes they are most likely to commit” is an underrated way of assessing political philosophies.
You will note the influence of Peter Thiel on State Capacity Libertarianism, though I have never heard him frame the issues in this way.
Furthermore, “which ideas survive well in internet debate” has been an important filter on the evolution of the doctrine. That point is under-discussed, for all sorts of issues, and it may get a blog post of its own.
Here is my earlier essay on the paradox of libertarianism, relevant for background.
Happy New Year everyone!
Ian Bremmer offers one account of all the wrongdoing, which I will not summarize here. In any case, many of you have asked me what I think of these recent events.
I do not at all favor replacing India’s secular democracy with “Hindu nation” as a ruling principle. For one thing, I believe in strong libertarian protections for minority rights against state power, including for Muslims. I also believe these moves will be bad for India’s economy. Nonetheless I find most of the extant commentary on Modi fairly misleading and/or naive.
As this outsider sees it, India’s secular democracy was never liberal. It had certain de facto liberal elements, but largely out of low levels of state capacity, necessitating a kind of tolerance but of course also leading to a very sub-par infrastructure. Furthermore, it has been commonly described by political scientists as a “democracy without accountability.” National voting has so much to do with religion, caste, and other particularistic principles that Indian democracy never enforced superior practical performance as it should have.
Then enter several forces at more or less the same time, including Modi, ongoing Indian economic growth, higher expectations and thus greater demands for state capacity, a rise in what is called “populism,” and also an increase in the focality of Islam and also terrorism around the world.
In essence that state capacity starts to be built and part of it is turned to wrong ends, in an attempt to appeal to the roughly 80 percent Hindu majority. Here is the NYT:
The Modi administration has also done a better job than previous governments in pushing big anti-poverty initiatives, such as building 100 million toilets to help stop open defecation and the spread of deadly disease.
In other words, the positive and negative sides of the story here may be more closely related than is comfortable to contemplate. The picture reminds me a bit of how parts of Renaissance Europe were often more anti-Semitic or racist than medieval Europe, in part because persecuting states had more resources and it was easier to mobilize intolerant sentiment, partly due to the printing press. I don’t however idolize medieval times as being so libertarian, rather the earlier ideology contained the seeds of the Renaissance oppressions, which in time turned into foreign imperialism as well.
Similarly, oppression and religious conflict is hardly news in India, for instance you may recall the Partition which in the 1940s killed at least one million people and displaced at least 10 million more.
None of this is to excuse any of these oppressions, whether in India or elsewhere. The libertarian rights still ought to apply, and should be written into the Indian constitution and laws more firmly.
(It is an interesting and much under-discussed result that the greatest violations of libertarian rights tend to come in periods of high delta in state capacity, not high absolute levels of state capacity per se. The Nazi government was not that large as a percentage of gdp, but it was growing rapidly in terms of its efficacy along certain dimensions.)
The moral and resonant message here is “libertarian rights for minorities truly are important and beware state power!” And somehow we need to think strategically, at a deep level, how that message can be combined with the inevitable and indeed desirable growth in Indian state capacity. The libertarians only make this their issue by eliding the need for growth in state capacity. So they moralize correctly about the situation, but they don’t see the underlying dilemma so clearly either.
Consider this NYT passage:
“Modi is not a normal politician who measures his success only by votes,” said Kanchan Chandra, a political scientist at New York University. “He sees himself as the architect of a new India, built on a foundation of technological, cultural, economic and military prowess, and backed by an ideology of Hindu nationalism.”
The real question here is — still mostly unanswered — “what else is the new ideology of state capacity supposed to be?” I am happy to put in my vote for Anglo-American liberalism, but still I recognize that probably will not command either a majority or even a plurality.
Here is one proffered alternative to Modi:
“Rahul Gandhi felt people would support the Congress on issues of farmers, youth, employment, inflation. But, the core issues were left behind and surgical strikes and nationalism were highlighted. The Congress was dubbed a Muslim party. Aren’t we nationalists?” Gehlot asked.
I am not so impressed. Or try this discussion “What is alternative to ‘Modi cult'”. Again, on the ideas front underwhelming, at least for this classical liberal. Maybe something good can come out of the current protest movement (NYT).
All the more, the “establishment media” just isn’t interested in framing the story in terms of individual rights and constraints on democracy. That narrative is too…well…libertarian and also anti-statist.
For one example, blame either Nilinjana Roy or the person who titled her FT column “Democracy in India is on the brink.” Last I checked, Modi was elected, then re-elected, and his party and its allies control almost 2/3 of the lower house. That is truly an Orwellian column title. It should not be so hard to write “The problem with Modi is the statism, and lack of respect for minority rights, sadly this is democratically certified and thus democracy requires real constitutional constraint of the powers of the government.” But so many people today are mentally and emotionally incapable of thinking and writing such thoughts, having spent so much time in their mood affiliation glorifying “democracy” (or what they take to be democracy) above all other values.
So we should be spending our time developing and publicizing a new (non-Modi) ideology for greater state capacity in India, combined of course with greater liberty.
And yes, please do restore, redefine, re-enforce or in some cases discover all of the required minority libertarian rights. Hundreds of millions of Indians and others are counting on it.
I had an excellent time in this one, here is the audio and transcript. Here is the opening summary:
Abhijit joined Tyler to discuss his unique approach to economics, including thoughts on premature deindustrialization, the intrinsic weakness of any charter city, where the best classical Indian music is being made today, why he prefers making Indian sweets to French sweets, the influence of English intellectual life in India, the history behind Bengali leftism, the best Indian regional cuisine, why experimental economics is underrated, the reforms he’d make to traditional graduate economics training, how his mother’s passion inspires his research, how many consumer loyalty programs he’s joined, and more.
Yes there was plenty of economics, but I feel like excerpting this bit:
COWEN: Why does Kolkata have the best sweet shops in India?
BANERJEE: It’s a bit circular because, of course, I tend to believe Kolkata has —
COWEN: So do I, however, and I have no loyalty per se.
BANERJEE: I think largely because Kolkata actually also — which is less known — has absolutely amazing food. In general, the food is amazing. Relative to the rest of India, Kolkata had a very large middle class with a fair amount of surplus and who were willing to spend money on. I think there were caste and other reasons why restaurants didn’t flourish. It’s not an accident that a lot of Indian restaurants were born out of truck stops. These are called dhabas.
BANERJEE: Caste has a lot to do with it. But sweets are just too difficult to make at home, even though lots of people used to make some of them. And I think there was some line that was just permitted that you can have sweets made out of — in these specific places, made by these castes.
There’s all kinds of conversations about this in the early-to-mid 19th century on what you can eat out, what is eating out, what can you buy in a shop, et cetera. I think in the late 19th century you see that, basically, sweet shops actually provide not just sweets, but for travelers, you can actually eat a lunch there for 50 cents, even now, an excellent lunch. They’re some savories and a sweet — maybe for 40 rupees, you get all of that.
And it was actually the core mechanism for reconciling Brahminical cultures of different kinds with a certain amount of social mobility. People came from outside. They were working in Kolkata. Kolkata was a big city in India. All the immigrants came. What would they eat? I think a lot of these sweet shops were a place where you actually don’t just get sweets — you get savories as well. And savories are excellent.
In Kolkata, if you go out for the day, the safest place to eat is in a sweet shop. It’s always freshly made savories available. You eat the freshly made savories, and you get some sweets at the end.
COWEN: Are higher wage rates bad for the highest-quality sweets? Because rich countries don’t seem to have them.
BANERJEE: Oh no, rich countries have fabulous sweets. I mean, at France —
COWEN: Not like in Kolkata.
BANERJEE: France has fabulous sweets. I think the US is exceptional in the quality of the . . . let me say, the fact that you don’t get actually excellent sweets in most places —
And this on music:
BANERJEE: Well, I think Bengal was never the place for vocal. As a real, I would say a real addict of vocal Indian classical music, I would say Bengal is not, never the center of . . . If you look at the list of the top performers in vocal Indian classical music, no one really is a Bengali.
In instrumental, Bengal was always very strong. Right now, one of the best vocalists in India is a man who lives in Kolkata. His name is Rashid Khan. He’s absolutely fabulous in my view, maybe the best. On a good day, he’s the best that there is. He’s not a Bengali. He’s from Bihar, I think, and he comes and settles in Kolkata. I think a Hindi speaker by birth, other than a Bengali. So I don’t think Bengal ever had top vocalists.
It had top instrumentalists, and Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Nikhil Banerjee — these were all Bengali instrumentalists. Even now, I would say the best instrumentalists, a lot of them are either Bengali or a few of them are second . . . Vilayat Khan and Imrat Khan were the two great non-Bengali instrumentalists of that period, I would say, of the strings especially. And they both settled in Kolkata, so that their children grew up in Kolkata.
And the other great instrumentalists are these Kolkata-born. They went to the same high school as I did. There were these Kolkata-born, not of Bengali families, but from very much the same culture. So I think Kolkata still is the place which produces the best instrumentalists — sitarists, sarod players, et cetera.
COWEN: Why is the better vocal music so often from the South?
Definitely recommended, Abhijit was scintillating throughout.
I find windmills beautiful but many people disagree, even in environmentally conscious Germany.
Bloomberg:…it’s getting harder to get permission to erect the turbine towers. Local regulations are getting stricter. Bavaria decided back in 2014 that the distance between a wind turbine and the nearest housing must be 10 times the height of the mast, which, given the density of dwellings, makes it hard to find a spot anywhere. Wind energy development is practically stalled in the state now. Brandenburg, the state surrounding Berlin, passed a law this year demanding that wind-farm operators pay 10,000 euros ($11,100) per turbine each year to communities within 3 kilometers of the windmills.
…local opponents of the wind farms often go to court to stall new developments or even have existing towers dismantled. According to the wind-industry lobby BWE, 325 turbine installations with a total capacity of more than 1 gigawatt (some 2% of the country’s total installed capacity) are tied up in litigation. The irony is that the litigants are often just as “green” as the wind-energy proponents — one is the large conservation organization NABU, which says it’s not against wind energy as such but merely demands that installations are planned with preserving nature in mind. Almost half of the complaints are meant to protect various bird and bat species; others claim the turbines make too much noise or emit too much low-frequency infrasound. Regardless of the validity of such claims, projects get tied up in the courts even after jumping through the many hoops necessary to get a permit.
Another reason for local resistance to the wind farms is a form of Nimbyism: People hate the way the wind towers change landscapes. There’s even a German word for it, Verspargelung, roughly translated aspollution with giant asparagus sticks.
As I wrote earlier, more and more the sphere of individual action shrinks and that of collective action grows and, as a result, nothing can get done because there are so many veto players in the system. We have locked ourselves into an innovation prisoner’s dilemma where each player can say no and as a result we are all worse off.
The role that YouTube and its behind-the-scenes recommendation algorithm plays in encouraging online radicalization has been suggested by both journalists and academics alike. This study directly quantifies these claims by examining the role that YouTube’s algorithm plays in suggesting radicalized content. After categorizing nearly 800 political channels, we were able to differentiate between political schemas in order to analyze the algorithm traffic flows out and between each group. After conducting a detailed analysis of recommendations received by each channel type, we refute the popular radicalization claims. To the contrary, these data suggest that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm actively discourages viewers from visiting radicalizing or extremist content. Instead, the algorithm is shown to favor mainstream media and cable news content over independent YouTube channels with slant towards left-leaning or politically neutral channels. Our study thus suggests that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm fails to promote inflammatory or radicalized content, as previously claimed by several outlets.
That is from a new paper by Mark Ledwich and Anna Zaitsev. That hardly settles the matter, but you may recall the last serious papers on this topic also indicated that YouTube does not radicalize. So if you are still believing that YouTube radicalizes, you will need to come up with additional facts for your point of view.
Nearly 400 people who were either wounded while serving in the U.S. military in Afghanistan or are family members of service members who died in the conflict sued a group of companies on Friday they say helped fund attacks against Americans by making protection payments to the Taliban.
“Defendants supported the Taliban for a simple reason: Defendants were all large Western companies with lucrative businesses in post-9/11 Afghanistan, and they all paid the Taliban to refrain from attacking their business interests,” the 288-page complaint filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. on Friday states. “Those protection payments aided and abetted terrorism by directly funding an al-Qaeda-backed Taliban insurgency that killed and injured thousands of Americans.”
Relying on confidential witnesses, internal documents and publicly available information from journalists, government watchdogs and congressional hearings, the complaint alleges companies that worked in war-torn Afghanistan commonly acceded to the Taliban’s mob-style demands for payment in exchange for the guarantee that their businesses interests would not be attacked.
One unnamed American executive who worked in Afghanistan is quoted in the complaint as saying “We don’t need any security if the payments are made. Nobody f—s with us.”
The payments allegedly climbed as high as 40% of the value of the company’s project and were often facilitated through subcontractors. The subcontractors, such as private security firms that were known to pay off the Taliban, would sometimes send money through Afghanistan’s traditional money transfer network, which can be hard to trace. Other times, the companies would simply hire Taliban operatives to work as guards.
Here is the full story.