Gleaned from here: I often wondered about why people obeyed the king in all the stories told to children. Of course the ostensible answer was that you always obeyed the king, but there were obviously always a few smart individuals at any place and time who questioned tradition; why did they obey the king? As a teenager I began to see in the stories that there were a few concentric circles of people about the king; each circle controlled the next outer circle thru some form of granting favors. The outer circles collectively protected the authority of the inner circles for their own good; they did this by fair means or by foul.

The question by cynics is “Is there any other form of government today?” and if so “How does it work?”. One way to think about this question is the form of favors granted. In the old Soviet union, as in the pre Enlightenment kingdoms, the favors were prestige and perquisites. I very much doubt that Stalin had a secret bank account with millions stashed away. He had power and all the things that money could buy. So did those near him.

The modern Russian system sounds to me like the same plan with the convenience of money in place of the awkward perquisite system. The mechanism is the easy opportunity to cook the books and the favor from above is to look the other way. This explains the opinion commonly expressed in Russia that corruption is what holds the government together.

Russia is certainly not the only current manifestation of this pattern but the internal cynical commentators speak the same intellectual language as the west.

Recent internal notes from China describe the same pattern. The pattern seems to fit the organization of quite a few African governments today. Indeed is there any difference in this phenomenon and the properties that the ranking by Transparency International organizes?

The material below is weaker.

The next question is whether the countries near the good end of that list actually escape from the pattern and if so how—what is the nature of other stable power structures?

Democracy certainly challenges the pattern—does democracy thwart it? The cynic asks why people spend so much money getting elected. The counter cynic asks “Is that money well spent?”. Is the money to be seen as pushing a candidate, or pushing an attitude toward social patterns, such as economic and personal values? Is there a difference—one seems cynical; the other merely cheerleading.