Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Beware of “monstrous moral hybrids” — a TIMN perspective

In preparing for Part IV of this blog’s ongoing series on the Occupy protests, I’ve realized that something should be said about “monstrous moral hybrids” as organizations that will surely impede the kinds of democratic reforms that protesters may wish for. So I do not have to say too much in that future post, this post provides extended background. It also follows up on a previous post that expressed doubts about the trendy popularity of hybrid forms of organization.

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As noted in the Part-I post on the protest movements, the two “winningest” systems of the 20th century were patrimonial corporatism and liberal democracy. The former prevailed in the less-developed regions of the world, the latter in the more-advanced.

Lately, both systems have become fraught with decay and distortion in many nations. Once-functional exemplars of patrimonial corporatism — like Egypt — were increasingly rigged to serve clannish ruling elites. And systems exemplifying liberal democracy — notably, the USA — increasingly reverted to their own versions of patrimonial corporatism. That’s partly why so many protest movements — Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, etc. — have sprung up around the world, demanding democratic reforms.

Looking ahead from a TIMN perspective, it appears that a major obstacle to reforming such systems — obliging patrimonial-corporatist regimes to head anew toward democratization, and reversing patrimonial-corporatist back-sliding among the liberal democracies — will be dealing with the entrenched entities and practices that Jane Jacobs calls “monstrous moral hybrids”.

TIMN, as I’ve elaborated before (e.g., here and here), instructs that the four cardinal forms of organization — tribes, institutions, markets, networks — and their realms should be kept basically separate, in balance, and within limits as a society advances. Some mingling is inevitable and worthwhile, say in the way that staff camaraderie can spur a corporation’s marketing, or that public-private partnerships may facilitate development projects. But, as a rule, TIMN warns against fusions that result in enormous rigid hybrids of the forms. And elsewhere no one has warned against this better than Jane Jacobs.

Jane Jacobs’ concept of “monstrous moral hybrids”

In her marvelous Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics (1992), Jane Jacobs lays out the “guardian moral syndrome” and the “commercial moral syndrome” as the two key moral / ethical “systems of survival” that lie behind successful social evolution. For each syndrome, she specifies fifteen precepts that define an optimal code of behavior for operating in that syndrome. The two sets of precepts are very different, even contradictory.

Here’s a layout taken from her book (p. 215; also pp. 23-24), as depicted at Wikipedia (source):

Her view tracks well with TIMN, for her guardian and commercial syndromes correspond roughly to TIMN’s institutional and market forms. She refers to practices that correspond to TIMN’s tribal form, but she does not separate them out, instead treating such practices as aspects of one or the other of the two syndromes. In the chart above, the guardian syndrome includes some precepts (e.g., about honor, vengeance) that pertain more to TIMN’s tribal form, while others (e.g., about hierarchy) fit with TIMN’s institutional form. Indeed, her guardian model sometimes seems more (T) tribal than (+I) administrative in nature, but for now I’ll stick with her intent: that it represents the underpinning of government.

Overall, and much like TIMN, she emphasizes that these two syndromes serve best when kept separate. As one of Jacobs’ protagonists explains:
“… It’s bootless to try to harmonize commerce and guardianship into one joint system of morality. Trying to do it can’t produce harmony — quite the opposite. The contradictions are innate. We have no way to escape them.
“To seek harmony in the sense of oneness is a profoundly false lead. But harmony can be sought by seeking to maintain each syndrome’s own identity and integrity. Then the two can support and complement each other, as I tried to show when I explained why commerce needs the support and help of guardians and why guardians need the support and help of commerce. Symbiosis: from the Greek for ‘together’ and ‘living.’ As the dictionary tells us, it means ‘the living together of two dissimilar organisms, especially when the association is mutually beneficial.’” (pp. 106-107)
But, while symbiosis is good, and while an actor may move back and forth between the two syndromes, cross-mixing is bad. If the two syndromes get mingled together improperly, the results are problematic hybrids that Jacobs calls “monstrous moral hybrids” (Chs. 5, 6, 9):
“These are examples of behavior that conforms neither to the intact guardian syndrome, nor the intact commercial syndrome. This is behavior that picks and chooses precepts from both syndromes, creating monstrous moral hybrids.” (p.80)
“You can’t mix up such contradictory moral syndromes without opening up moral abysses and producing all kinds of functional messes.” (p. 81)
Most of her examples are dark: like Nazi physicians and Soviet psychiatrists who should have aided their patients but instead served the state; violent crime syndicates that traffic in drugs, arms, or other illicit goods; police agencies that profiteer from false arrests; and media businesses that prop up dictators by censoring artists and journalists. By implication, totalitarian regimes are prone to monstrous moral hybrids. But liberal democracies may generate them too. She points to corrupt aspects of the military-industrial complex, though she never explicitly calls it a monstrous hybrid. In a later book — Dark Age Ahead (2005, p. 189) — she views privately-run jails and prisons in Canada and the United States as monstrous moral hybrids that have resulted from efforts to “reinvent government”.

I like Jacobs’ concept. It fits well with TIMN, and calls attention to some downsides and dark sides that may crop up as societies evolve. The next two sections show how her concept illuminates recent tendencies in both patrimonial-corporatist and liberal-democratic systems.

Monstrous moral hybrids as bastions of patrimonial corporatism

Enormous efforts go into creating monstrous moral hybrids, and then into protecting and preserving them. And many turn into bastions of patrimonial corporatism. Indeed, the creation of such hybrid entities is a key enabler of patrimonial corporatism, for one of its functions is power through patronage.

Exemplars of such hybrids are most noticeable in patrimonial-corporatist systems where government-sanctioned military enterprises have acquired vast commercial operations. This is the case in two of the societies hit by the recent wave of protest movements: Iran and Egypt.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), also known as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG), exemplifies a monstrous moral hybrid. It was founded in order to consolidate various paramilitary forces after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Today, it has not only its own ground, naval, air, and special forces, but has also expanded economically and acquired assets to become a multi-billion business enterprise. Its business activities range from public construction projects to dentistry and travel agencies, not to mention black-market smuggling. In areas where it operates, it can shut out private competition; underbid and overrun; and use military conscripts as well as recruits for labor. Thus, in TIMN terms, it amounts to a hybrid tribal-institutional-market organization. It is sometimes said to amount to a state within a state, but it seems more than that to me — more like a proto-caliphate (or quasi-emirate) within a nation-state. (source source source source)

Egypt’s military is also said to be like a state within a state, since its commercial enterprises penetrate so many areas of industry, agriculture, real estate, and construction. Its economic roles commenced decades ago, rationalized as a way to spur efficient state-led development. But the enormous expansion that now exists followed from the 1975 peace agreement with Israel, for it led to a need to create thousands of new jobs for demobilized soldiers. (source)
“The answer was the military would also produce for the civilian market. Thus the generals came to preside over 16 enormous factories that turn out not just weapons, but an array of domestic products from dishwashers to heaters, clothing, doors, stationary pharmaceutical products, and microscopes. Most of these products are sold to military personnel through discount military stores, but large amount are also sold commercially.” (source)
“There is a great deal of speculation concerning how much of the Egyptian economy the military truly controls, with estimates ranging from 5 to 40 percent. But it is known that the economic assets of the military include industrial enterprises, construction companies, Red Sea resorts, and, probably most importantly, vast tracts of land, in addition to the more traditional industrial enterprises that have long been in military hands.” (source)
Again, as in Iran, this has resulted in cooperative, competitive, and even adversarial relations with private-sector businesses. It also has made labor relations a sore point, as have military exemptions from paying taxes and duties. Says one source cited above, “Many civilian businessmen complain that competing with the military is like trying to compete with the Mafia.”
[UPDATE — August 18. 2012: For additional discussion, I like the following monograph that I recently read: Yezid Sayigh, Above the State: The Officers’ Republic in Egypt (Washington D.C.: Carnegie Middle East Center, August 2012), available for download here.]
[UPDATE — May 8, 2015: Also see Ahmed Morsy’s The Military Crowds Out Civilian Business in Egypt (2014) and Shana Marshall’s The Egyptian Armed Forces and the Remaking of an Economic Empire (2015).]

The Iranian and Egyptian cases underscore that huge military-commercial hybrids reinforce a society’s tendencies toward patrimonial corporatism and pose severe obstacles to market-like democratization. The presence of such hybrids distorts entrepreneurial and employment opportunities, creating resentments and grievances across all classes. In addition, their presence constrains a central government’s capacity for initiating reforms.

In other societies affected by the Arab Spring — Tunisia, Libya, Syria — such hybrids have congealed around ruling family and tribe members rather than formal military offices. But these kinds of hybrids still mix Jacobs’ guardian and commercial syndromes in ways that qualify them as monstrous moral hybrids, for their commercial roles are often enforced by paramilitary forces tied to the family and tribe members.

Elsewhere, China’s Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) once commanded such enormous commercial holdings and activities that it was dubbed “PLA Inc.” But in the 1990s China’s government and party leaders called a halt to this practice, and obliged the army to spin off its holdings to the private sector (often to the benefit of retired officers). This helped to reduce corruption, reassure institutional loyalty, and improve the army’s focus on readiness and professionalization. I can’t say that the disbanding of this monstrous moral hybrid helps explain why China has adopted the market form better than have Iran or Egypt, or whether it removed a potential cause for protests. But at least this case shows that disbanding is possible when top leadership orders it.

Monstrous moral hybrids in liberal democracies

It seems natural for patrimonial-corporatist regimes to create at least some monstrous moral hybrids, in part because they are so useful as patronage networks. But it seems unnatural for liberal democracies to do so. And yet they do so. Perhaps it’s because they are have old patrimonial-corporatist remnants embedded deep within them, and thus are prone to occasional reversions, as circumstances permit. Perhaps the “iron law of oligarchy” should have a corollary “iron law of hybridity”?

Even so, the advanced liberal democracies in Europe, North America, and elsewhere don’t have military-commercial entities like those noted above. A case may be made that some democracies have cognates in their military-industrial complexes, and lately especially in military subcontractor systems that have firms like Blackwater. Also, as noted above, Jacobs would include America’s prison-industrial complex in her list. But what seem more interesting in the liberal democracies are hybrids in areas outside of military, law-enforcement, and other armed “guardian” circles.

To help identify monstrous moral hybrids where guardianship is not explicitly tied to armed force, I’d dissect Jacobs’ guardian syndrome into TIMN’s tribal and institutional forms (even make them “syndromes”). By tribal, I basically mean patrimonial in this context; for patrimonialism, with its penchant for relying on crony patronage networks, amounts to an advanced iteration of tribalism. And then, with that modification of Jacobs’ framework in mind, I’d go look for huge hybrids that fuse tribal with governmental and commercial purposes.

The best exemplars I’ve spotted are the Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Conservative economists have long criticized them; and thus perhaps it should not come as a surprise that one — Mark Calabria (Cato Institute) — even relates them to Jacobs’ concept:
“I repeatedly watched, while working in the Senate, Fannie/Freddie invoke their “private” nature in order to avoid regulation while invoking their “public” nature to gain protection and privilege. The result was little accountability from either the market or the government (our largest banks currently enjoy a smaller version). Of course, one of the primary differences in debates over financial regulation is the degree to which one believes that either the market or government provides accountability. Setting aside those debates, we should all be able to agree that companies should be either private or government. That the mixing of the two, government sponsored enterprises, is a recipe for avoiding accountability and transparency. But then I suspect that might have been the intent all along. Monstrous moral hybrids by design.” (source)
 But criticisms emanate from liberal-leaning sources as well. Here’s what Adam Posen (Petersen Institute for International Economics) says, albeit without invoking Jacobs’ concept:
For automobiles, hybrid engines are a huge advance. For financial institutions, hybrids are the worst possible design. By financial hybrids, I mean institutions that are neither wholly public-sector bureaus nor private-sector companies. …
Thus, it is no coincidence that the most spectacular crashes of the recent financial turmoil involved the hybrids on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States, it was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; in Germany, it was Sachsen LB and IKB. In both countries, these neither-fish-nor-fowl institutions were long recognized as financial accidents waiting to happen. … But their political utility kept them open: …
Of course, the basic technical purposes of these financial hybrids had some merit. … [But] once they were set up as hybrids, the political incentives for the institutions' managers and political patrons got these questionable institutions into businesses they had no business being in and that were ancillary to these more limited positive purposes. …
… The common point for both sides of the Atlantic is that if these institutions cease to be hybrid, it will be natural for their existence to depend upon their utility in serving their core mission, rather than on their political support and threat of failure.” (source)
Much as I might like to think that these GSEs serve noble causes by using public-private partnerships to ease economic hardships and spread home ownership, it seems now that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, following their enormous expansions during the Bush (Sr.) and Clinton administrations, have served an elitist kind of patrimonial corporatism that has extended deep into Wall Street and Capitol Hill, entangling Democrat and Republican leaders along with bankers and other financiers who oscillate between high offices in New York and Washington. (example)

Lest anyone think I’m being biased in criticizing a huge hybrid that many liberals have touted, here’s something else to think about: How about Fox News as a monstrous moral hybrid? It’s a commercial enterprise that has sought to tribalize its market on behalf of leaders in the Republican party; it embodies the spread of patrimonial corporatism in the United States more than any other media enterprise I can think of. In addition, what about “K Street”? The NCAA? Some public-sector unions? Are there grounds for viewing them as monstrous moral hybrids as well? In keeping a lookout for hybrids serving patrimonial corporatism in democracies elsewhere around the world, I’ve also begun to wonder about Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

Worth disbanding, but so difficult

Much as I appreciate Jacobs’ concept, it’s not entirely clear. I can’t tell exactly what is or is not a monstrous moral hybrid, why immoral doesn’t figure along with moral in her write-up, and what kinds of hybrids, if any, may be acceptable, even beneficial. Surely not all mixed public-private endeavors, nor all efforts at government outsourcing to private enterprise, should be automatically suspect — yet the criteria are unclear.

Even so, her concept fits well with TIMN, and is better — more insightful and illuminating — than anything else I’ve seen or come up with in this regard. It identifies a significant organizational distortion in dramatic terms. It would suit TIMN even better if she had posited more than two syndromes, particularly by splitting out something like a tribal one, as I indicated above.

By implication, it would be advisable to disband all monstrous moral hybrids. But that seems too much to hope for. They serve too many purposes and powers to be easily undone. They are conducive to patrimonial corporatism, and regressive for liberal democracy. In hindsight, a good way to backslide or at least muddle a liberal democracy is to create such hybrids; for that can generate patrimonial-corporatist pockets of power, profit, and privilege that help co-opt and compromise myriad economic, political, and other actors.

But who is to take the lead in calling for a disbanding of these enormities? Strategy is the art of positioning, and such intricate hybrids are created for strategic positioning purposes in the first place. Undoing them implies repositionings of a grand order.

Perhaps Arab-Spring, Occupy, or other protesters ought to insist on their disbanding. But I have doubts. Though advisable, it could get complicated and divisive (even risky in places like Egypt) if protesters were to push hard on this. The Tea Party movement tried a bit, but to no effect I can see.

Better yet would be if the top leaders of societies distorted by these hybrids were to disband them on their own enlightened initiative. The regimes that have incurred large protests, and fielded great resistance to them, all have monstrous moral hybrids not far from their cores. While objecting specifically to them has figured only marginally in protest movements in a few nations, disbanding them would maneuver the regimes and their systems back onto optimal TIMN paths. Nonetheless, it’s easier to imagine reasons why regime leaders wouldn’t take such initiatives than why they might. And that applies to both patrimonial-corporatist and liberal-democratic governments.

That’s a sour note on which to end this post. But there are hopeful notes yet to be played. The prospects for doing something about monstrous moral hybrids may improve as societies continue to evolve from representative democracy to “monitory democracy” — the topic of the next post.

[UPDATE — May 8, 2015: I’ve resisted discussing another hybridity concept: “hybrid warfare”. But here’s a recent post that raises good questions: Jyri Raitasalo’s Hybrid Warfare: Where’s the Beef? (2015)]