poroshenko’s new clothes

should we put corruption and rule of law in the same subcategory of governance?

corruption is abuse of public office for private gain. rule of law is the capacity of the judicial system to prevent this behavior through predictability of enforcement.

if the system is not able to create this predictability, it does not automatically follow that officials will abuse power. conversely, the system may punish illicit behavior selectively, even if officials are corrupt.

in logic, there is a subtle but important distinction between the concept of shared or mutual knowledge — information that everyone (or almost everyone) knows — and common knowledge, which is not only knowledge that (almost) everyone knows, but something that (almost) everyone knows that everyone else knows (and that everyone knows that everyone else knows that everyone else knows, and so forth).

a classic example arises from saakashvili’s illegal crossing of the poland-ukraine border on september 10: the fact that ukraine’s president has in the past engaged in and authorized corrupt practices is mutual knowledge, but not common knowledge, because everyone (save, eventually, for a small child) is refusing to acknowledge the president’s culpability, thus perpetuating the charade that he is actually fighting against oligarchs and unfettered laissez-faire in the interests of benefitting the country during a time of war.

i believe that there is now a real-life instance of this situation in ukraine, regarding the following:

proposition 1. ukrainian president petro poroshenko along with many government officials and lawmakers are corrupt.

proposition 1 is a statement which i think is common knowledge in ukraine and approaching the level of mutual or shared knowledge among policy makers in the united states and europe: many of poroshenko’s nominal supporters say this proposition is true, even if they are hesitant to say it out loud. there have been many ukraine experts who have made the case for proposition 1 over and over and over again.

however, even if proposition 1 is approaching the status of “mutual knowledge,” it does not yet seem to be close to the status of “common knowledge, that is, until saakashvili crossed the polish-ukraine border illegally over the weekend.

one may secretly believe that poroshenko and his friends are corrupt, but must continue to entertain this possibility that they aren’t, because they feel others around them, or in politics or the media, appear to be doing so.

reconciling these views can require taking on some implausible hypotheses that are not otherwise supported by any evidence, such as the hypothesis that poroshenko’s patriotic speeches and gruelling schedule are merely “for show,” and that behind this facade there is actually a competent and qualified national leader.

much like the emperor’s new clothes, this alleged competence is supposedly only visible to a select few. and so the charade continues.

proposition 2. two wrongs don’t make a right

(to be continued …)