Edward C. Banfield on Corruption as a Feature of Governmental Organization

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 8.51.19 AMIn the autumn 2015 copy of the Claremont Review of Books, Christopher DeMuth writes:

Political scientist Edward C. Banfield argued 40 years ago that corruption is an inherent feature of government. Like Cost, he believed fragmented government invites interest-group manipulation and extra-governmental authority structures, such as party organizations and public-private alliances. But Banfield described many other factors that are independent of political fragmentation, grounded instead in the nature of political decision-making and monopoly. These included: fragmented authority within government organizations; ambiguous and often conflicting goals; lack of objective metrics of performance; transitory leadership; inflexible pay scales and inability to punish even egregious misbehavior; captive “shareholders” (citizens); and the powerful lure of non-pecuniary incentives, especially the opportunity to wield power. The importance of these general characteristics is suggested by the prevalence of corruption and interest-group capture in state and local government, such as Plunkitt’s Tammany Hall machine, which are free of Cost’s mismatch.

DeMuth was a student and great friend of Banfield, and understands Banfield’s work better than anyone.

One can read Banfield’s “Corruption as a Feature of Governmental Organization” at http://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/-here-the-people-rule_165254919061.pdf. Indeed, if one searches for the term “corruption” in the aforementioned text, one will see that Banfield wrote of corruption in other essays too, such as “”In Defense of the American Party System.”

Harvard Crimson Articles on Edward C. Banfield Online

Source: TheCrimson.com
Source: TheCrimson.com

Happily, the Harvard Crimson makes many of its articles about Banfield available online. You can see them at: http://www.thecrimson.com/search/?cx=013815813102981840311%3Aaw6l9tjs1a0&cof=FORID%3A10&ie=UTF-8&q=%22edward+c.+banfield%22&sa=

This one from December 2, 1971, regarding Banfield’s few-year departure from Harvard, features a leaf-raking James Q. Wilson, who was a student and dear friend of Ed’s. Read it at http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1971/12/2/banfield-quits-harvard-takes-position-at/

Patricia McLaughlin, “Is the Author of ‘The Unheavenly City’ Really Diabolical?” Pennsylvania Gazette, November 1973

Edward C. Banfield went from the University of Chicago to Harvard, and then was lured to the University of Pennsylvania for a short time. Thomas E. Lanctot, a former Banfield student there, graciously provided a paper photocopy of this article. (Presently, the Pennsylvania Gazette’s online archive does not go back to 1973.)

At UPenn, Banfield was harassed by Bonnie Blustein, who trashed him in the school newspaper as a neo-Nazi. She and others also  disrupted his lectures.

This article provides some biographical material on Banfield and includes a photograph of him in Rittenhouse Square. It also pokes some fun at the often ludicrous criticisms of Banfield’s The Unheavenly City (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970). You can read this article in its entirety above. The scroll bar on the right-side of the frame allows you to move through the pages. Click the Scribd button on the frame around it to view a larger copy in a new window.

Advertisement for Edward C. Banfield’s Democratic Muse

Democratic Muse Advertisement Cropped
Source: Basic Books

The Democratic Muse (New York: Century Fund) annoyed many cultural elites when it was published in 1984. Even the late Hilton Kramer, who usually is considered a conservative, was outraged. The Democratic Muse is Banfield’s most Socratic book—it unleashed reason upon federal arts policies.

Banfield examined the various arguments for government funding for arts and found them nonsensical and contradictory. So, for example, if looking at great painting is good for the public, then would it not make sense to cease funding museums (which few Americans can access), sell off the masterpieces, and use the proceeds to send high quality copies of paintings to public schools nationwide?  Ultimately, Banfield exposed much of arts policy as subsidies for the upper class in major metropolitan areas.

Above is a print advertisement that Banfield sent to one of his former University of Pennsylvania students, Thomas Lanctot, who provided a copy of it to this website. Clicking on the image above will expand it to full size. On the right, one sees the photographer was Bruce Kovner. This is amusing, as Kovner was a Banfield student at Harvard, and Kovner went on to start Caxton Associates and become a billionaire. (Kovner, it should be added, remained a dear friend of Ed and Laura Banfield to the end.)

Peter Skerry Book Inscribed to Edward C. Banfield

Peter Skerry is a professor of political science at Boston College. His Mexican Americans: The Ambivalent Minority (Harvard University Press, 1993) won the 1993 Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Skerry earned his Ph.D, in government from Harvard. He was as student of Banfield’s, and  James Q. Wilson, a Banfield student, co-author, and friend, was one of Skerry’s dissertation advisers.

Two photographs of a copy of a Skerry-inscribed copy of Mexican Americans are below. The inscription reads, “December 1993 To Ed and Laura Banfield, with great fondness and respect, Peter.”

Source: Kevin R. Kosar
Source: Kevin R. Kosar

Robert J. Samuelson Book Inscribed to Edward C. Banfield

Robert J. Samuelson, the provocative columnist for the Washington Post, was a student of Banfield.  He wrote a touching tribute to Banfield upon his death: “The Gift of a Great Teacher,” Washington Post, October 14, 1999.

Below are shots of a copy of Samuelson’s impishly titled The Good Life and Its Discontents: The American Dream in the Age of Entitlement, 1945-1995 (Times Books, 1997) that he gave to Banfield. The inscription reads, “To Ed, a great teacher, with thanks, from one of his not-so-great students.  Sam”

Source: Kevin R. Kosar
Source: Kevin R. Kosar

What Did Edward C. Banfield Read?

The answer is, “Just about everything.”

Banfield himself wrote broadly, his books and articles covering topics such as agricultural policy, the U.S. Constitution, foreign aid policy, poverty, urban governance… Banfield even penned a few short didactic, short stories.  It is not for nothing that the late James Q. Wilson referred to his former teacher as “the man who knew too much.”

Ed and his wife Laura were bibliophiles—one cannot even venture to guess at how many books they acquired. Their collections held titles on nearly every topic matter: gardening (including mushroom identification), astronomy, history, philosophy, technology, fiction current and century or more old, and, not surprisingly, the classics (e.g., Plutarch). Below are two photographs of a tiny slice of Ed’s politics and history collection.