Today, money is the dominant measure of social achievement no matter where it comes from or how it is obtained.  It's not about need; it's about winning.  To compete in this race -- for zeroes, in bank accounts -- elites in countries rich and poor are rewriting the rules in their favor.  They are rigging the system.  That is what ordinary people mean by "corruption."  And it is the existential threat facing our generation.

My intent is to combat it, and to help restore to their place of honor other values without which our society can not endure. 

Photo: Kaveh Sardari

More Relevant than Ever...

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A "sweeping and remarkably clear-eyed account"

-- Publishers' Weekly

After more than a decade working to understand kleptocracy overseas, and the disaster it spawns, I knew: it was time to train my lens on my own country.  This book is the result (and yes, it’s the same book, US and UK versions).  “Unflinching,” Knopf calls it.  “Blistering,” says Hurst.  

And indeed: it’s one thing to cop to the abstract idea that America is dominated by the same type of networks that run notoriously corrupt developing countries – in which public and private sectors, makers and super-rich takers and regulators, are woven together, often joined by out-and-out-criminals.  But it was painful to roll up my sleeves and grapple with that reality.  

As I found in other countries, it is a reality that lies at the root of most of our crises: from repeated banking and stock market meltdowns and the unemployment and homelessness and desperation that result, to the disproportionately high toll of COVID sickness and death in this country, and the systematic mistreatment of black people and native nations and other subordinated groups.  

This book, like my others, goes beyond and beneath the usual chronicle of events.  You’ll also spend time with the mythical (and real) King Midas (of the golden touch), with Jesus, and with Joe Kennedy and other 19th and early 20th century kleptocrats, as well as the anarchists and farmers who fought them.  You'll see how the pattern here post-1980 mirrors the pattern back then.  And you’ll consider with me what we can do to stop this scourge before it destroys our country and the land and principles it stands on.


Selected public comment
Look Out, Corruption Ahead

The Atlantic
April 17, 2020,

Sarah Chayes

As the country mobilizes resources to address the pandemic, politicians and corporations may attempt to exploit the crisis to enrich themselves.



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The Atlantic
February 23, 2020,

Sarah Chayes


Trump’s pardons were shocking to some, but to me they were eerily familiar—straight out of the kleptocratic playbook I’ve studied in a dozen other countries.


This Is How Kleptocracies Work
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