Last Friday, David Barboza of the New York Times published what is likely to be a Pulitzer-Prize winning article about corruption at the highest level of the Chinese government. Barboza showed that close relatives of Prime Minister Wen Jaibao had amassed billions of dollars in “hidden riches” — the result of gaining large stakes in Chinese companies. The evidence presented by Barboza is likely to be especially damning for Wen because he has long presented himself as a champion of the poor, and a Populist beyond reproach.
For me, what was surprising about the article was not that high-ranking government officials in China were corrupt, which has long been rumored. What was surprising was that all of this evidence was publicly available from government entities themselves. Wen had been careful to hide his direct involvement in the corruption, but he had not been careful enough to expunge the very records that implicated his closest family members in the depravity.
So today’s puzzler is this: Why would China’s elite, who stand to lose significantly if evidence of deep corruption surfaces, be so careless as to not eliminate the paper trail?