It is when almost half of all Congressmen remain in the Capitol after leaving office so that they can make many millions per year peddling influence and crafting loopholes for corporations who are offering huge sums to gain advantage through manipulating the tax and regulatory laws, or eliminating them altogether.
It is when politicians leave office voluntarily once they have gained enough name recognition and contacts so they can cash in.
It is when a ruling class forms, and becomes insulated from their constituents. It begins to act for itself, paying lip service to their oaths and obligations, with no consequence or shame.
It is when the government by example breeds lawlessness.
It is when officials from the Executive Branch move back and forth through a revolving door from corporate institutions in order to make the big payday for their public 'service.'
It is when the truth is led down a blind alley of greed and strangled by expediency. It is when lying and cheating is acceptable, even laudatory, if you are good at it. And goodness is measured in money.
It is when corporations openly pay large bonuses to their executives who win an influential job in government in order to further the corporation's influence and interests.
It is when there is more moral hazard in not taking the money, than there is in taking it, and even getting caught at it, as long as you have served your masters well. If you do not take the money, you are a risk, you are not reliable. You may have a conscience, and you do not have the additional layer of loyalty that comes from complicity. Morality is bad for business. And good people are contemptible.
It is when the only tragedy is not to be in the one percent.
If you wish to see a fine example of this type of systemic corruption, watch the movie Serpico, or a good expose of a banana republic or organized crime, or read the book This Town by Mark Leibovich.
Groupthink rationalizes it, and the fear of ostracism and missing the big payday keeps everyone in line. And once you are part of this type of system, it owns you, whether you are a politician, a journalist, an economist, or a parasitic enabler. If you are in business, not to join in is a competitive disadvantage. Bad behaviour drives out the good, and banality unleashing the darkest parts of human nature is in the ascendant.
A credibility trap is when both parties pledges themselves to the powerful, monied interests, thereby putting the business of business ahead of the business of the people. The society becomes out of balance, and cannot bring itself to right because its leaders have lost their way, and corrupt all who come near them.
It always ends, often from external forces, and too often badly. But while the money is still flowing the band plays on.
"A credibility trap is a condition wherein the financial, political and informational functions of a society have been compromised by corruption and fraud, so that the leadership cannot effectively reform, or even honestly address, the problems of that system without impairing and implicating, at least incidentally, a broad swath of the power structure, including themselves.
The status quo tolerates the corruption and the fraud because they have profited at least indirectly from it, and would like to continue to do so. Even the impulse to reform within the power structure is susceptible to various forms of soft blackmail and coercion by the system that maintains and rewards.
And so a failed policy and its support system become self-sustaining, long after it is seen by objective observers to have failed. In its failure it is counterproductive, and an impediment to recovery in the real economy. Admitting failure is not an option for the thought leaders who receive their power from that system.
The continuity of the structural hierarchy must therefore be maintained at all costs, even to the point of becoming a painfully obvious, organized hypocrisy.