Bernadette Atuahene, A Theory of Stategraft, 98 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1 (2023).
Neoliberalism and its accompanying austerity measures are shrinking local and national government budgets, even though constituent needs remain pressing. In desperation, public officials sometimes replenish public coffers through illicit extraction from segments of the population poorly positioned to fight back. In Detroit, for example, city officials inflated property tax assessments in violation of the Michigan Constitution, leading to illegally inflated property taxes that many homeowners could not afford to pay. Consequently, since 2009, one in three homes have completed the property tax foreclosure process, the highest number of property tax foreclosures in American history since the Great Depression. These unlawful practices are not just occurring in Detroit, but also in other American cities such as Ferguson, Philadelphia, and New Orleans.
Nevertheless, because corruption is universally defined as corrupt acts that are for private or personal gain, there is currently no lexicon to describe illegal acts that principally benefit the public treasury. I have coined the term “stategraft” to describe this overlooked phenomenon: when state agents transfer property from persons to the state in violation of the state’s own laws or basic human rights. To establish stategraft as an essential theoretical framework, this Article elaborates its definitional elements, demonstrates its conceptual value, and shows how it extends existing discourses on corruption, state crime, and the predatory state.