Corruption is here in the world to stay and entrench itself deeper. That is our most significant contemporary reality in times of peace and not in an emergency. It is even legal. Corruption has paved the way for unnecessary wars, unrest, pestilence and systemic failures; many commentators brand such as unexpected contingencies. “Things happen”, we are persuaded, as if they occur without much-calculated assistance. Without entrenched predatory corruption, there would be much fewer preventable disasters and crises in the world. The Covid-19 pandemic has inadvertently exposed more crime than is usually seen by the average person. The backing ideologies and consequences of corruption have become more visible. The entire media, justice system and civil services could never offer the people such a view in bribery.
Corruption is no longer about the good guys and the bad guys; it is now only about the good guys and the Overseer. Try spotting the difference. The bet is you cannot. All the tax-evaders, tax-credit racketeers, interest-free loan enjoyers, subsidy extorters, funds privatisers, military spending dependants, stock inflators, bailout mongers, bad loans merchants, crisis manufacturers, cutthroat speculators, master hoarders, vulture creditors are now the good guys. They are the very best guys in society. They are geniuses, masters of nations, masters of the universe, invincible, philanthropic, charismatic and have hearts as good as gold. It is the most delicate irony ever manifest on the planet.
Many do not see one nation invading another to loot its resources as corruption. How could multilateral agencies devaluing your currency only to ensure more of the support of your government can be bought cheaply by another be corruption? Economic sanctions imposed by one nation against another to extort compliance does not look like corruption. Exacting human rights abuses against truth-tellers, the vulnerable and the defenceless using the badge of the state is not exactly the stuff of bribery. Formally, corruption is “the misuse of entrusted power (or public office) for private gain [whether it happens at home or overseas].” At home or overseas, corruption is the same thing, and it is not limited to monetary exchange. Many ask, where is the real discourse on crime? Others ask, why should there be any?
The day when the self-righteous anti-corruption principal went overseas to Africa, Asia, and Latin America to find corruption is over. Those that still do are not breaking grounds. The corrupt persons abroad, keep their money in “safe havens” down the road. Only those who dare talk about corruption in OECD countries, primarily as it facilitates the phenomenon overseas are still relevant, but barely. How far can they go?
Unexpectedly, the day of the existentialists is over. People no longer have to worry about what the meaning of life is, it stares them in the face. Nor do they agree with nihilists and existentialists that proclaim “life” is meaningless or purposeless. Bills payment all by itself beat the existentialists and their sympathisers. Economic utility expressed as profit, high income and plutocracy are the things that overwhelming constitute the meaning of life. It has become our ideal “way of life”, most aspire to it. If you lack money, try to make some if you can and see if your life will not acquire true meaning. If you are already wealthy, another million or billion will give deeper meaning to your life. Amassing wealth by any means necessary has become legitimate; no rule is “too big to break” if you have access and privilege. “Breakage” [the legal breaking of laws for profit] should enter the language of political economy to replace leverage and expanded in context.
Alas, the day of good governance as prescribed and rooted in enforceable institutions is also long gone. The good guys run everything as they think best; cost and profit, allowances and disallowances. Corruption as an object of reduction or elimination is now obsolete. In our contemporary world, corruption not seen as the major hindrance to societal stability, economic growth or even good governance. The everyday people take the blame for misgovernance and have to pay for it. Good governance has thus effectively subsumed all aspects of corruption into its mechanisms. Transparency, accountability, participation, fair media, fair elections, the public good, moral spaces are now all a big joke. They are now the best examples of contrary institutions.
The “corruption-good governance complex” is now in evidence and has created a big dilemma which neither politicians nor intellectuals can appropriately address. It is not an easy challenge for any person. It resembles a thought experiment, not a social problem to be solved in the real world. One may ask the question, is corruption the natural way of capital and government, or is it something both should eschew? It would take an outstanding search to find a grey area with so much space to navigate as corruption. Such makes answering the question harder. Maybe elements of a folk tale could provide the basis for the answer, not the solution itself.
Imagine three farms owned by an Overseer. The first has eight lions partitioned from a thousand capybaras. Next, fifteen goats partitioned from a yam barn stocked with five thousand free yams. The third has thirty chickens locked out from a storehouse with a thousand large bags of corn. Like in the Garden of Eden, the only rules in farms are; “lions – thou shall not eat the capybaras, goats – thou shall not eat the yams, and chickens – thou shall not eat the corn.” However, these same predators understand that the best thing they can do in life is to increase their “utility” by eating the foods forbidden to them by the Overseer himself. And we are aware the predators have a natural appetite for the forbidden foods anyway.
The lions, goats and chickens soon learn that nothing happens to them of significance when they eat the forbidden foods, they are “favourites” it seems. Perhaps, mild penalties such as being deprived of a day’s lunch for feeding on twelve lambs is the incentive. Surprisingly, if a fox, caiman, eagle or wild cat attempted to hunt the capybaras, they are severely punished or even killed. The same is the case for animals that would try to eat the yam and corn. The Overseer’s good governance of the farm’s foods and favourites is shoddy at best. Its discipline is too selective and partisan; it privileges a few but crushes the rest even if they are starving. Somehow the populations and appetites of the predators increase, but the Overseer remains the same.
Such has become corruption as we see it. A battle between the orthodoxy of “greed is right” of the favourites on one side and redundancies of justice, democracy, the rule of law and the public good for everyone else on the other. The orthodoxy win’s with ease always because the Overseer has made the redundancies of institutions more redundant. In a post-democracy and post-truth world, as the Overseer has fashioned it, FrontPage Economics has become the new face of economic orthodoxy. The analyses conjured is presented to suit the Overseer’s whims of the day.
The Covid-19 pandemic was for which we were unprepared. Partly and mostly, because of corruption, but there is more of the same or worse to come. Sympathy will not be enough to appease voters or resurrect dead citizens. Still, we will have no choice but to accept the “things happen” argument because except for elections we are voiceless. Sustaining the world through corruption is disingenuous to ordinary folk, but its logic is so amazing to the new brand of good guy geniuses and their associates. Corruption as a crime is the dominant form of social organisation is a staggering outcome of globalisation. It is a force to guide us to the promised land of social prosperity. Who is waiting? I wonder who next the Nobel Prize Committee for Economics is going to award the Prize for it. Many qualify and some have already won it.
Corruption is here to stay by law. If it is immoral or amora, we are told, it is not the same as illegal. The march towards a society in which the sinful and amoral are typical but not unlawful is supposed to be a sign of the end times. Maybe it is just a case of periodic decadence ushered in by good guys. Corruption is legal; it is regularly sworn into law even if citizens protest or riot to prevent it. Unfortunately, the Overseer is invisible; there will be no French Revolution for him. That should give us more worries in future.