Corruption is here in the world to stay, and it entrenches itself in our society deeper daily. Such is our most significant contemporary reality in times of peace and not in an emergency. It is even now legal. Corruption has paved the way for unnecessary and preventable wars, unrest, pestilence, systemic failures and emergencies. Many commentators brand such occurrences as unexpected contingencies. “Things happen”, is the persuasion we must believe, as if they occur with little or no calculated intention and help. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed more corruption than is normally available to the average citizen. Backing ideologies, facilitators, and the consequences of corruption have become more visible to all. The media, criminal justice mechanisms, legislation and civil services could never offer the people such an accessible view of corruption in normal circumstances.
Corruption is no longer a measure of the morality of “the Good guys and the Bad guys.” It has become an index of efficiency for the Good guys and the Overseer. Try spotting the differences between the guys. The bet is you cannot. Major economic and financial manipulators backed-up by corporations, institutions, markets and governments are now the Good guys. They are the very best guys in society. Among them are the geniuses, powers-behind-nations, masters of the universe, invincible, philanthropic, charismatic and have hearts of angels. It is the most delicate irony ever to manifest on the planet.
Corruption as an object of institutional 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. Many citizens may not see one nation invading another to loot its resources as corruption. How could multilateral agencies devaluing your nation’s currency only to make its government more compliant with globalisation, be corruption? Economic sanctions imposed by one nation against another to extort imperious obedience does not rhyme as corruption. Easy to inflict human rights abuses against truth-tellers, the vulnerable and the defenceless using the badge of the state may not pop-up in the category of corruption. The capacity to make of a buffoon electable while a genuine candidate unelectable via corporate-adjusted complexes is too amorphous to be corruption. So what is corruption?
Corruption is “the misuse of entrusted power (or public office) for private gain [whether it happens at home or overseas].” Whether at home or overseas, corruption is the same thing; and not only in monetary exchange. Many ask, why no real discourse on corruption exists? Others ask, why should any such debate exist? The more the media becomes an instrument of public relations, the fewer prints stories or broadcasts on corruption.
The day when anti-corruption principals went overseas to Africa, Asia, and Latin America to find corruption is an anachronism. Investigators that still continue to undertake such quests are not breaking any new grounds. Corruption is everywhere, though not equivalent. The corrupt officials and criminals operating abroad keep their money in “safe havens” just a few miles from where you live. Only the researchers and investigators who dare expose corruption in OECD countries, as it relates to its practice overseas, are still relevant watches. How far can they go? We must not discount their work, but can we support them?
The day of the existentialists has faded. People no longer worry about the meaning-of-life. It stares them in the face always. Nor do they continue to agree with nihilists and existentialists that proclaim “life” is meaningless or purposeless. The procession of bills payment by itself beat the existentialists and their sympathisers into oblivion. Economic utility expressed as profit, high income, and plutocracy are the things that overwhelming make up the meaning-of-life under our current orthodoxy. It has become our ideal “way of life”, most aspire to it without choice. If you lack money, try to make a sum if you can and see if your life will not gain true meaning. If you are wealthy, earning another million or billion will give deeper meaning to your life.
To amass wealth by any means necessary has become legitimate, if you know what you are doing. 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 and other disciplines to replace leverage and gain much expansion in context.
Alas, the day of good governance as prescribed and rooted in enforceable institutions too is long gone. The Good guys run everything as they think best; for cost and profit, for allowances and disallowances, for risk and choice. Discretion is everything, not the rule-book. Citizens increasingly take on the blame for a state’s misgovernance and have to pay for it. Good governance has thus subsumed every facet of corruption into its mechanisms. Transparency, accountability, participation, fair media, fair elections, public goods and moral spaces are now the stuff of much humour and deception. They are 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 discuss with a fair hearing. It is not an easy challenge for anyone. It resembles a thought experiment, not a social problem needing a solution in the actual world. One may ask, is corruption and its practice the natural way of capital and government, or is it something both should eschew? It will take an outstanding search to find a ‘grey area’ with so much unexpected and untouchable space to navigate as corruption. Such ambiguity makes the answer to the question elusive. Elements of a folktale could offer 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 bags of corn. Few rules the Overseer uses on the farms to avoid overregulation; “lions–thou shall not eat the capybaras, goats–thou shall not eat the yams, and chickens–thou shall not eat the corn.” But 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.
The lions, goats and chickens soon learn that nothing happens to them of significance when they eat the forbidden foods, they are “favourites.” Mild penalties such as being deprived of a day’s lunch for feeding on twelve lambs is the deterrent incentive. If a fox, caiman, eagle or wild cat attempted to eat the capybaras, yam, or corn, they receive severe punishment or even get killed. The Overseer’s style of good governance of the farm’s foods and favourites is shoddy. Its discipline is too selective and partisan; it privileges a few but crushes the rest, even if they are starving. The populations and appetites of the predators increase, but the Overseer remains the same.
Such has become the corruption as we can see it. A battle between the orthodoxy of “greed is right” of the favourites on one side and the 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 fresh face of the economic orthodoxy. The analyses conjured is has a format and content that suit the Overseer’s whims of the day.
Sympathy will not be enough to appease voters or resurrect countless dead citizens and their families. Still, we will have no choice but to accept the “Things happen” persuasion because except for elections we are voiceless, just before and after them.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a phenomenon the world was “unprepared.” The plague is partly because of corruption, which is not undergoing a reduction anywhere. [Post-] Covid-19 Corruption has already become a viable research discipline. 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 economic and social prosperity. Who is waiting? I wonder who next the Nobel Prize Committee for Economics will award the Prize for it. More than a few scholars may qualify for the honour, and economists have won it so far.
Corruption is here to stay by law. Corruption is legal; our elected representatives vote and swear it into law regularly, even if citizens campaign, protest, or riot to prevent it. If an action is immoral or amoral, we have to realise; it is not the same as illegal. The progress of a society in which the sinful and amoral are acceptable but avoids being unlawful can make citizens believe in the “end times” or seek solace in learned helplessness. It could be just a case of cyclic decadence ushered in by the Good guys when they reign unfettered. On the blind-side, the Overseer remains invisible and invincible for now.