Corruption is the New Meaning of Life: It Is Here to Guide Us
Corruption shows its face unobstructed in most forms of social organisation in today’s world. Under the present rules of governance, they license corruption for use with discretion and embed itself deeper in societies, eliminating most opposition to it. Corruption is thus now legal, though not without illegal consequences. Nothing paves the path for needless and preventable wars, social strife, starvation, pestilence, economic chaos, systemic deficiencies, and emergencies as corruption does.
Many commentators pen such incidences as exceptions, Things Happen, is the persuasion we must accept. They sound as if corruption is uncommon and its effects arise without calculated intention or support. People unfamiliar with the corruption happening in many nations think it’s an overseas problem. 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? As the media becomes more an instrument of public relations, the fewer prints stories, or broadcasts on corruption. The Covid-19 pandemic has uncovered more corruption than is convenient in cleaner nations and dirty ones, too. The backing ideologies, promotions, and the effects of corruption have become more conspicuous. As with organised crime, knowing more concrete details of corruption never stops it.
Corruption, the misuse of entrusted power for private gain, is no longer a measure of morality of the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. It has developed into an indicator of efficiency for Good Guys and the Overseer. Try identifying the differences between the Guys and the wager is you cannot. Major economic and financial manipulators backed-up by corporations, institutions, markets, and governments are now the Good Guys. The Guys are New Icons the world must celebrate. How can we not idolise so-called geniuses, powers-behind-nations, masters of the universe, quid pro quo philanthropists, and the saviours of humankind? It is hard to find a more bizarre irony in the planet’s history. Have you tried debating it? Good is no longer an issue of morality, but utility. If Ted Bundy were to resurrect with a $14 billion fortune, his potential utility will vaporise his crimes and make him good.
Corruption was once wrong, but now it’s permissible at every level of governance. Many players in power no longer treat corruption as a major hindrance to societal stability, economic growth, or civilisation itself. Corruption keeps many players in power. The denial of corruption is a daily affair only confirmed when whistle-blowers and leaks uncover the denials. 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.
Hence, perceptions of corruption themselves are corrupt, intended to obscure actual practices and crimes. Many citizens do not see one nation invading another to loot its resources as corruption. Who benefits from such invasions? Can multilateral agencies devaluing one nation’s currency only to make its economy more compliant with globalisation be corruption? Who benefits from globalisation? You will not find the infliction of human rights abuses on peoples by those wearing badges of the state in the category of corruption. Who benefits from mistreating and murdering targeted peoples? The capacity to vote a joker or hologram into power while genuine candidates stay unelectable for big money’s sake is democracy, not corruption. Who benefits from having clueless individuals as their leaders? So, what is corruption?
The Covid-19 pandemic phenomenon caught the world “unprepared.” The unpreparedness was part-corruption, a perilous avoided cost that hit everyone but the super-rich. [Post-] Covid-19, corruption has developed into a questionable research discipline. Someone will soon cut most of its funding for good reason. Finding corruption in Abuja, New Delhi, or Rio de Janeiro is sexier and more acceptable than hacking it in London or Washington DC. When others do it… when we do it…
Consequently, the days when anti-corruption principals went overseas to Africa, Asia, and Latin America to find corruption are long gone. Investigators that continue to undertake such quests are not breaking any new ground. Corruption is everywhere, though not equivalent. The corrupt officials and criminals operating abroad keep their money in safe havens 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 abroad, are still relevant watches. How far can they go? We must not diminish their work, but can we uphold them?
The day of the existentialists has faded and no longer suffices for individual hope. People no longer worry themselves concerning the meaning-of-life. It stares them in the face as only their conscience could. Nor do they continue to agree with nihilists and existentialists that proclaim life is meaningless or purposeless. The procession of bills payment to shore up avoided costs by itself beat the existentialists and their sympathisers into oblivion. Furthermore, economic utility expressed as profit, high income, and plutocracy are the meaning-of-life under our current rule. It has become our ideal “way of life”, most aspire to it without choice. If you lack money, try to make a fortune and your life will gain true meaning. If you are wealthy, earning another million or billion will give deeper meaning to your life.
Alas, times when enforceable institutions were the root that shaped governance and nations are on their last leg. The Good Guys run everything as they think best, not as the people need. They do it for cost avoidance and profit, for allowances upwards and disallowances downwards, for shared risk and privatised benefit. Discretion is everything. The rule-book and the law are now mere blackboards. Corridors of power are supermarkets. Shoppers can match every thousand saved by voters with a billion.
Yet, voting citizens take on the blame for a nation’s misgovernance and must pay for its rulers’ poor choices. Governance has thus subsumed every facet of corruption into its core mechanisms, as money dictates. Transparency, accountability, participation, fair media, fair elections, public goods, and moral spaces are now the stuff of spin and memes. Such are the best examples of contrary institutions.
Corruption and good governance have merged into an apparent complex that creates insurmountable dilemmas neither politicians nor pundits can discuss with a fair hearing. The dilemma and its analogues resemble thought experiments the designers never want solved. Head, tails, or rim are wrong answers, yet there’s only one coin to toss. Those who handle such problems keep it abstract and will not treat it as a practical social problem needing robust solutions. This is the barrier with which corruption shields itself. People may ask if corruption is natural to power and governance, or must they eschew it?
Moreover, an untiring search for the answer will unearth a formidable grey area. Few grey areas are as vast and inaccessible as corruption. The built-in ambiguities make the answer to the question elusive. No answer becomes the best answer. A folktale can offer the basis for answers, not solution themselves. Fairy tales have never been so pejorative.
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.” These predators live to increase their “utility” by eating foods forbidden to them by the Overseer himself.
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 two 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 capital punishment. Within, the punishments for eating forbidden foods increases sharply as you go down the food chain. Chickens can go without food for three days for breaking a bag of corn. 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.
We contend with trade-offs between the rule of “greed is right” on one side. And institutional redundancy on the other. This includes the redundancies of justice, democracy, the rule of law and public goods. The rule wins with ease as the Overseer chooses. In a post-democracy and post-truth world, as the Overseer has fashioned it, Front Page Economics has become the fresh face of the economic rule. The analyses conjured for mass consumption have a format and content that suit the Overseer’s whims of the day.
Nevertheless, sympathy will not be enough to placate voters or resurrect countless dead citizens and their families. Still, we are choiceless and must accept the “Things happen” persuasion. Except for elections, people are voiceless, before and after them. On voting day, they voice their hearts, they vote narrow options before them. Corruption is here to stay. Ask the legislative, judicial, and executive arms of government. Our elected officials tacitly vote and swear corrupt practices into law, even if citizens campaign, protest, or riot to stop it. Who are the citizens, anyway? They exist to do as they are told, nothing more.
Capital justifies all actions whether or not the people like it. If an action is immoral or amoral, we must accept under the current rules it differs from being unlawful. Lobbying, dynasties, being above the law, and unlimited entitlement are now lawful. And those are the lighter stuff. Voters have voices five minutes in every four/five years, and changes nothing but the rhetoric.
Corruption, as a crime, is a staggering result of globalisation. Its force guides 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. A few scholars may win but must be attendants of the Good Guys. A society in which the reprehensible and unscrupulous are acceptable but avoids being unlawful can force citizens to believe in the “end times” or seek consolation in learned helplessness. It occurs as cyclic decadence ushered in by the Good Guys when they reign unfettered. On the blind-side, the Overseer remains unseen and unassailable for now.
Does anyone remember what Mancur Olson said about ending corruption?