Friday, July 7, 2006

Buying corruption, one donor and democrat at a time

Dr. L. Graham Smith, a professor of Geography at the University of Western Ontario, writes in his excellent blog, ecomyths:

The world will not truly progress and consist of free functional, practising democracies until the basics of justice prevail over the prevaricates of politics.
It is difficult to create incentives for second- and third-world societies to engineer and insitutionalize justice over corruption, but it is especially difficult for groups and governments that abide by and for political methods in our Western democratic settings. It simply exceeds their imagination — or their self-interest — to understand that justice and politics are not only not commensurate but can be entirely inimical. In fact, institutions of justice have preceded these activists and politicians and have served to constrain them in every case in the West. But so it is that well-meaning activists and governments in the West continue to propose incentives to progress and democracy — like increasing financial aid and emphasizing democracy at the expense of demarcating the boundaries of politics in government — that continue to fail miserably to bring progress and justice to the third-world, and actually perpetuate corruption and injustice. Genuine progress, when and where it has been made, has been from within societies and has been largely incidental to the so-called "incentives."

Dr. Smith links to an illuminating and corroborative article by Peter F. Schaefer, a former senior official in the U.S. Agency for International Development:
The fact is that all developing countries are governed by autocrats, even when they are elected. Some are thugs, some are benign, even well-intended reformers, but all are autocrats. They have no choice because it is impossible to govern by the rules if there is no rule-set.

In fact, it is nearly impossible to get elected without systemic corruption; so in a way, our emphasis on democracy often contributes perversely to a rise in corruption.

[…] Rule of law, adjudicated by even-handed justice, simply does not exist anywhere in the developing world and this is the real culprit that stifles development and condemns the poor to live in zero-sum societies. All developing countries are failed states to one degree or another and most of their citizens are miserably poor. In fact, calling them "developing" is misleading because it suggests an upward spiral. But these people are the great grandkids of folks who were poor a half century ago when we started giving out foreign aid in large chunks.

Without laws — and the institutions to administer them fairly — people make up their own rules. Society requires predictability to function and so absent national law they create informal rule-sets. But rules without the force of law can only be sanctioned through bribery or physical force. If the beat cop has no rules, he follows the local norms, the neighborhood rule-set. But to use his monopoly of force on behalf of the neighborhood rule-set he will extract a price. A bribe.

When that happens, the law comes to mean corruption.
Read the rest here…


jomama said...

Whack a couple of cops and see how the 'rule set' changes. Then watch how polite they become.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff said...

A truly excellant, thought provoking article. Your grasp of social realities in "developing" countries is impressive.