One of my fancies is corruption. I come from a country that’s scored as being very clean by Transparency international (in 2011: 8.9 on a scale of 10) and then moved to places like Cambodia (2.1) and Nepal (2.2). Corruption moved centre stage in much of what I consumed on paper regarding my new environments.
But something felt fishy about this view of the world. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to tell you that Cambodia or Nepal are not very corrupt places. It’s the clean image of the countries at the top of the list that doesn’t match with my understanding of how the world operates.
I expect to regularly return to this topic so this post just a kick off. Two perspectives on the matter have helped me to be more specific about exactly isn’t right about looking at the world in this way.
One is criticism on the international corruption discourse from the Tax Justice angle. What really made me understand this angle is a 2007 paper by by John Christensen of the tax justice network called Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most corrupt of all?
Totally accessible to any non-expert. Great read! To entice you to download the paper and have a go at it yourself: look at this Table:
Tax havens economies ranked amongst the ‘least corrupt’ countries
in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index
|Country rank||Tax haven jurisdictions*||CPI score|
|1||Iceland / New Zealand||9.6|
|11||Luxembourg /United Kingdom||8.6|
|20||Belgium / USA||7.3|
|28||Malta / Uruguay||6.4|
* source: Christensen, J. & Hampton M.P. (2005) tax us if you can, TJN-IS
The other angle is that corruption is normally associated with actions that are illegal. However, plenty of things that are covered by most definitions of corruption are legal in many countries and therefore largely excluded from analyses of corruption.
Until now I’ve come across preciously little corruption reporting that addresses this matter heads on. And that makes me very suspicious because “the ways in which the economically powerful buy influence can be more generally described as rent-seeking, but most of the rent-seeking in advanced countries is legal” (italics mine) as Mustaq Khan, one of those sources, observed.
The World Bank, one of the most prolific publishers of papers on corruption has hardly anything on this crucial perspective. I’ve come across one paper that addresses it directly, well-argued, spot on, I would say, but it’s from 2005 and doesn’t seem to have received any follow up.
Now the big question for me is why are two such obvious and valid criticism of the mainstream corruption debate not resulting in much change?
Obviously there is a whole lot of books out there, from Noam Chomsky to Peter Schweitzer that argue along these lines. I enjoy reading that kind of stuff, as it very much appeals to the little conspiracy theorist that inhabits my brain. Unfortunately, there is another guy inside there that doesn’t believe in planning at all.
So I remain confused. Which is why I’m sure this topic is going to reappear as I’m trying to find my way through this field of manifold interpretations.