Corruption Today: A Status Update
At a time where publicized outrage is the central focus of national and international affairs, it is easy to forget the underlying causes, effects, and tensions of the social structure of our world today. This blog post is designed to tackle one of these deep but under the radar issues - namely the workings of corruption in contemporary politics - to serve as a primer for those looking to engage multinationally with officials (presumably for business purposes).
Many, many books and analyses have been produced about corruption in both previous and recent years, so the content of this post is simply a conversation starter into an area worth greater public literacy and attention. In fact, corruption is likely more pervasive today due to the increase in distractions and policy complexity brought on by technological change and the social reactions to it. This makes understanding corruption as both a social symptom and a leading issue in the modern experience of rapid global political changes all the more pressing, as clearly seen in the actions and elections witnessed around the world in recent years.
Among other social ills involving global corruption, the emergence of populism stands out. In this case, “populism” refers to a particular brand of politics where leaders gain support through direct - and even blunt or crude - appeals to serving the people against a common enemy figure. Today, official corruption (or at least the perception of it) sets up ruling establishments for targeting by outside figures tapping into the frustration and malaise of the populace.
This is pretty straightforward: like in any relationship, corruption erodes transparency, which in turn erodes trust. In politics, the erosion of social trust is dangerous, for it leads to potentially crippling instability - or at the very least the deadlocked form of government seen in modern Washington. Corruption now sticks out like a sore thumb due to rising global inequality and its complement, the dominance of special political interest groups in capitals around the world.
The Interaction between Populism and Corruption
Based on country case studies (I will briefly mention some below), one has to wonder if there is an intricate bond between corruption and populism. While working on this topic extensively as a graduate student, I came to see it as a near cause-and-effect relationship. The real question is whether the corruption to follow is from the side of the populists or the side being demonized and/or defeated by them.
Technology in Politics
My research conclusions have come about while taking into account the principal factor separating traditional populism from its contemporary variety: technology, namely the internet, social media, etc. For those like populists seeking to establish clean divides over a people/electorate, information technology is a bolstering force that can highlight and even deify leaders and candidates. It has also been shown that such tools can be optimized, toggled, and controlled to dictate such pro-populist messages well after the challengers have risen to power. This leads to serious questions as to regime stability for populist-minded governments, which had previously risen and fallen in a natural cyclical fashion and now face the risk of corruption themselves due to its inherent risk in longstanding political structures.
Which Areas are Vulnerable Markets?
The global rise of populism today has affected a wide variety of countries, particularly where transparency is concerned. In this way the forthcoming list is admittedly incomplete. That said the following four states are emblematic of current international trends.
The failed state of Venezuela is a clear-cut case of corruption run amok, with the result being a complete meltdown of a national economy. For years now the acquisition and distribution of simple staples has created severe pain and tragedy for millions of Venezuelans, spurring a refugee crisis that is looking to engulf swathes of the Latin American region. This came about from the kleptocratic consolidation of resources enacted by former President Hugo Chavez and his followers (one of whom, current President Nicolas Maduro, is exacerbating such destructive economic policies). In this way Venezuela epitomizes the importance of solidly maintained standards for ethical conduct in business and government.
The world’s second largest economy and largest developing country is at a crossroads. From its growing clout to its unwanted trade war with the US, China today faces a complex series of challenges to its development. One of the most persistent (for decades) is official corruption. It is therefore no surprise that President Xi Jinping’s first major initiative in office was a major anti-corruption probe that continues to derail the careers of many senior officials. As economic growth slows, it will be interesting to see what happens to such efforts going forward - will they intensify as the spoils of power decrease or will they dissipate as political will bends towards addressing income inequality and other pan-society issues?
Until recently, the US was a leader in transparency promotion and clean governance the world over. This has changed in light of the Trump administration’s policies, decisions, and general attitudes towards ethical responsibility. Such a culture begins and ends with the President himself, a saga which began in 2016 with brazen actions like the refusal to publicly release his tax returns. From a broader perspective, the ease with which large donations and special interests dominate policymaking in Washington and state capitals across the country is a defining effect of the momentous Citizens United Supreme Court ruling in 2010, and a clear indication that corruption is both on the rise and highly encouraged in today’s America.
Argentina, South Africa, and Turkey
The economic trials and tribulations associated with these three countries have been discussed in a previous post on currency woes in 2018. Not surprisingly these and similar emerging markets struggle with graft and its deleterious outcomes, and they remain important case studies to monitor going forward this year.
I welcome your thoughts. Please feel free to respond in the comments or to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss further.