The Culture of Corruption

Many of us know that political corruption is not new to the world. It is an unsavory, human practice with a history that extends far back into ancient times, countries, and rulers. Unlike modern times, there were no checks and balances of power then and rulers were free to rule however they saw fit. During those times, political corruption focused itself mostly in a single civilization at a given time. But nowhere did this phenomenon reach such a height of prevalence and sophistication as in the Roman Empire. All one has to do is read the voluminous work of Edward Gibbon to realize the depth of perversion and destruction this practice brought to a once high civilization. This blog has focused on corruption before but mostly in Latin America, however recently it seems that corruption has reached “epidemic” levels throughout the entire world and this will be our focus.

In Latin America, I witnessed firsthand how the Brazilian government was usurped by corrupt, right-wing autocrats interested only in lining their pockets with ill-gotten gains. Not only are they plundering the country of funds from public programs but more important it seems their greed knows no limits. While in Europe, masses of the population have taken to the streets in protest, often times violently, against corrupt politicians that have bankrupted their countries through financial mismanagement and corrupt practices. In the United States, a regime change is taking place that threatens the foundations of its democratic society and institutions. Normally, when one thinks of regime change, we think of some Third-World, banana republic whose government is being drastically altered by clandestine measures. However, the US government has become staffed with a cadre of rich Wall Street corporate executives and businessmen that threaten the financial stability of the country and who have no conscience about pillaging institutions and looting – regime change nonetheless. More important, it seems that the political pendulum has swung the opposite direction in several countries – that is, many of these governments were previously headed by good leaders that put the welfare of their people and country first only to be followed by a subsequent group of “robber barons.” Now, it seems that governments across the globe will be controlled by corrupt politicians at least for the next few decades before the pendulum swings the other way again.

Since we have already written about corruption in Latin America (…see Masked Discontent: corruption in Brazil and Latin America and Brazil’s Dichotomous Treatment of Corruption), we will focus on Europe, the United States and some Asian countries. Also, our focus will limit itself to data compiled from watchdog organizations and journalism that monitors corruption throughout the world.

Many of our readers are already familiar with the work conducted by Transparency International and the surveys it conducts concerning corruption across the globe. However, there is another organization that readers should be aware of that performs the same type of work. That is, they survey the richest, industrialized, democratic member countries concerning corruption – the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

When we consider corruption in Europe, the following countries appear on their radar: Turkey, Italy, Greece, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Spain, Slovenia, Israel, Poland, Portugal, France (although France has become slightly less corrupt recently), and Ireland. Turkey by far is considered the most corrupt country in Europe. In 2013, a scandal involving the director of a state bank and many senior business officials were allegedly involved in bribery, fraud, smuggling and money laundering. Italy considered to have the 3rd largest economy in the euro zone was rocked by a scandal involving the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was accused of corruption several times, convicted of tax fraud in 2013, and was found guilty of bribing a senator in 2015. In Greece, the practice of the “envelope” (an expression used to describe bribery) is widespread in terms of getting better service in the public sector. In recent years, Slovakian politicians, officials and business executives were accused of corruption and venality. The practice of bribes to doctors and surgeons is reportedly widespread in Hungary. In 2013, former Prime Minister Petr Necas was forced to resign at the end of a major political corruption scandal. Also, the former Prime Minister of Spain was accused of corruption by political party opposition. The country of Slovenia had several high-profile corruption scandals. For example, in 2013 and 2014, Prime Minister Janez Jansa and opposition leader Zoran Jankovic were accused of failing to properly declare their personal assets leading to several mass demonstrations. One of the poorest countries on the OECD survey is Israel but it is also one of the most corrupt. In 2015, former prime minister Ehud Olmert was convicted of illegally taking more than U$150,000 in bribes from an American tycoon. According to Transparency International, corruption, nepotism and favoritism is widespread in Poland. In addition, a survey conducted by the American tax firm, Ernest & Young in 2013 found that corruption and bribery is widespread in Portugal and former prime minister Jose Socrates was arrested on suspicion of tax fraud and money laundering. When we consider Asian countries, Prime Minister Lee Wan-Koo was forced to resign after being accused of corruption in a suicide note by a prominent businessman. As mentioned before, in Latin America the countries of Mexico, Brazil, and Chile top the list. And the list goes on for over 181 countries.

Now a culture of corruption has very devastating effects upon a country’s government, economy and society.  It has the tendency to erode democratic social and cultural institutions and decays the mechanism by which democracy is supported. For example, it creates among other things deep debt causing extreme levels of borrowing to sustain the government and country. In turn, Federal funding becomes drastically reduced and State funding experiences sharp cut backs. In addition, its responsible for widespread inadequate employment, under employment and unemployment among the population. Add to this the loss of good paying unionized jobs. The repercussions of which effectively trickle down into the society resulting in widespread alcoholism, addiction and opioid use among the people. Inevitably, communities begin to collapse and a proliferation of violence and hate groups emerge. Also, opportunities for advancement completely disappear and inequality increases in all sectors of the population – the poor, working and eventually the middle class.  As cannibalism of the economy and federal government increases, societies begin to disintegrate and ultimately resort to violence.

In effect, this is the end result that a culture of corruption inculcates. History is replete with more than enough examples to demonstrate the validity of this claim.

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in a society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”                                                                                                    -Frederic Bastiat


Chrysopoulos, P. (2016) Greece Ranks 4th in Corruption Among Developed Nations; Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer (2013); Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (2017); World Economic Forum. (2013). Global Competitiveness Report 2013 -2014. Retrieved September 2018; Ernst & Young. (2013). Growing Beyond: a place for integrity – 12th Global Fraud Survey. Retrieved September 2018; Transparency International. (2011). National Integrity System Assessment – 2011. Retrieved September 2018; The Economist. (2012). Czech Corruption Continued. Retrieved September 2018; The US Department of State. (2013). Human Rights Report 2012 – Czech Republic. Retrieved September 2018.