Corruption in society is defined in the dictionary as impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle. Government or business corruption involves a giver and a taker. The thing given is usually money in return for a favor, or something that cannot be obtained in the ordinary way. The corruption deal is done behind closed doors, for both giver and taker know that it is an unconscionable act that is grossly unfair to other people. Since corruption is kept in secret, it can be countered simply by shining a spotlight and exposing it to the world.
I personally saw corruption when I was in my early teens living in Saigon, former South Vietnam. One night my brother and I were walking home after a movie. A motorcycle turned the corner and hit a woman crossing the street. The woman was thrown several feet and lay motionless face up near the curbside a few feet from us. Her white blouse was full of blood. We also saw blood oozing out of her head onto the road. We were so scared that we ran home and told our parents about the accident. We came back to the scene after a while with our mother. A policeman arrived and talked to the motorcyclist. Then the ambulance came and carried the injured victim away. Later came a big car, and a woman stepped out holding a bag. She went straight to the policeman and gave him cash out of the bag. Then the policeman went with her into her car. Why did she give money to the policeman? I could not help asking my mom. She told me to keep quiet and led us home.
All across Asia you can find cheap delicacies in the streets sold by mobile food vendors. Occasionally, somebody shouts “run!” and the vendors have to take off with their equipments. If caught by the police, they will be fined for illegal selling. Nevertheless, on a side street you can find another vendor selling the same kind of food with no such hassle. The vendor will gladly admit that he has paid the police so that they won’t bother him for another week.
The above two cases are the kind of small-scale but pervasive corruption that occurs everyday in developing countries. In industrialized countries, corruption also occurs but at a different level and on a large scale. The problem is how big and how widespread, not whether or not corruption exists in the world.
In America, government or business corruption occurs on a big scale. The interesting thing is that it is made legal into laws or policies. It basically involves the rich and powerful trying to take advantage of the public by buying government officials or politicians. In order to cover up the real purpose and gross unfairness, fictional reasons are invented to deliberately mislead the people into thinking favorably about the corrupted laws or policies. The fictional reasons usually revolve around four simple but emotional issues as shown below:
*Protect freedom and our way of life (when they start a war, or build new weapon systems to benefit the arms manufacturers).
*Protect freedom of speech (when they allow corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money to help elect the public officials to serve their interests rather than the people’s).
*Reduce the deficit (when they cut investments in education, infrastructure, and the environment; and cut subsidies to the poor, the sick and the elderly).
*Create more jobs (when they cut taxes or create tax loopholes for the rich; give tax relief to big corporations; and oppose reforming Wall Street, health care, and energy use even though necessary for the people).
Do you see the deception and the absence of logic in the above fictional reasons? In fact, every corrupted law or policy is deceivingly interpreted as creating jobs, cutting the deficit, or protecting freedom. It seems the rich and powerful have found an easy way to fool the public. If you don’t mind their insulting your intelligence, you should believe what they tell you to believe.
In a democratic constitutional system, the worst thing that can happen is the corruption of the fundamental principle of one-person one-vote. Corporations and other organizations don’t have the right to vote for they are not people. Nevertheless, they constantly try to vote with their money to influence the outcome of elections and the process of law making.
The effort to eliminate the influence of money in US politics dates back to the 1860’s, known as campaign finance reform. Apart from an outright ban, the best fix for corruption is always to shine a spotlight. That is, to enact a law that requires the disclosure of who the donors are and how much money is involved. Despite the simplicity of the fix, it took more than 100 years for the first reform law, the Federal Election Campaign Act, to be enacted in 1972. This law was later amended in 1974 and 2002 setting various limits for political donations. Sadly, the US Supreme Court undid everything in 2010 by ruling that corporations and other organizations could fund unlimited amounts in elections. Again, the fictional reason given was to protect free speech. This opened a floodgate of money to influence elections at all levels, prompting Senator McCain to declare, “Campaign finance reform is dead”.
What are the consequences of large-scale corruption? You can bet that large-scale corruption brings very grave consequences. The following is a list that you should think about:
Why did the US fail in Vietnam and Iraq? Was it because a corrupt war could not find sufficient backing among the population? This eventually led to the US withdrawal.
Didn’t we have an implosion of Wall Street in 2008? Was it just a regular mistake, or a consequence of corruption of the Wall Street banks?
What caused the US government to turn a $500-billion surplus in the year 2000 to a huge deficit? Was it again a mistake, or a consequence of the Iraq war, the Bush tax cuts, and the financial meltdown of 2008?
How much revenue did the US government lose after the Bush tax cut given to the rich? It exceeds a trillion dollars! It’s like robbing the people because the government should spend that amount of money on education and other services.
How does the American middle class fare at present? Are they being squeezed from all sides including job loss, high gasoline prices, declining assets, rising medical costs, reduced government aids, and rising costs in education? Is the US losing its competitive edge because of deficiency in educational investment? Don’t you see that things are unraveling in the country especially since the year 2000?
Corruption in politics is a cancer that will eventually destroy the whole society. Why? Corruption means the rich and powerful gain a disproportionate advantage for they have the money to buy laws and policies, thus choking off fair play and competition, two critical foundations of democracy. As corruption deepens, the rich will get richer and the rest poorer. This is a vicious circle that keeps on spiraling down. You can figure out what will happen if 99% of the people are squeezed to the breaking point. When that situation happens, even the rich cannot save themselves with their money for the whole society will be turned upside down by the angry masses.
Despite its complexity and scale, corruption has an inherent weakness, which is the cover up of the unconscionable acts. The other inherent weakness is the hypocrisy by which the rich and powerful pretend that they are serving the people. Therefore, the way to fight corruption is always simple: Shine a spotlight on it and let the world know!