Corruption feeds crises world­wide

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

What links the Arab Spring re­bel­lions with po­lit­i­cal ag­i­ta­tion in China and at least an­other five dozen sim­mer­ing or emerg­ing crises?

If your an­swer is “the In­ter­net,” you have iden­ti­fied one of the key in­for­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies that spread the flames. How­ever, the com­mon hu­man fire in these dis­parate strug­gles is in­tense dis­gust with em­bed­ded corruption.

Tyrants main­tain con­trol by iso­lat­ing and in­tim­i­dat­ing their sub­jects. How­ever, since the ad­vent of the print­ing press and in­creas­ing pub­lic lit­er­acy, pre­serv­ing tyran­ni­cal iso­la­tion has be­come a bit more dif­fi­cult.

Over time, sub­jects be­come aware of so­cial, cul­tural, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal al­ter­na­tives to the despot’s rule, de­spite the despot’s pro­pa­ganda. Just how deeply West Ger­man tele­vi­sion in­flu­enced East Ger­man re­sis­tance to com­mu­nism is de­bat­able, but the Iron Cur­tain could not hide the over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence of West­ern af­flu­ence and the West’s abil­ity to oc­ca­sion­ally re­move cor­rupt lead­ers.

Com­mu­nist elite corruption amidst sys­temic eco­nomic fail­ure cer­tainly in­flu­enced re­sist- ance through­out East­ern Europe and the Soviet Union. The spe­cial stores and va­ca­tion homes en­joyed by Com­mu­nist Party fa­vorites in­fu­ri­ated work­ers de­nied sim­i­lar ac­cess. East Euro­pean work­ers knew that they were in­dus­tri­al­ized serfs in hand­cuffed so­ci­eties fall­ing fur­ther and fur­ther be­hind West­ern Euro­pean na­tions. In 1989, when the Rus­sians con­cluded the East­ern Euro­pean se­cu­rity forces could not, or would not, shoot ev­ery­one, the Ber­lin Wall cracked.

Tu­nisia’s Jas­mine Revo­lu­tion (Jan­uary 2011) had echoes of 1989. Tu­nisian se­cu­rity forces were re­luc­tant to fire on demon­stra­tors com­plain­ing about lack of jobs and an oli­garchy of wealthy fam­i­lies and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who had rigged the sys­tem for their mu­tual ben­e­fit, in other words, sys­temic corruption ben­e­fit­ing fa­vored con­stituen­cies to the per­sis­tent detri­ment of ev­ery­one else.

Tu­nisia’s com­par­a­tively welle­d­u­cated (though un­der­em­ployed) pop­u­la­tion, thanks to the In­ter­net as well as travel, knew there were al­ter­na­tives. They un­der­stood how the cor­rupt sys­tem stunted their own abil­ity to cre­ate wealth.

Twenty-first cen­tury tyrants and their loy­al­ists can still in­tim­i­date. Iran’s Khome­in­ists, Syria’s Bashar al-As­sad and Libya’s Moam­mar Gad­hafi have crack troops and vi­cious se­cret po­lice, and make savvy use of proxy thugs, gang­sters and ter­ror­ists. How­ever, they no longer en­joy the ad­van­tage of deep, per­ma­nent si­lence. The In­ter­net and cell phones put the power of the print­ing press, tele­graph, ra­dio, and tele­vi­sion

Corruption, to a de­gree, af­flicts ev­ery so­ci­ety, or­ga­ni­za­tion and soul.

lit­er­ally in the hands of in­di­vid­u­als.

This is why Bei­jing’s com­mu­nists po­lice the In­ter­net so vig­or­ously. In­for­ma­tion alone does not end the tyranny and stop the in­tim­i­da­tion, but since back­pack video cam­eras be­gan tele­vis­ing slaugh­ter in real time, we have seen the dy­namic. Slaugh­ter ex­posed pro- vokes out­rage, which es­ca­lates in­ter­nal re­sis­tance and in­creases ex­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal pres­sures on the per­pe­tra­tors.

Harsher crack­downs might as­sure short-term regime sur­vival, but that might lead to calls for force­ful in­ter­na­tional in­ter­ven­tion. Lib­er­al­iza­tion, to in­clude anti-corruption drives, might weaken the regime. Los­ing the ben­e­fits of the regime’s corruption ma­chine risks an­ger­ing or alien­at­ing fa­vored cronies, tribes, co-re­li­gion­ists or kins­men.

Iran’s cler­ics came to power claim­ing they would end the Shah’s corruption. Ab­so­lute power, how­ever, cor­rupts ab­so­lutely. The Khome­in­ist regime is now more despotic and more ve­nally cor­rupt than the Shah’s. Dis­con­tent in Iran fo­cuses on the regime’s corruption and eco­nomic fail­ure.

These same com­plaints, with lo­cal vari­a­tions, ap­pear world­wide. Po­lit­i­cal and ju­di­cial bribery un­der­mine Mex­ico’s com­plex war on drug car­tels, which is one rea­son Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent Felipe Calderon em­pha­sizes sys­temic re­form. Pop­u­lar anger at cor­rupt Com­mu­nist of­fi­cials and po­lice fu­els dis­sent in China. Tribal crony­ism and de­bil­i­tat­ing gov­ern- ment corruption spurred Kenya’s chaotic post-elec­tion con­flict in Jan­uary 2008.

Corruption, to a de­gree, af­flicts ev­ery so­ci­ety, or­ga­ni­za­tion and soul. Corruption’s pub­lic and po­lit­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions, the Arab Spring re­bel­lions have fo­cused on graft, theft, bribery, em­bez­zle­ment and nepo­tism, are symp­toms of avarice and am­bi­tion.

The Ital­ian poet Francesco Pe­trarch iden­ti­fied avarice and am­bi­tion as two of the five great en­e­mies of peace res­i­dent in the hu­man con­di­tion (envy, anger and pride be­ing the other three). Corruption is in­nate to the hu­man con­di­tion. To para­phrase Walt Kelly’s car­toon char­ac­ter, Pogo, the en­emy is us. This is the point where open, demo­cratic sys­tems gov­erned by the rule of law as­sert their moral and cre­ative su­pe­ri­or­ity, what the East Euro­peans no­ticed.

In free so­ci­eties, some­times jus­tice calls the most-pow­er­ful elites to ac­count. Crooked lead­ers, ex­ec­u­tives and even celebri­ties, along with their con­nected lack­eys, re­ally do go to jail.

Austin Bay is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.