Saturday, December 08, 2012

Corruption in the Arab world

A person who wishes to remain anonymous sent me this:  "In reference to your corruption posting I just noticed that you are talking about Transparency International's rankings. Transparency International and similar NGOs tend to focus on low level corruption. Corruption in Gulf Arab countries on the other hand tends to be at the highest level. From the standpoint of a business trying to invest in the Middle East, corruption at the highest level is better than lower level corruption. There was a study for example that compared corruption in India with corruption in Suharto's Indonesia and it found that an environment where there is a monopoly on corruption is easier for foreign investors to deal with than one where there are many small corrupt actors. (I can email you the study if you are interested). This is something we all experience - for example I experienced it in Egypt where I was asked for a tip)bribe for all these petty things. But an atmosphere that is better for foreign investment doesn't translate into an atmosphere that is better for the people in the country. When corruption is monopolized by an authoritarian ruling family or ruler, wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. This makes it more difficult to combat since the ruling family now controls everything - both politically and economically. They basically have no competitors and if a competitor exists they will either be coopted or eliminated. (This is not to say that low level corruption is good. My point is that it spreads corruption among many different actors thus lessening the concentration of power).

If you keep this in mind then it all makes sense. Groups like transparency international exists to make the capitalist market system (in which foreign investment plays a large part) operate more efficiently and effectively. Low level corruption makes markets less efficient. They isn't really concerned with combating authoritarianism and you will rarely find NGOs that are willing to tackle both issues hand in hand. This issue had always perplexed me until I realized that they were viewing corruption differently than I was - for me it is a human rights issue. To them it has to do with efficiency.

The need to monopolize corruption is not just a phenomenum that exists in authoritarian regimes however. When you delve deep into the legislative history concerning the passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for example, which prohibits bribery of a foreign official, you will realize that part of the reason it was passed is that the federal government wanted to monopolize the ability to influence foreign officials (US corporations were competing with them)."