[OPE-L] Global corruption barometer 2007...

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sun Dec 09 2007 - 09:33:34 EST

Transparency International started off trying to put corruption on the political agenda with a "corruption perceptions index" which focused on the public sector  (the misuse of public office, power or resources for personal gain), since then they've expanded into all sorts of areas. The research has not been without criticism, see e.g. http://www.oecdobserver.org/news/fullstory.php/aid/296/Transparent_tables.html One writer points out that about 40% of the countries classified by Transparency as "least corrupt" function as offshore tax havens. http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/Follow_the_Money_-_RGS-IBG__final_31-AUG-2006.pdf The weakness of most of  the corruption research is that it focuses narrowly on the public sector, even although much more corruption is likely to occur in the private sector, insofar as it involves many more people making more transactions involving more capital. 

I think the attempt to gather empirical data on the topic is progressive. But I am also very aware that corruption itself is not a transparent concept, and that what some regard as corrupt, is a morally acceptable practice to others. For example, in some countries bribes are accepted as a sort of unavoidable "tax" or "tip", which is part of the normal income of the recipient. For another example, some would regard any payment or compensation for sex (in cash or in kind) as corrupt, while others would not, or would say that it all depends on the kind of interaction that occurs. The presumption of an "international corruption index" is that corrupt practices can be uniformly and universally defined, but it is more likely that a specific view of corruption is being tested by the research, which may not be shared by all. In that case, it could be argued that one is projecting one's own moral universe on others.

The measured perception of corruption is not identical to actual incidence of corruption, although there is likely to be a fairly strong correlation between them. The measurement of corruption in aggregate is not a simple matter, but you may be able to measure particular perceptions or instances of specific types of corruption in a fairly non-controversial way. To the extent that corruption is an illegal practice, you can measure the number of known offences, but typically many corrupt practices are not prosecuted, and therefore known offences will underestimate incidence. Other forms of corruption may simply evade any legal definition. That is precisely why people's "perceptions" are surveyed.  

The basic underlying problem is that, in reality, the market (or trading activity, or the price mechanism) does not provide or secure any specific morality of its own, beyond what is practically required to settle transactions (failure to purchase, pay or sell, causes trade to break down). The presumption is often that, provided that personal, contractual and property rights are specified in law and justly enforced, then trading practices cannot be corrupt or immoral, and honest trade will occur. The ideology of markets is that markets are an autonomous, self-regulating force, and the economic sphere is split off from the legal sphere. Economic value and moral value are separated. However, the corruption research, probed more deeply, reveals that this view of the matter is largely a reification.


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