[FoRK] Corruption, was: Re: From Meccania to Atlantis

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Wed Dec 23 21:41:52 PST 2009

Ken Ganshirt @ Yahoo wrote:
> --- On Wed, 12/23/09, Stephen Williams <sdw at lig.net> wrote:
>> Just my opinion, based on many factors.  All easily
>> disagreed with.  Place your bets.  
> Thanks for the list. Food for thought.
>> Corruption is a way of government, and business to a large
>> extent.  Not a good base for anything.
> Just so. But are they *more* corrupt than any other jurisdiction? Compared to, say, the United States, for example? 

Overall, the US is hardly corrupt at all.  You have to have a pretty 
distorted lens to believe that it is.  In fact, I have never personally 
observed any instance of corruption by anyone in business or government 
in the US, and I've seen a lot of both.  If I had, I would have reported 
it instantly.  Sure, it happens.  In New Jersey especially it seems.  
But it is very rare in terms of people involved and detectable impact.  
Sure, billions are spent with questionable justification, not enough 
competition, etc.  Still not above noise for most people.

The recent debacles have mostly been about lax regulation / criminals of 
various kinds / insane risk blindness, not corruption in general.  The 
closest I can see to widespread corruption was that the Wall Street 
traders of certain kinds had collectively decided that certain things 
were valid, reasonable, and proper when clearly they were not.  I can 
completely understand that each individual thought that since "everyone 
was doing it" and no one had stepped in to say it was wrong, that it 
must be OK.  A big, fat, stupid mistake, but not clearly widespread 

The actual losses are due to loss of trust causing people to sell, bid 
less, etc.  Corruption can't really exist because it would cause a 
similar loss of trust.  Sure, we have criminals, and if they are in the 
wrong place without enough openness, they can pull off a lot (Enron, 
Madoff), but still that is not government corruption.

Real corruption doesn't stand long usually and it's big news: NJ, the 
Chicago senate seat up for sale, Delay et al, etc.
> >From the outside, there are some of us who view the US as at least as corrupt as many of the countries Americans typically hold up as egregiously corrupt. You'all just do it with more style.

What's your proof?

Someone I know who traveled from Russia recently recounted how the 
person next to them in the customs processing step was being held up 
because their reason for travel was to accept an award.  Mexico police 
are regularly found to be working for drug cartels.  Canadians...  Ha, 
just kidding.  Because of the one party system, more or less feudal 
control over villages by authorities in many cases, and various other 
bad characteristics, corruption is a daily issue for probably millions 
in China.  While we may have suspicions fairly frequently, any solid 
proof would be instantly acted upon.  China's one part frequently seems 
to ignore corruption for as long as possible.
> The bureaucracy charges license fees. They are frequently used as extortion.

In the US?  It may feel that way, and it may in effect be that way, 
however it is not explicitly that way.  Examples?
I've only had to pay an usual tax once, when I shipped rather than 
carried a backpack from Canada to the US.  Otherwise, I have paid only 
typical personal and corporate income tax and sales tax.  Oh, I now pay 
$30 /yr. for a business license.
> The politicians, on behalf of your big buinesses and constituencies with vested interests, negotiate free trade agreements that aren't.

There are mistakes, and there are deliberate attempts to favor certain 
constituencies, however actual corruption A) doesn't happen in illegal 
ways too often, and B) doesn't survive too long, usually not more than 
an elected term or two.  I can't comment much on free trade agreements.  
It's a good idea in general, messy in specifics I suppose.  I wonder why 
we don't have any Mexican or Canadian truckers here.
> The politicians are owned by their largest contributors. When a senator needs millions to get elected, does anyone really believe the big contributors are doing it for altruistic reasons?

There is a lot of influence flow of various kinds, however businesses 
are legally barred from supporting politicians directly for a reason.  
They have to encourage their owners / employees, but cannot coerce.  
Money is a major influence, and so are votes.  It's a bit like 
representatives vs. senators, little people vs. the fat cats or the many 
vs. regional distribution.

Politicians are allowed to be influenced.  That may even be good in most 
cases.  It is only illegal generally when it is explicitly quid pro quo, 
i.e. "Pay me $40K and I'll vote your way."  Keep in mind that, 
generally, the contributed money doesn't go into the pocket of the 
politician anyway, it goes to a reelection / travel / ad fund.  The 
government pays the politician and their staff salary.  Sure they get 
some benefit in meals, nice trips, etc., but it can't go directly to a 
mansion or whatever.

Politicians still have to get elected.  If they ignore the bulk of their 
constituents to vote the corporation's way, they'll get voted out.  The 
next politician will reverse the damage.  If they buy an argument and 
try to convince their constituents and then vote the way that both now 
want, there's nothing wrong with it.  If we, the people, allow them to 
pull a fast one and convince us to go along with something against our 
interests, then shame on us.  And there has been a lot of shame to be 
had in the last 10 years.  Too bad we can't react faster, have even more 
openness to figure out the truth sooner, etc., however there are 
conflicting needs to balance.  Sometimes it sucks, but those are the 
breaks.  It never seems to be the case that the problem goes on 
forever.  We always have another party or others who can get pretty 
vocal, drum up support, protest, etc.  Piles of money are not 
necessarily competitive with a good idea and great representative and 
> Where do you think China's businesses learned how to screw people? They have learned well from businesses in the West. Why do you think we have so much consumer protection legistation? Hint: because we need it. We should hardly condemn them for using normal Western business practices when doing business with the West.

Consumer protection legislation, like much legislation, creates 
appropriate feedback and back pressure between and action and 
consequences.  It is about the elimination of situation where one person 
acts and another pays.  I don't think that their existence is evidence 
of the necessary badness of people, just in creating a proper 
functioning set of rules for a business market model.

I wasn't talking about corruption in China's businesses at all.  That is 
mostly self-limiting: If a factory screws me, I'll never order from 
them.  I'll post a message and they'll never get another order.  They 
know that.  There are criminals we have to beware of, such as the dog 
food and formula ingredient cheating, and probably-ignorant people 
cutting corners (lead-based paint, etc.), but little corruption that I 
know about.

I was talking about locals dealing with corruption to do business, live, 
exercise freedom, etc.

What percentage of US businesses do you think are corrupt, and in what ways?

> Sorry to pick on just one of many factors but I'm curious why you think this one applies particularly to China when I don't see it being any more (or less) corrupt than its peers (India, USA, Russia, UK, any global business). Just another opinion, of course. 

India is famous for red tape, and corruption I suppose.  It must be at 
least a little better now.  I doubt there is any serious corruption in 
the US, Canada, Australia, NZ, any of "core" Europe, Iceland, or even, 
these days, South Africa, etc.  Russia seems far better in most 
industries, but who knows.  Both India and Russia are seriously 
exporting software development and other tech support, customer support, 
etc.  If there is corruption, it has to be hands off to avoid souring 
that kind of business.
>          ...ken...


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