“Yes, Britain Is Corrupt. But It’s a Lot Worse Than You Think”

Yves here. This article raises a critical issue that applies to the US and most advanced economies: high level de facto bribery is see as routine, while slipping a $20 into your US passport so the customs officer in Cuba won’t stamp it is corrupt. In the US context, it would be seen as totally out of bounds to try to pay a cop not to issue a speeding ticket, yet it’s OK for police to engage in occasional hyper-vigilant and arguably overreaching traffic and nuisance fines….until it reaches extortionate scale and produces unforeseen Ferguson-type blowback.

But apparent victimless crimes, like Nancy Pelosi as the queen of insider trading? Who cares, except for undercutting the pretense that the US is a nation of laws. No wonder that this year, the US was #27 in the tally, with a score of 67, when 100 is “squeaky clean”. And note the tooth-gnashing in the UK, when its score is higher, at 78.

This piece includes the UK’s role as the hub of a network of tax secrecy, as in tax evasion, jurisdictions. What it omits is that, at least according to Nicholas Shaxxon in Treasure Islands, the US “offshore” banking system is if anything bigger. Shaxxon focused on how these systems facilitate the exploitation of very poor countries.

By Adam Ramsay, openDemocracy’s special correspondent. You can follow him at @adamramsay. Adam is a member of the Scottish Green Party, sits on the board of Voices for Scotland and advisory committees for the Economic Change Unit and the journal Soundings. Originally published at openDemocracy

League tables make for good campaign tools. News of the UK sinking down Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index has triggered a bounty of headlines that shine a light on some of the more nefarious inner workings of the British state. This is, of course, a good thing.

Some of those nefariousnesses pointed to by Transparency International are things uncovered by my colleagues here at openDemocracy, and we’re pleased all that hard work has been noticed.

But such league tables come with risks, too.

Perhaps the first is that they split the countries of the world into separate players, and help hide the fact that corruption isn’t a cluster of individual happenings. It’s a team sport, an international process of enrichment and impoverishment.

Under this process, the global super-rich use their power to extract wealth from the world’s poorer countries, and then store that wealth in richer countries. They use their might to destabilise and undermine political systems in the global south, then store the money they make under the protection of the relatively stable political systems in the global north.

The risk with league tables is, as journalist Oliver Bullough puts it, that you end up calling “poor countries who are looted by kleptocrats corrupt,” while rating highly “the rich countries that host the kleptocrats’ money”.

Positions in the rankings are based on surveys of “experts and business executives,” and the second problem is that there are serious questions about what sorts of things are perceived by these people as ‘corruption’ and what is just treated as normal business or politics.

Pay $100 to a Kenyan police officer so they turn a blind eye, and you’re corrupt. Pay $100,000 to a US senator’s re-election campaign, so they ensure legislation turns a blind eye, and that’s ‘just how things work’. Lowly public officials doling out jobs to their nephews is corruption. The prime minister handing out peerages to his mates is normal. And don’t even mention the Queen getting to hand the sovereignty of the nation – and the vast wealth that comes with it – to her oldest son.

And that takes us to the third problem. The very word ‘corruption’ implies deviance from a system that is in some way right and proper. But what if that system itself is the problem? What if the issue isn’t that a few miscreants corrupt a process which is designed to be just and honest, but that they are the system?

If kleptocracy is a global process which spans both the rich world (further enriching it) and the poor world (further impoverishing it), then it’s true that it doesn’t fall evenly in either of those categories. And there is one particular jurisdiction that is particularly known for harbouring corruptly gained wealth.

I’m talking, of course, about Britain.

British territories like the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and Gibraltar; British dependencies like Guernsey, Jersey, and Mann; and the City of London itself are, more often than anywhere else, the lair to which kleptocratic dragons return with the wealth.

While most of the headlines about the Panama papers, the Paradise papers and the Pandora papers were about corrupt figures from the global south, most of the companies listed in them were registered in British territories.

It’s not just a fluke of history that the British state has ended up using its diplomatic and legal might to act as protector to most of the smuggling holes, pirates coves and secret stashes on the planet.

Unlike almost anywhere else on earth, Britain doesn’t have a codified constitution to describe how the sovereignty of its state can be applied. Instead, it’s left to the ruling class to make it up as they go along: a flexibility of which they have long taken full advantage. Over the last century or so, as Britain retreated from most of its land empire, its wealthy elites took full advantage of this laxity, and carved jurisdictions for themselves beyond the sorts of laws the rest of us are supposed to follow.

Transparency International’s corruption index does something important. It tells us what a certain kind of powerful person perceives; that Britain’s reputation is falling even among elites. But once we understand that kleptocracy is a process at the heart of the modern global economy, we see that Britain is a lot worse than it seems at first.

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  1. Stephen

    I think the article is right but would not see the lack of a codified constitution that courts will always “interpret” as the root cause. Indeed, the lack of a written constitution did not stop such nineteenth century developments as the Trevelyan Northcote reforms that created the very ideal of an administrative civil service based on principles of public service rather than prior practices of explicit graft. The EU and Ukraine also both have written constitutions but do not seem overly incorruptible. For example.

    The interesting thing linked to this is that so called anti corruption legislation has increased in recent years and is even applied extra territorially. Its existence is drummed into anyone who has been involved in corporate purchasing (as I have) for example. As Yves points out, the irony of this versus macro corruption happening on a vast scale but called something else needs exploration. Perhaps the dichotomy is a firm of avoidance! Or projection?

    What fascinates me a lot too is that you see comments referring to Putin being very wealthy and that this implies corruption. They fail then to question how (for example) Tony Blair is as rich as he is or why Nick Clegg was seen as an ideal executive for Facebook. Nor do they ask why consulting firms are so keen to hire former generals and civil servants as “advisers”. The late nineteenth century model understood the concept of conflict of interest. That seems to have been lost today.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you and well said, Stephen.

      It’s not the first time that Ramsay has not understood something. He should, perhaps, stick to the Scottish Green Party’s real agenda of promoting identity politics and stopping Scottish independence, so they can sup at the Holyrood trough.

      You rightly mention Blair and Clegg and the free pass they get, unlike Putin, against whom no evidence of such wealth and corruption exists.

      In the summer of 2019, I went to a speech and book signing by Bullough at a City church. As he signed the book, I explained, that, despite years of trying, none of my current (then DB) and former colleagues had ever uncovered any trace of Putin’s wealth and suggested it was propaganda and, to us having to deal with these enquiries, a distraction. Bullough would have none of it and said the authorities and media had shown him material, much of which he could not publish. I smiled and headed for the wine bar.

      Blair’s country estates and those of his children are a few miles from where I’m typing, mid Buckinghamshire. Blair’s children have been buying up in the past year, following the father a dozen plus years ago, as they are beginning to make their own money, all dependant on connections, including with Sunak, though.

      Clegg wasn’t Facebook’s first choice. Osborne was, but Osborne still fancies being a player in London and has started well just opening doors and providing political advice, nothing else and nothing technical, for an investment advisory firm, as per https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/dec/16/george-osborne-to-earn-share-of-265m-payout-in-first-year-at-investment-banking-company.

      1. Stephen

        Of course, I forgot about Scottish corruption. Some of my Scottish former clients have told me a lot of stories about the SNP. Of course, Labour before them also endemically had their snouts in the trough, it seems. Machine one party systems seem to engender that.

        Putin being “corrupt” and “rich” is another one of those unproven narratives along with the idea that he is a “thug” (not likely if one listens to his speeches) and that he personally threatened to fire missiles exclusively at Johnson. Although I guess one might sympathise with him if he did threaten the latter! While not condoning it, of course.

      2. Retired Carpenter

        I have never been able to get anyone to tell me what V. V. Putin could do with his wealth if he did steal those massive amounts. Would he exchange the gratitude of his people for mere money? I think most PMC are guilty of “alios suo modulo metiri“; they equate Vladimir Putin with the likes of Baby Doc Duvalier, Clintons, Biden(s), Bill Gates, Soros, Tony Blair, etc.
        Retired Carpenter

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Given an in-passing remark made by Putin in his Oliver Stone interview, about his reason for not wanting to be President (concern for his family’s safety if something went wrong), I would anticipate he is just as aware now that if the West succeeded in its regime change fantasy, he could not flee and hide no matter how much he had stashed away.

          Putin does have an appetite for very nice suits, pricey watches, and plastic surgery. Not oligarch level spending items. He did have 8 horses at his presidential dacha, and horses are not cheap, but no idea if he pays for them or has them on the state budget.

          1. 10 to 1

            Ironic you mention how corruption can be perceived different by different people, then give your own perceptions about Putin’s wealth and looks.

            While Putin may be 70 and not look it, should we make the assumption he’s had plastic surgery? Do you have evidence of this besides the obvious of looking at him? Not to mention seeing Putin in a nice suit with a nice watch mean he had to spend thousands like we perceive things in the west, to get those things?

            I can get a very nice tailor-made suit in Vietnam that looks the same as a very expensive one made Hong Kong or NYC it doesn’t mean I have a lot of wealth.

            Please don’t misinterpret my comment, as I enjoy reading your articles and insights. This website does a much better job of providing useful information and context than most other mainstream media sites.

      3. Hayek's Heelbiter

        If (DB) means Deutsche Bank, then yup. I was a low-level drone, but even I could tell that the money streaming through the Rube Goldberg [US version] / Heath Robinson [UK version] flow charts was not going to end up where any regulatory agency would ever be able to find it.
        If this is the wrong DB, my apologies for attribution but not essence.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, HH. It is the not so jolly German giant. I was there from 2016 – 21, largely based in London.

      4. Wildsilver


        You may like to know about ‘Grand Deception’ by Alex Krainer,
        It’s the best seller but twice banned book revealing the collapse of Russia, post USSR.
        The chapters on President Putin are a real eye opener, but no surprise to a curious mind.


        The book can be bought here, alternatively Alex offers the pdf free upon request.

        In my view, it’s the best historical record of Russia rising from the ashes.


    2. Kouros

      The old City of London Charter is at the basis of how the propertied class runs UK: how we want it and when we want it.

      Those Public Service reforms likely came only after interacting with China and being ridiculed at the evident corruption and potential for mismanagement and ineffectiveness of the British Civil Service, which ultimately ended up hurting business and the bottom line. As such, having the Chinese model, a new approach of doing business was set up. Of course the new model was not going to be a hindrance to the business as usual thingy. There are only novels and movies about characters like you see in “The Constant Gardener”.

      1. Stephen

        Possibly but they replaced the earlier very explicit mercantilist public office model. Which did actually work. In its day

        The eighteenth century idea was that it was even a good thing to get rich from public office. Royal Navy Post Captains in the Nelson era (for example) pretty much expected that through prize money. Ships pursers explicitly ran the enterprise for profit. The Royal Navy of that era was also reasonably effective too at the same time. NAM Rodger “The Wooden World” is very good on the social history of that institution when it was at its most effective and somehow combined with what today we might call corruption (or at least graft) with a reasonably meritocratic approach and concern for the men who served.

        British history has lots of deeply questionable and unsavoury elements that get ignored too often. But also some better aspects too. I think that is the case for all countries. Great to understand the past in a balanced way so that we can hopefully avoid repeating mistakes. Otherwise we all end up running the risk of behaving how Poland seeks to behave with Russia.

  2. Mr Robert Christopher

    And a written constitution doesn’t guarantee good government either, whether it’s in Africa or North America.

    The British monarch isn’t a political leader: it’s the prime minister. That’s the whole point.

    We are only two generations from destructive anarchy, and as soon as the population becomes comfortable, and takes everything for granted, as has happened in the West, things fall apart, especially when the Legacy Media aren’t doing their job.

    1. Kouros

      The issue is the destructive oligarchy we live in. You are trying to point our attention to a threat while our pockets are cleaned, eh? That is the petty thief approach. I guess it works for bigger heists, mass pickpocketing.

      1. Mr Robert Christopher

        I’m correcting the inference that the Queen could have sold the Crown Jewels, and made off with the loot, and that she controlled everything that that happens in the country, and beyond. She is advised by elected ministers, and government advisors, and government business is done in her name. We understand that. The Queen accepted that, so aim your criticisms at the politicians.

        We have had policies on Climate Change, the Jabs, the Lockdowns, and the Maestricht Treaty, just appearing out of nowhere, and can trace much back to the other side of the Channel. Just look at the evidence.  And we are still battling for our nations’ sovereignty: while Britain has left the European Union, Northern Ireland has not, and neither has Westminster, Whitehall or the BBC.

        Like many families, the Royal Family is wealthy, but they are part of our constitution, and much is owned by the nation, like the Crown Jewels or the Tower of London.

        Many are pleased that Tony Blair couldn’t become Britain’s president: others Margaret Thatcher! And are you proposing that the country should have been split into four, a quarter for each of the children?  :)

        It’s these simple mistakes, that are more suitable for a political rag, that reduce the quality of the writing.

  3. WobblyTelomeres

    ” Who cares, except for undercutting the pretense that the US is a nation of laws.”

    Obama:”We’re a nation of laws. How many ya want?”

  4. The Rev Kev

    Alexander Mercouris was talking about the subject of corruption in the UK in a video just a day or two ago. He was saying that up until the 90s that the UK had a pretty good reputation for being not so corrupt. If an MP was caught doing dodgy stuff with taxpayer money he would be required to step down from his post. But then Alexander was saying that in the 90s that all started to change and it may have been Blair bringing business into the halls of power. So then he noted that an MP can be caught doing all sorts of financial shenanigans today but that they still get to keep their job now and I note that this sort of stuff now extends all the way up to the job of the Prime Minister. “Partygate” anybody? Somebody noted the sad fact that the Ukraine wanted to be more like the west in previous years but what has happened is that countries like the UK have now become more like the Ukraine.

    1. digi_owl

      Keep in mind that for some 50 odd years they had a low water mark to be measured against out east. They needed to be seen as better, or else all their claims about the alternative would fall flat.

    2. Anonymous 2

      Not trying to exonerate Blair but IMO the downward slide in ethics at the top of the UK political tree really began with Thatcher. Researching her relationship with Murdoch is worthwhile. Also the Al Yamamah arms deal.

  5. David

    I’ve had some contacts with Transparency International over the years, and it’s an open secret that many of its staff find the Corruption Perceptions Index an embarrassment, and would like to get rid of it. The CPI began after all, essentially as a kind of opinion poll among businessmen to discover which countries they had the most difficulty doing work without paying bribes to the government or local authorities/big men. This was then used to try to shame multinationals, notably oil companies, into not paying bribes (there was a campaign called “Publish What You Pay” several decades ago.) Unfortunately, because the whole exercise was based on perceptions, very often the logic was circular: respondents to the survey would be influenced by what they had read in the media, itself often based on other surveys. So about a decade ago, the UK fell a number of places in the CPI after media stories about parliamentary expenses scandals, which the respondents had obviously heard about.

    Corruption in the wider sense is a hugely complex problem, and has changed out of all recognition in the past generation or so. Articles like this are not very enlightening because they yoke together all sorts of very different problems, as though they were the same thing, which they’re not. The relationships between organisations and political parties and their funders are a constant of politics of any kind today, and affect everything at every level. For example, TI itself is overwhelmingly funded by grants from governments and international organisations, and you can guess which ones, and what effect, in practice, that has on their work. Indeed, my first question on meeting someone from an NGO promoting “transparency,” “accountability,” etc is: who funds you? You’d be surprised how aggressive some of the responses can be.

    1. Stephen

      I agree about the change and that this issue has multiple dimensions that need to be unpicked in order to make any real sense of it.

      My perception (perhaps overly rosy) from my youth in the 70s / 80s was that hardly any U.K. politicians became seriously rich in office, or as a consequence of being in office. They might become comfortable but never super rich. It seems that most still do not become super rich (unlike in the US) but a few do. Blair is the obvious example. There also seem to be far more opportunities for former civil servants to move over into commerce, bringing “relationships” with them.

      Your point on NGOs in particular makes me think of the whole conflict of interest topic, which we also seem to prefer not to address head on these days.

  6. polar donkey

    Covid has woken up a lot of people I know to the idea of systematic corruption. For example, I guy I know, who has been convicted of drug trafficking, always knew of dirty cops, bribery of local politicians, etc, but what he has seen of covid has blown his mind. He thought as you moved up the societal level, the corruption lessened. He now sees that isn’t the case and the Pelosis, the Raytheons, the Pfizers are just bigger crooks. That realization has come to so many people the last 20 years, last of which seems to be PMC. I think this is the main contributing factor to increase of theft, along with harder economic conditions. If everything is a racket, why not just get mine?

    1. BeliTsari

      PMC & retired yuppies were the 9.9% before COVID & the 2% afterwards? 32K serendipitously vacant apartments, W4 jobs & essentials’ life savings flipped into Cesare Attolini & Stefano Ricci pockets. If you were Black, Latino or just POOR, you saw this since birth. Casey’s “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false,” Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s sneering, under oath or LBJ’s laughter about Tonkin Gulf, etc. were only conspiracy theories promulgated by Putin or RooskiBot jihadist eco-terrorists. But, I’m honestly wondering if rich white boomer folks, trying psilocybin, DMT or MDMA as part of some new Mindfulness regression regimen, will suddenly SEE how “American Grafitti” coincided with Frank Ikard’s “time is running out” AGW timeline?

  7. Isla White

    Cannot argue with what this Scot has written but a ‘full disclosure statement’ about where he / she / it stands on independence would help.
    (Many foreigners are unaware of the differences between the United Kingdom, Great Britain and the British Isles and why this chap used the word ‘British’. To the Portuguese – ‘Contra os Bretoes’)

    Often missing in these discussions of what the western elite gets up to; is getting up to and intends getting up to is to stress that much of the information can be referenced back to reputable sources. Reputable sources that do not exist in much else of the world or if it exists – publication of which could risk lives and livelihoods.

    One UK example of a reputable source being misappropriated being the ducking and diving surrounding declarations of persons with significant control (PSC).

    Companies House needs to implement AI to ferret out the more obvious actual or suspected breaches – such as a single address housing multiple companies or a real or identity unconfirmed individual registered at several addresses – all with suspect sources of funds or their active transfer.


  8. Yeti

    I’ve been saying for a few years now, especially since Covid-19 that once you accept that all our governments are corrupt everything makes sense. Just look at Canada, watching “Question Period?” Is like watching a farcical comedy turning into a tragedy. Even the name Question Period is a misnomer. I voted NDP last election holding my nose. Made my decision at the ballot box. My original choice was going to be spoiling my ballot, I now regret that change.

    1. Keith Newman

      I also live in Canada and know what you mean. I decided how to vote only a couple of days prior to the election. I have become a single issue voter, the issue being pharmacare (i.e. adding prescription drugs to the public healthcare system). It simplifies voting decisions. The NDP has been the most steadfast on this in the past so I too voted for them. This year they have a deal with the Liberals for the government to introduce pharmacare legislation. The Libs seem to be backing away from real public universal pharmacare. We’ll see what happens later this year.
      Prior to Covid the Libs really seemed ready to implement pharmacare. They named a huge supporter to preside over a pharmacare implementation council which came up with an excellent plan and a timetable for implementation, just what you’d do if it was real. Big Pharma and the insurance industry were shell-shocked. Covid gave them time to regroup, reorganize their patient front groups, fine-tune their extortion-based campaign and doubtless offer financial incentives to key people.
      Remember “Politicians don’t change their mind because they see the light, they change their minds because they feel the heat.”

      1. Ignacio

        Single issue voter. That is also my case and I think that the single issue I focus in is an indicator on how the parties will behave in most of the other issues. Very much of what you say can be applied in, for instance, Spain energy sector. Different players but similar functioning political mechanisms and at the end of the day the outcome is more or less the same with a few different particularities depending on how they moved their pieces.

        I perceive that a culture of distrust is rising, probably in most of this collective West, but this doesn’t seem to worry the incumbents, or at least not too much. I believe that, for instance political turnover no longer serves to prevent corruption (whether it serves to make corruption more or less costly I am not sure). Another perception is that freedom of speech and information has also lost power for several reasons. The definition of corruption, or transparency are blurred. Bribes, crapification, lobbying, everything mixes. But distrust, I think, is on the rise.

        For instance: (january 2022)

    2. jrkrideau

      “Question Period?” Is like watching a farcical comedy turning into a tragedy
      I blame TV. We should never have broadcast QP.

  9. Susan the other

    The British were at least discrete. We Americans turned money laundering into an industry. I think there’s a continuum to this that is intrinsic to the Cold War, Vietnam, and the dissolution of the USSR. Not that that is an excuse. After reading Sterling Seagraves books about looting in Southeast Asia, etc. the rest of the corruption of the 20th century follows logically. Bribery, arms deals and smuggling, drug smuggling and bringing drugs into the U.S. for black profits to keep the Cold War fully funded until the present. A story Including barges of gold shipped from the Philippines which needed a very large laundromat; Bush and Reagan in cahoots with BCCI, the S&L scandal and ultimately the GFC in 2008. The amazing thing is that the USA actually stayed glued together.

  10. Alex Cox

    I don’t understand the snipe at Cuba in your intro. Were you really asked for a $20 bribe by Cuban immigration?

    When I’ve travelled there they automatically stamped a piece of paper instead of my passport “so I wouldn’t get in trouble in the US.”

    This was standard practice. There was no bribe involved, and I felt quite ashamed.

      1. gcw919

        When I went to Cuba about 15 years ago, via Jamaica, instead of stamping my passport, they issued a separate visa, and there was never any indication in my passport that I had been there. I remember I had to carry cash for everything, as I was told that Cuba was fine accepting American credit cards, but the American banks wouldn’t honor transactions in Cuba. Times may have changed, but Cuba was one of the safest places I’d ever travelled to, and I was never expected to offer any bribes (known in Mexico as a ‘mordida,’ or a ‘bite.’).

  11. JEHR

    Canada is becoming more corrupt and scandalous as the days go by. See SNC.Lavalin; McKinsey consulting and keeping power by joining with an opposing party. Woe is Canada!

    1. Michael King

      JEHR: Why is “consulting and keeping power by joining with an opposing party” corrupt and scandalous? I assume you mean the current Liberal/NDP coalition government. Coalitions arising from election results where no single party wins a majority of seats are common in many countries. In Canada’s case, coalition governments have established important and progressive public policies.

  12. Karl

    …the global super-rich use their power to extract wealth from the world’s poorer countries, and then store that wealth in richer countries.

    This had to be the post-colonial way of empire. It used to be enough to send a small contingent of troops with gattling guns to intimidate a poor population into submission. But that form of control was too visibly violent for post WW II sensibilities. It became more convenient to make secret bribes to a few strategically placed locals (preferably groomed at good Oxbridge schools) to conclude long term lucrative and “legally enforceable” contracts. The same result, but without gattling guns, with the more genteel imprimatur of lawyers, banks, etc. to confer legitimacy.

    It’s not corruption. It’s the “free market”. There’s Western demand, Western-groomed Southern supply (elites), and a market clearing price. And, if the local elites want to charge to much, you just arrange a little coup, with the help of well-spoken politically connected diplomats, and local military chiefs educated at places like The School of the Americas (rebranded the “Western Institute of Security Cooperation”), still at Fort Benning, Alabama, also known more accurately as the “School of the Assassins”.

    You see, if the Civil government won’t stay corrupt, you need a good hedge and backup via a loyal Western-trained and funded local military chieftain to carry out a coup when needed.

    “Free markets” are now so convenient. It’s free, of course, only when that freedom serves a particular class of the free via a controlled network of force, which is also bought at “market rates”.

    As one example, all you have to do is see the poverty and pollution in Lagos, Nigeria, to see how little the oil wealth has benefited the people there. How has that wealth escaped the country? See the Panama Papers.

    1. Mitch

      I think the old way of intimidating a population into submission went out of fashion because it became much costlier. post-ww2 the AK47 and its derivatives flooded the world and now just about any ragtag group became capable out putting out a terrifying amount of firepower from a compact and reliable weapon.

      1. digi_owl

        Also no more spinning tales of grand adventures on the governments bill when dad or granddad knew the toll of war. And had the mental and/or physical scars to go with.

  13. Adam Eran

    Sarah Chayes book On Corruption in America: And What Is at Stake outlines many egregious examples of U.S. corruption. It opens with the story of a Virginia governor taking bribes ($75K shopping trips) from a favor-seeker. The lower courts convicted him of corruption, accepting bribes, etc. The (unanimous) Supreme Court overthrew the lower courts saying, in effect, “this is how politics gets done in the U.S.”

    I’ve read that Christians were prized by Roman governors because they were honest beyond all reason Emile Durkheim says all large societies must have a covert religion because otherwise people would steal when they new they couldn’t be caught.

    Personally, I’d say corruption and dishonesty of all kinds is lamentable, but worst of all when its perpetrators start to believe their own B.S. Delusional thinking is not a winning life strategy, never mind a good foundation for society.

  14. Savita

    Australian here. It’s gratifying to see Australia low on the list below Ireland and Iceland!
    I’ve always suspected political corruption was endemic with precious little actually being exposed and revealed to the public eye. There appears to be more reports of official corruption reported in the media in recent years. The odd minister here and there or their mate, has gone to prison. And of course the term of the most recent alleged prime minister. He wasn’t good enough to prevent his self interest being widely publicised. But all of which is just the tip of the iceberg.

    NB Yves you wrote:

    ‘the US was #27 in the tally, with a score of 67, when 100 is “squeaky clean”. And note the tooth-gnashing in the UK, when its score is higher, at 78.’

    Sometimes I have trouble following your arguments. I interpreted the above to mean the UK was upset because they had a higher score than the US. And therefore took this to mean a higher score meant, more corrupt.

  15. WillD

    I think of corruption as any behaviour that is inherently dishonest, harmful or malicious – that is not open and honest. Even something seemingly mild liking hiding part of the truth, or exaggerating to give a false impression with the intent to deceive. It isn’t always a question of degree, but of intent to benefit regardless of cost to others. A ‘small’ lie can have enormous consequences.

    The politician kissing babies at election time intends to deceive the voters into believing that he/she is a ‘good’ person – to create a false impression.

    While we don’t always know about the corruption, we do eventually feel its effects. Britain has always been extremely corrupt, from the royal family right down through the middle classes. Any individual or group that exploited even one worker was corrupt.

    The tragedy is that as a society we normalise it, justify it and even twist it to make it appear good. Most people don’t know corruption when they see it, except for the very very obvious cases.

  16. Tom Doak

    Unlike many of the observers here, I think of corruption as growing from the top down more than from the bottom up. If you pin the sea change in American attitudes toward corruption as happening in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, then it’s hard not to think it was a byproduct of the Watergate hearings when the entire public became aware how corrupt the upper echelons of government could be.

    At the bottom layer, I never thought of the average citizen as corrupt. But, it’s certainly been moving in that direction over time, as the PMC rationalized every instance of stealing on the basis that they’ve “gotta feed the family”.

    Even so, I was shocked last fall when I went to a drive-thru place near my home for lunch, and instead of putting up my order on the screen they told me they’d have my total when I drove around to the window, and it was clearly $1 more than the actual retail price including taxes. The minimum-wage workers were just skimming $1 from each customer at the window!

    It took many years for President Reagan’s trickle down effect to reach that new low.

    1. ambrit

      My favourite depiction of Reagan and ‘Trickle Down’ was a poster of Reagan, from the back, urinating off of the White House roof onto a crowd below.
      The drive through workers are only performing ‘creative destruction’ as far as retail sales goes.

    2. digi_owl

      The issue is that Hollywood etc gave the public the idea that corruption was the passing of bills in envelopes between men in coats after dark.

      Far more of it is the same thing as when i do you a favor today, and you do me one in return down the road. specifically when such favors tap dance on the edge of legality.

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