Sunday, March 18, 2012

How to Get a Corrupt Government - Lessons From India

This article is ostensibly about political corruption in India. But there are a lot of hidden gems in it. From the Washington Post:

"Criminals flourish in Indian elections" by Simon Denyer

"...of the 2,000 candidates from the main parties contesting here, more than a third are facing criminal charges, including murder, rape, kidnapping and extortion, according to figures compiled by the advocacy group Association for Democratic Reforms. And many of them will win."


"'They are popular with voters,' lamented Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi. 'I call it the Robin Hood syndrome. They take care to use their corrupt money, money that they get through illegal means, to give to the poor.'"

Sound familiar? It should. Except nowadays, here in the U.S., we give the money to executives of failing companies, if those executives support certain politicians. Solyndra and Obama ring a bell?

"Democracy is the glue that has held India together — and kept it largely peaceful — since independence from Britain in 1947. The power of free speech and free elections has helped this huge, diverse country emerge as a global power in the 21st century. But democracy here is still a 'work in progress,' said Anil Bairwal of the Association for Democratic Reforms."

This next paragraph is very important. Pay attention! :)

"Although many Americans complain about the role of big business in funding political campaigns in the United States, the roots of the corruption and criminalization of Indian politics, ironically, lie in the outlawing of corporate contributions by then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1967, in an attempt to cripple a right-wing opposition movement by depriving it of funds."

"'The ban on company donations closed the only honest, open and transparent avenue of raising funds to fight elections,' commentator Prem Shankar Jha wrote in the magazine Tehelka. 'The harm it has done is beyond measure.'"

Amen. When you eliminate legitimate paths for money to flow you don't stop the money. You just ensure that it will flow through illegitimate paths. The problem here is not the money, believe it or not. The problem is the concentration of power in one place. The government has too much power. And money will ALWAYS find a way to influence that power.

"At the constituency level, the only alternative was to establish a network of patronage and favor-swapping from individual donors that soon became entrenched."

"At the national level, Jha argued, the ruling Congress party was soon demanding massive kickbacks from business deals, mostly defense and infrastructure contracts, to fund its central command. It is the road that led inexorably to the corruption scandals of the past few years."

And then we have the next problem: Voters are stupid.

"Criminals have other attractions for voters, who tend to favor 'strong men' who can protect their interests in constituencies in which caste divisions are sharpest, said Milan Vaishnav at the University of Pennsylvania."

"'Voters are not ignorant or uninformed,' he wrote. 'They are simply looking for candidates who can best fill a perceived representational vacuum.'"

Great. Vote for criminals because they are "strong." And we wonder why our governments are so corrupt.