Monday, 20 June, 2011

Corruption cloud

Corruption cannot be the sole preserve of Indian politicians, who are but a small subset of a largely self respecting group of Indians living in India.

The fundamental reason why corruption is so hard to isolate, let alone fight, is that it transcends boundaries, geographic and cultural.

Let's take an example. It would be naive to think that Britain, or any other country sending aid to India, or any other country, is an exercise in altruism. 'Global aid' is an inter-connected conglomerate of investment funds, which demands returns and expects profits. If it didn't, Britain or any other 'benevolent' society would soon run itself to the ground - something the British empire has managed to steer clear of for hundreds of years. The logical conclusion then, is that the British empire is reaping whatever it wants to reap and will continue to do so without complaining for many more centuries if it can get away with it. The problem today is that the global economy is going through an identity crisis and experts of all flavors are trying to find fall guys to take the rap, even as the really big guys, who control much of the world's wealth get increasingly cautious, selfish and greedy.

Then there are arbitrary, and dubious statements such as "280 Lacs crore of Indian money is deposited in swiss banks which is enough to pay each Indian citizen an amount of Rs. 2000/- for 60 yrs". While being sensational and eyeball grabbing, invoking self righteous exclamations at cocktail parties, which sink into oblivion as the next guest walks in and starts talking about the new car he bought, such tripe does not really serve any practical purpose. It would not take very long for a semi-decent and sufficiently motivated accountant to crunch numbers to come up with a statement along the lines of, "If the British returned all the wealth they siphoned off from India, India could pay its current and future population at least the current British minimum wage for the next 500 years". Such a statement too would be useless to the citizen, present or future, who is never going to have that money deposited in her bank account.

Further, statements like "... Indian money is deposited in swiss banks can be used to execute a 'taxless' budget for 30 yrs",  while being patently inaccurate in the face of scrutiny, also seem to consider a country's economy in isolation. If India were to stop collecting tax, the implications cannot but be global, which in turn will affect India's economy which in turn will affect the effectiveness of the so called 'taxless' budget. Yet another useless statement that does not help address corruption but rather confuses the issue further. I even wonder if the people who would like to cloud corruption are the ones who generate such nonsense.

What is required, instead, is a holistic understanding of the problem (if it is indeed one) of corruption before we even attempt to decipher it.

It is more likely that corruption is just an undesirable but unavoidable consequence of economics; like toxic fumes are a necessary consequence of the convenience of burning fuel. Whether one tries to ignore the fumes or sequester it deep underground, the fact remains that unless you stop burning fuel (which in today's world equates to 'stop living') the rot will spread. Similarly, unless you stop the economy in its current shape and size (which too in today's world equates to 'stop living') the rot will quite obviously proliferate.

I think what the world needs is a change in the attitude to consumption. An attitude of contentment could possibly eliminate the soil that fertilizes corruption. Such a change in attitude, on a global scale, will probably occur only over an extended period of time, or suddenly if forced by a massive global catastrophe. Either way, without that attitudinal change, copious amounts of self righteous finger-pointing are likely to be useful only for mildly entertaining news coverage.

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