Russia Observer

Corruption is More Complicated Than That

I am tired of people talking about “corruption” in a simple-minded way.

Imagine three cases.

  1. The government spends tax money on a hospital but, in order to get any service, the patients must hand over small bribes to doctors, nurses and staff.
  2. The hospital is built, but the money for operating costs has been embezzled.
  3. The money for the hospital, operating costs and everything else is stolen before it leaves the capital.

Ask yourself these two questions.

  1. Which is the worst case of corruption? The answer is obvious: the third case although very few people know it even happened.
  2. Which is the most visible form of corruption? Again, obviously the first case because hundreds of people know about it.

And that is why I don’t take perceptions of corruption indices very seriously.

And it is why I think that, when people are speaking of corruption, they should think harder about big corruption and less about petty corruption.

For example: “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” Or, in plainer language: “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose.” And that is certainly corruption.

I would suggest that our part of the world has a lot more invisible corruption than Russia even if the latter has more visible corruption.

So, the question of whether Russia is more corrupt than some other country needs much more careful thinking than it generally gets.