IMF chief Christine Lagarde raised hackles this week when she suggested one way Greeks could get themselves out of the pickle they're in would be to cut back on their national sport of tax-evasion. She also suggested her tears of pity would be better spent on Nigerien children, forced to walk two hours to school and sit three to a chair, than on profligate Greeks.
The Niger comparison was interesting, as it suffers from some of the same problems as Greece, but at astronomically higher levels. Among them is the one which gives the IMF fits, that stubborn, impossible-to-remove kudzu, the sinister C-word: Corruption.
It has become gospel among international policy-makers that corruption is a big problem, but a fixable one. Bad laws = corruption. Good laws = no corruption. They thus traipse around the planet giving PowerPoint presentations on how to open your very own Anti-Corruption Ministry, sure that they're leaving little Swedens on the Sahara and Englands on the Euphrates in their wake.
With just a bit of HBD knowledge, a policy-maker might ask: What if corruption were not a product of laws, but of men? What if corruption came from men's beliefs, their character traits, their deepest biological instincts? What if it is our natural state? What if it can't be fixed? What then?
Besides the 'bad-laws' fallacy, a second error made by policy-makers is the 'bad-leaders' fallacy. The poor honest folks in Country X suffer terribly because their leaders are so corrupt. And yet coup/election after coup/election, as if by magic, one bad leader after another comes to power. Unless these people are being airlifted in from a foreign land, one can presume they are made of the same stuff as their countrymen.
In addition, what the throw-the-bums-out crowd fails to realize is that in corrupt countries, everyone (or almost) is on the take. The same character traits that drive government ministers to accept suitcases full of cash are also likely to be found in small shopkeepers who say, 'Do you want a receipt for that? Are you sure? (wink wink)', as well as the customer who responds, 'No no, of course not! (wink wink)'
Lagarde's admonishment to 'Pay your taxes!' is merely spitting into the wind. In a country where the average taxpayer can buy off the average tax inspector with a sufficiently fat envelope, what precisely is she hoping for? Who watches the watchers? This has led some Eurocrats to cry, 'Send in foreign tax inspectors!', which would be amusing were it not so disturbing. Is a country whose government officials are under the control of a foreign power not by definition a colony?
We are thus led to ask: Corruption, that headache of international policy-makers--is it a behavior, or a state of being?
I. The indicators
Were one to search for what it is, exactly, that makes one people so corrupt and the next one so honest, one might begin with Transparency International. This NGO sends its clipboard-toting interviewers to the four corners of the earth to ask the man on the street things like, 'Has you or someone you know been asked to pay a bribe in the last three months?', 'Which branch of the government is the most corrupt in your country?', etc. The index it then comes up with can be properly called a 'Corruption Perception Index,' as it collects not government statistics but regular joes' opinions.
The 2010 edition (micro-states excluded):
Ethnic European countries only:
Ethnic West-European countries:
One might continue with a look at the World Bank's 'Entreprise Surveys', in which businessmen in various countries are asked how much they have to cough up in bribes to open a business, get licences, permits, etc.
One can also compare regions of the world this way:
...All of which may help give us the what, but not the why.
II. Origins: Some theories
Several theories for corruption have been advanced by the HBD-inclined. HBD Chick has done the most in-depth work on the societal outcomes of inbreeding vs. outbreeding. As she argues,
[...] for a good 800 to 1600 years, Europeans have not been inbreeding. The conditions which, as described above, can promote the spread of familial altruism genes in a population were removed from European populations. Not surprisingly, European societies today are not tribalistic and very few are clan-based or even centered around the extended family. European societies, especially Northwestern European societies, are founded upon the individual and the nuclear family. Nepotism and corruption are much less frequent. It was here that liberal democracy, based on the rights and obligations of individuals in reciprocally altruistic relationships to one another, was born.
There are some exceptions to the historic pattern of European outbreeding. The periphery of Europe held on to inbreeding practices for much longer than “core” Europe, core Europe being the English, the French, the Germans, the North Italians and possibly the Scandinavians.
Working counter-clockwise around the periphery of Europe, the following populations continued inbreeding, to different degrees and for different lengths of time, beyond the Early Medieval period, sometimes well beyond, unlike core Europeans: the Irish, the Spanish, Southern Italians, the Greeks, the Poles, the Russians and Eastern Europeans in general. Most of these societies still place emphasis on the extended family rather than the individual and the nuclear family; most have relatively high levels of corruption and nepostism and clientelism; and many have shaky democratic systems. [emphasis ours]
The places in the world where consanguinity still exists today in high levels can be seen here:
To take an example from recent history, here are two maps of Italy:
[lighter color = less corrupt]
If there is a direct correlation between inbreeding rates and corruption, it has not yet been proved, but the evidence presented thus far is intriguing. [See Audacious Epigone's quantitative work on the question.]
It is, of course, possible to have 'clannishness' or 'familism' without recent cousin marriage. The connection between corruption and 'familism' has long been advanced, for example by Edward Banfield in his 1958 study of southern Italy, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society. [note: Parts of southern Italy did practice cousin marriage then; see above.] In a nutshell, the higher your loyalty toward your family group (be it nuclear, extended, clan, or tribe), the lower your loyalty toward the larger society, i.e. everyone outside your family group. The Brazilian social anthropologist Roberto DaMatta sums up the attitude this way:
'If I am buying from or selling to a relative, I neither seek profit nor concern myself with money. The same can happen in a transaction with a friend. But, if I am dealing with a stranger, then there are no rules, other than the one of exploiting him to the utmost.'
The effect on society as a whole is described by María Lucía Victor Barbosa:
'The governing classes are characterized by corruption, nepotism, ideological inconsistency, absence of a vision of the common good, demagogy, opportunism. . . . The exercise of public power in Brazil . . . implies chronic incompetence combined with crookedness.'
Researchers Lipset and Lenz judged that
'[...] corruption has been ubiquitous in complex societies from ancient Egypt, Israel, Rome, and Greece down to the present.'
According to them, familism is the culprit. They have in fact created a scale to measure familism in order to test it against already-measured regional corruption levels. Sandholtz reports that 'The data analysis shows that, controlling for income, high scores on both familism and achievement orientation are positively related to corruption levels and statistically significant.'
III. Correlation with other cultural values
As it turns out, a hint of correlation can be found between corruption levels and lack of future-time orientation:
It would be interesting to explore such a relationship between corruption and other cultural values / character traits. Of equal interest would be to know if these traits could be changed quickly under outside pressure. If not, policy-makers would surely need to adjust their expectations. Of course, this would demand a radical shift in perspective in the halls of power of Brussels, New York, and Washington. 'People are people'--the geocentrism of our age--would have to give way to the recognition of true diversity, with all the discomfort and complexity that entails.
* * *
One thing looking at world corruption maps should teach us is that globally, low-corruption societies are not the rule, but the exception.
It is commendable that Northwest Europeans are anxious to export their well-functioning system to the rest of the planet. It is also obvious, from world migration patterns, that the rest of planet would very much like to live in societies that function as well as Northwest Europeans'.
An HBD-realist perspective, however, recognizes that wishing it won't make it so. In the harshest possible terms: Corrupt, nepotistic societies are that way because, from top to bottom, they are full of corrupt, nepotistic people. In different terms: People in such societies have much stronger family ties than Northwest Europeans, with all the good (old people taken care of at home, lower suicide rates) and the bad (large-scale nepotism and bribery). The biggest lesson for international policy-makers is that one cannot graft a policy from one people to another without grafting the people itself. And that way lies colonialism--as Greece's current conundrum shows.