Wednesday 15 August 2012

The Biggest Problem in the World

Sorry to get serious, but hearing an interview on the radio last night with a Tunisian woman got me thinking...
  I've long suspected that the Biggest Problem in the World - the one that underlies all the world's other Big Problems - is not over-population or hunger or poverty or environmental depredation (I'm leaving out 'climate change' this time, even though Radio 4 is about to explain to us that Britain will soon be just like Madeira, with avocadoes hanging from every tree) or ethnic conflict or authoritarian rule or the absence of democracy - no, the Biggest Problem in the World is Corruption, which creates poverty and hunger (and, often, environmental depredation), destroys individual autonomy, undermines the institutions that make civic society possible, erodes the rule of law, takes away all hope of justice, redress or self-advancement from the poorest, and makes democracy meaningless.
  The tendency of  liberal democratic Western opinion to see social progress in terms of a struggle for democracy seems to me a huge error - what would benefit people far more, and what many are in fact struggling for, is rather an end to corruption. Without corruption, institutions and infrastructure work and people can get on, make a living, buy and sell without endless extortions and payouts draining away the fruits of their enterprise, making the power elites richer and the poor unable to help themselves. Without corruption, great swathes of the globe that are now poor, hungry and desperate would be doing fine. To adapt Clinton's one memorable statement (apart from 'I did not have sex with that woman') - it's the corruption, stupid. The uprising in Tunisia that launched what we foolishly call the Arab Spring was sparked not by activists hungry for Jeffersonian democracy but by a street trader who had finally had enough of corrupt officials taking away his livelihood, and burnt himself to death in his desperation.
  Now Tunisia has democracy, and the result is an Islamist government which (among other ominous developments) intends to scrap clauses in the constitution that protect the status of women. And why did people vote the Islamists in? Precisely because they thought that, being religiously motivated, they would be less corrupt than the previous lot. Well they might be - we'll see - but their idea of democracy sure ain't ours, and the thought of a wholly Islamist Middle East ranged around an isolated Israel is not a happy one.


  1. Very thoughtful and perceptive. And humans being the fallen scum we are, the problem can only get worse with increased global prosperity. The fact the Wall Street was essentially given a pass over widespread fraud and breach of trust is very disturbing and simply invites a new round of lefty loonyism. At least nobody defended the Borgias and Bourbons with emergency funding on the "too big to fail" argument.

    Many of the great populist moralistic and religious reactions can be attributed to this. Luther may have rocked as a theologian, but Protestantism was in large part a response to glittering late-medieval Church corruption and clerical avarice and exploitation. Drab and grey Puritanism grew out of Renaissance and Tudor corruption more than opposition to louche dress and racy art. The Victorians rebelled against the moral, political and financial corruptions of the Enlightenment.

    I sometimes wonder whether the Divine displeasure with the Tower of Babel was the result of the builders skimming too much off the top and adulterating the bricks with straw.

  2. Good points Peter, esp about Protestantism etc. Sadly Islamism and corruption seem to get along together pretty well in practice.