Corruption and its Three Enormous Harms
Corruption and its Three Enormous Harms / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner
Posted on April 26, 2015
14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, 25 April 2015 – Mexico and corruption
are two words that always go hand in glove, or as the Columbians
mischievously say, “grab each other’s peepees.”
Corruption in Venezuela is greater, and that of Argentina is not far
behind, according to Transparency International, but to judge by what is
happening in Chile, Brazil and Cuba, it seems to be a bad Latin American
epidemic. The continent, with few exceptions, is a pigsty.
In any case, the Mexican government wants to end corruption. It was
about time. Is that possible? When did it start? They tell you,
laughing, as soon as you set foot in the country.
The Spanish conquistadors tortured Cuauhtemoc, the Aztec chieftain, to
make him reveal where he hid the gold:
“Tell me, you damned Indian, where the gold is,” screamed the torturer,
through the interpreter, while he burned the hands and feet of the
“I’ve told you forty times that it is buried 50 steps from the pyramid,
under the palm tree,” screamed Cuauhtemoc, writhing in pain.
“He says he does not know, and that if he did know, he would never tell
you,” translated the interpreter, secretly rubbing his hands together.
It all started there. Right at the beginning. The confusion between
public and private is in Latin America’s DNA and in that of three
quarters of the planet. They gave Hernan Cortez a tribute of 20,000
Indians as a reward for the conquest of Mexico. Then they took them
away, and the fierce captain ended up in Europe, poor and angry, unable
to forget the scorching odor of burned flesh.
Some cynics and pragmatists – sometimes they are the same – maintain
that corruption is a form of wealth redistribution and income growth,
designed to stabilize society through a web of interests and complicities.
I do not believe it. The harms that unpunished corruption causes are
usually devastating. Let’s look at just three from an infinitely greater
First, it rots the essential premise of the Rule of Law, making a lie of
the principle that everyone is subject to the authority of the law. If
the politician or the civil servant steals with impunity, or receives
bribes for granting favors, why is the common citizen going to pay
taxes? What stops him from lying or cheating?
The law establishes that it is a crime to sell cocaine and also to seize
public property. Why not sell cocaine if others embezzle the national
treasury with impunity? Why not rob a bank? What moral difference is
there between stealing from everyone or stealing from a business or an
Second, it distorts and inflates the whole economic process. The market
economy is based on free competition. It presumes that goods and
services compete on price and quality. It is the end buyer who decides
which businesses succeed or fail. When a politician or an official
favors one business in exchange for a commission, this unholy operation
forces the consumer to select an inferior and more expensive option,
given that the cost of corruption is added to the prices.
Moreover, corruption eliminates incentives to innovate and improve the
quality of the offer, while it notably reduces productivity, which is
the foundation for growth. Why be more productive and lower prices if
we have a captive market? Why design a new and better car if the
customer is obliged to buy the usual one? Sometimes the businesses
themselves distort the market by agreeing among themselves to raise
prices. This is another serious form of corruption.
Third, it destroys the ideal meritocratic structure to which all healthy
societies should aspire. It weakens the passion to study and curbs the
entrepreneurial impulse. In corrupt societies personal connections
prevail. “He who has godparents gets baptized.” That is the general
order. Ties are more important than effort to compete in an open and
free market. What sense does it make to burn the midnight oil studying
when, in order to enrich yourself, it suffices to pass an envelope under
the table of a corrupt official? Why sweat and toil in the effort to
create a successful business if to achieve economic success a
combination of personal relations and lack of scruples suffices?
There is no doubt: corruption kills the political and economic system
and moral values. Ask the Spaniards who today walk that dark and
uncertain road. Of course corruption is a tendency present in our
species. That is known, but it is not a good excuse. Either we fight it
and defeat it or it devours us. It is that simple.
Translated by MLK
Source: Corruption and its Three Enormous Harms / 14ymedio, Carlos
Alberto Montaner | Translating Cuba –