Review: Corruption and Anti-Corruption–An Applied Philosophical Approach

6 Star Top 10%, Corruption

5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond Six Stars: Superb Foundation Work–Should Be Translated, May 5, 2010

Seumas Miller, Peter Roberts, Edward Spence

Corruption is the pervasive, pernicious, pathological, preemptory, and predatory commonality within the ten high level threats to humanity as identified by the United Nations High-Level Threat Panel and published in 2004 in A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility–Report of the Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change; and is also responsible for between 20% and 40% of the lost resources of all kinds across the twelve core policy areas as inspired by the UN but identified by the Earth Intelligence Network (501c3) dedicated to creating public intelligence in the public interest-and especially “true cost” intelligence.  (E.g. Exxon did not make $40 billion in profit in its recent high year–that was stolen from current and future generations because Exxon externalized $12 in costs for every gallon of gas that it sells for $4). See INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability and also, for the underlying hope factor, Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace.

This book is beyond six stars–it is righteously constructive, useful, concise, focused, relevant, and despite some heavy trails in the middle, a joy to read for anyone who believes that there is plenty of wealth for all, we just need to stop corruption in all its forms. Lawrence Lessig, I have been told, is committing the rest of his life to eradicating corruption–his latest book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy is particularly recommended because I am discovering, as he has, that HYBRID is going to be the core concept for the 21st Century. To take a very specific example, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has helped the Government of Guatemala put more people in jail (over 130) in relation to corruption and illegal armed groups, in four years, than the rest of the UN and I suspect INTERPOL and EUROPOL as well. It is a HYBRID organization with uniquely effective capabilities, a “son” of the United Nations but not part of “the” United Nations. I personally believe that it represents the future of multi-layered multi-stakeholder governance, still respecting the national government as the core actor, but bringing to bear transnational resources, autonomous investigative and analytic capabilities, and ultimately engaging all of the stakeholders including the oligarchs and the labor unions, so as to address the totality of a nation's problems starting with poverty–what the UN is now calling “Deliver As One” integrated holistic mission analysis.

Here is my summary of this extraordinary book and I repeat, this needs to be translated into Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, and ideally Malay, Turkish, and several other languages as well. It is a completely different book from Overcoming Corruption [ISBN 0956478808 and strangely not coming up in the Link Feature.] I venture to suggest these two books as a starting point for a new wave of regionalization and transnationalization of anti-corruption campaigns.

Up front one immediately is familiarized with a pyramid for achieving a culture of “ethical resistance” (the term emerges later in the book). The foundation, the largest part of the solution, is moral education starting in kindergarten, to instill the essential social norms that make shame inherent in misbehavior. The middle of the triangle, larger than the foundation but smaller than the apex, is the “carrots” part of the solution, including preventive anti-corruption measures that both incentivize good behavior and make bad behavior much harder. Finally, the apex, and rightfully the smallest part of the solution, is the “sticks,” the detection, the investigation, the prosecution, and ultimately the conviction but importantly a conviction followed by rehabilitation and reassimilation into society.

The three authors are coherent as one. There is no clumsiness in this book. Early on they review the CONDITIONS that enable corruption including an immoral environment, the absence of accountability mechanisms, and the lack of transparency.

They distinguish among individual, organized, organizational, grand, and systemic corruption, and as the book comes to a close I note to myself that all governments less Singapore, Netherlands, and the Nordics, have way too much grand systemic corruption, the USA most of all for its corruption is pervasive within the two-party tyranny and the symbiotic continuity of corruption from Bush-Cheney to Obama-Biden; and so also are most large organizations including NGOs such as the Red Cross, religions such as the Catholic Church in particular, and movements such as the Climate Change movement, corrupt as well. This book is required to understand the broad nature of corruption–as Buckminster Fuller defines INTEGRITY (see Critical Path)–so does this book define its opposite, CORRUPTION.

Among the causes of grand systemic corruption are
01) Class conflict
02) Unjust and unequal systems of wealth and status (think oligarchs refusing to pay taxes or yield on Native Title claims; military-industrial complexes, and of course illegal armed groups and illegal clandestine groups more often than not supported by if not actually created by government clandestine organizations much as the CIA has ruined Guatemala since 1954–no dictatorship too small to embrace.
03) Moral confusion including laws not tracking with the moral codes most people innately understand
04) Imbalances of power among stakeholder groups

These conditions are exacerbated by inadequacies in investigative, legal, and correctional capabilities at the same time that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) dramatically increases the complexity, speed, and difficulty of detecting illegal transactions.

Secrecy and undeclared or undetected conflicts of interest breed corruption, which is defined at this point as anything that clouds the proper exercise of judgment. The antidotes are avoidance and full disclosure.

Oddly, it is at this point that I note “truth” is not a term that appears in the index. As my own mantra is “the truth at any cost lowers all other costs,” and as I believe that the truth and reconciliation process that Nelson Mandela has shown can save a nation is the underlying foundation for anti-corruption within the many failed states that cry out for transnational help, this is an anomaly I hope that authors address in what must surely be a second edition of this righteous work.

I will jump past the middle section of the book to focus on the core point that the authors arrive at: that we must rethink governance top to bottom–the mechanisms, the practices, the regulations, the ethics, the obligations, the ends. It is at this point that I am reminded of two books that are part of the solution:

High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them
The People's Business: Controlling Corporations and Restoring Democracy

The authors point out that corruption goes hand in hand with incompetence and bad business judgment (or bad political appointee judgment, just look at George “Slam Dunk” Tenet betraying the public interest at his first Cabinet meeting).

Throughout the book, but perhaps not as explicitly as is now possible as business leaders are discovering the huge value of both compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) *and* government officials, for example in India, are discovering how valuable it can be to their own reputation to award contracts to companies absolutely known to not do bribes, the authors point out the tangible and intangible benefits of ethics to all stakeholders.

There are frequent references to the need for new designs, and especially designs that eliminate stovepipe power and absolute hierarchical power. The empowerment of employees is ultimately both a productivity benefit, and a profit benefit.

The book wraps up with an examination of preventive (proactive) measures including the promotion of ethical behavior; the complete makeover of corporate (and I would emphasize, government bureaucracy) governance, and the imposition of transparency in all possible forms; and with an examination of reactive anti-corruption, which is relatively passive, linear, made difficult by inherent secrecy and privilege, under-resourced, and severely challenged by the acceleration of all that is associated with globalization.

The authors do a fine job of discussing how anti-corruption organizations THEMSELVES need a code of ethics and a carefully itemized list of transgressions from wasting time with Facebook and YouTube (a 20% cost in organizations I am familiar with, as well as a 40% bandwidth hog) to leaking sensitive information about ongoing investigations. In essence, anti-corruption organizations need their own “Rocks & Shoals” litany and every employee must be familiarized with it on entry and frequently thereafter. HYBRID is a word that enables polygraphing of everyone at least once a year (the UN does not allow polygraphing of all the spies pretending to be clerks would be quickly declared Personna Non Grata–the UN not only suffering spying, it suffers the incompetence and lack of productivity that comes from putting spies in cover jobs they have no clue about).

The authors emphasize the truly draconian challenge of–and importance of–being able to follow global electronic transactions.

They provide an entire chapter on whistle-blowing, and the lesson I draw from this is that anti-corruption campaigns need to make it very–VERY–easy for whistleblowers to submit helpful information. This is where the culture of “ethical resistance” comes in and I am actually moved to believe we can clean up our filthy governments.

A chapter on the rights of suspects completes the book.

See all 1500 plus of my non-fiction reviews, in 98 categories including Corruption, Crime (Corporate) and Crime (Government), at Phi Beta Iota, the Public Intelligence Blog. All reviews lead back to their respective book's Amazon page.

Three books that give me personally high hopes for the future:
Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny
Emergence: The Shift from Ego to Essence
Reflections on Evolutionary Activism: Essays, poems and prayers from an emerging field of sacred social change

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