India Uncut

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Isn't it nice to be World No. 1 in something?

Ok, ok, perhaps not corruption. DNA reports today, "India has been ranked as the worst performer by Transparency International on its global Bribe Payers Index, which is based on the propensity of companies from the world's 30 leading exporting countries in bribing abroad."

This is only exporters, of course, but news of corruption in India is so familiar as to be achingly banal. Of course India is riddled with corruption. And people wear pajamas at pajama parties. Big surprise.

This doesn't mean that Indians are inherently dishonest, by the way, or that people wear pajamas at all parties. People wear pajamas to pajama parties because, well, the party is set up for that. And people are corrupt because our system of government is set up that way. Corruption in India is a combination of two factors: giving too much power to government; and having few ways in which to hold it accountable.

The more power a government servant has over the common man, the more likely he is to misuse it. This is especially so when the common man is disempowered to the extent that he has no realistic way of punishing a corrupt official. If your telephone linesman asks for a bribe to expedite a connection, your costs of paying up are always going to be far lower than your costs of registering a complaint and following up on it -- and even that may involve paying a bribe.

Of course, where there is competition, the power of the government reduces. (The telecom sector, in fact, is a great example of this.) If your MTNL chappies hassle you too much, you can simply find another provider. The solution, thus, is simple: reduce government monopolies in all those areas of our lives where we possibly can. We need governments to maintain law and order and a handful of other things: remove its discretion over all other areas of our lives, and corruption will slide down as well.

Some people like to make silly arguments to the effect that humans are greedy and need regulation. Hell, that is precisely the reason the power of government should be restricted: it is, after all run by humans. It's a very dicey thing, giving one bunch of humans too much power over another, much larger bunch. As PJ O'Rourke once wrote:
When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.
Even this sounds familiar, doesn't it?

(DNA link via reader Shane.)
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