Book Review

The Ultimate Corruption

By Glen Ford

The giant British bank HSBC is once again in the spotlight, accused of helping its wealthy customers avoid taxes. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists coordinated the investigation of HSBC. It’s estimated that rich people around the world have succeeded in hiding more than $17 trillion from tax collectors, and that such tax avoidance schemes cost governments $200 billion in revenue a year. Another organization, Transparency International, has started a “No Impunity” campaign targeting ostentatious displays of wealth by corrupt individuals. Transparency International chairman Jose Carlos Ugaz claims that corruption has reached such huge proportions that it is affecting global economic development. He calls the phenomenon “grand corruption.”

If Mr. Ugaz is really looking for the grandest, most destructive kind of corruption, then he will have to set his sights much higher than a few individuals who make themselves obnoxious by flashing their wealth around. The real grand corruption is in the system, itself.

Most so-called anti-corruption campaigns aren’t really about corruption, in the larger, grand sense, at all; they’re about cheating, and condemning people who break the rules that govern behavior between businessmen. The assumption is that, if it were not for the minority of businessmen that cheat, the system would work just fine, to everyone’s benefit.

Thus, we are told, the problem is banks like HSBC that help wealthy people cheat the system. But, the real problem is that the banks as institutions and wealthy people as a class are the ones that control the system, who write the rules for their own benefit, and to the detriment of everybody else. That is the grand corruption: not that individual rich people break the rules, but that rich people as a class get to make the rules.

Exploitation of humankind

A number of international agencies compile annual report cards on the levels of so-called “corruption” existing in countries around the world. What these report cards actually measure is not the effects of corruption on various societies, but how the corrupt demands of government officials affect foreign corporations’ ability to do business in those countries. If corporations have few difficulties doing business in a given country, then that country gets high marks for having low levels of corruption. It doesn’t matter if the local government fails to protect the nation’s natural resources, or allows its people’s labor to be cheaply exploited by foreign companies. Selling out one’s own people to foreigners is not considered grand, or even petty, corruption.

Europeans see no element of corruption in the fact that they are relatively rich, compared to the rest of the world’s people, because Europe spent 500 years pillaging and plundering the planet and enslaving the peoples of other countries. The United States sees nothing corrupt in using its vast military superiority to dominate much of the planet—to exploit the weak countries for the benefit of rich Americans. Yet that is the Mother of All Corruptions in the world, today.

Black Agenda Report, February 25, 2015