So first, I will stipulate:
I have lived in multiple developing countries. I have done business in multiple developing countries. I know corruption there is real and exists, and have had it personally affect both personal and business finances multiple times.
My contention however, is that the corruption in the US is worse than corruption in the developing world, for a number of reasons. It impacts more people domestically and abroad, it is deeply entrenched and becoming stronger, and it happens in big, population-wide ways versus the petty, local ways corruption happens in most of the developing world.
And sure, at this point you may say “But TI, I’ve lived my whole life here and have never once had to bribe a crooked cop, politician, or bureaucrat! How could the US possibly be more corrupt than countries where that’s a frequent fact of life?”
Because the US is corrupt in giant systemic ways that screw you and everyone else all the time, in less visible ways, and this trend has been accelerating.
Just focusing on a single symptom covers a lot of it:
- Citizens United means money = speech in politics. As in, the more dollars you have, the louder you can yell and the more people can hear you, while anyone with notably less money just plain doesn’t get heard.
We are an oligopoly run by millionaires and billionaires, FOR millionaires and billionaires.
a. The presidential election costs $2 - $2.5 billion dollars overall, with individual candidates spending between $400M - $900M on the race. In other words, assuming the average presidential candidate has a year to raise funds, they need to raise $86k continuously every hour on the hour for a year straight to even run. That doesn’t include sleeping, eating, doing their current job, or anything else.
b. To become a senator costs an individual senator $10M+ on average, and a congress critter needs to spend ~$2M. So again assuming a year, they a senator needs to raise $27k a day literally every day, snow or shine, and a congress critter needs to raise $5k every day.
How much thought, listening to constituents, legislation, and good jurisprudence do you think you could put in if you had to raise $27k a day or $86k an hour? And because money = speech, when some nice lobbyists come in with suitcases of the cash that you need, suitcases that are saying they want X law or Y change or care about Z issue, how likely are you to say no?
There is a major tragedy of the commons here, because frequently XYZ are not in the best interests of the public, and bear some cost to us. But because politicians live or die based on their funding, as long as it’s not something that will immediately garner overwhelming negative opprobrium from the public at large, they are extremely likely to take the money and pass XYZ changes.
Rinse and repeat for decades, and you have where we are now, with more expensive healthcare than anyone else and worse health outcomes, global warming an irrefutably major problem that is “controversial” thanks to corporate interests, the most comically overfunded military in the world bleeding literally trillions to “stabilize” the middle east (spoiler alert: it hasn’t worked), oligopolies in cable, internet, and phone providers, the FDA making net neutrality illegal, tax cuts that benefit 97% of people making $500k and higher to the tune of ~$50k, and much more that is frequently discussed on this message board.
c. More than 2/3 of the senate and more than 50% of Congress are personal millionaires. 3% of US people (4% of US households) are millionaires. How aligned are our interests with our leaders? Leaders who have to raise at a minimum tens of thousands every week, and hundreds of thousands every month? They’re sure not getting that money from the 96% of us who aren’t millionaires! Why should they care what we want?
Oh, votes. Yeah. Those things which are easily manipulable by having a 2 party system where the only viable candidates are wholly owned by corporate interests, and where you can choose between “middle right economic and social policies” corporate toady #1 and “far right economic and social policies” corporate toady #2. But we have a bunch of specious wedge issues like “gun control” and “gay marriage” and “abortions” and “environmentalism” that we can use our hundreds of millions of dollars of speech to convince you to vote with, all without having to compromise our corporate ownership and governance by and for millionaires!
Sure, you haven’t had to deal with corruption in a personal and direct way in your life, but that’s only because you don’t personally have or control suitcases of cash to wave around under politician’s noses. The corruption here is taking nibbles out of everyone in small indirect ways that in the aggregate make our lives worse and more limited but which benefit corporation A or individual B with millions or billions to throw around.
So to develop my thesis — is it better to live in a country where you have a 20% chance of having to pay a policeman a $20 bribe over some trumped up problem with your taillights in any given year, or one in which 250k - 500k people declare bankruptcy due to medical reasons per year and EVERYONE pays more than 2x more than everywhere else in the world for medical treatment?
Is it better to live in a country where the 5% of people wanting to start a new business can’t start a business without greasing the right bureaucrats’ hands, or where the 90% of people with internet coverage just got screwed by ISP’s who are going to now own and sell all their browsing and demographic info because they specifically paid for laws and regulators to make that legal?
Is it better to live in a country where the 10% of the people buying property that year have to go through a long paperwork process that involves multiple steps and bribes to “expedite” the purchase, or where the 99% not making $500k a year are paying (via debt and reduced services) for the 1% making more than $500k to get a $50k tax cut?
Would you rather live in a country where your leaders blow some of your tax dollars on pork-barrel projects for their millionaire buddies but spend 3% of spending on healthcare and 1% on the military, or one where they blow some of your tax dollars on pork-barrel projects for their millionaire buddies but spend 6% of discretionary spending on healthcare and 54% on the military?
And the best part is, it’s probably not going to change. Wedge issues, 2 party lock-in, and increasingly fine-tuned and ubiquitous information and targeting algorithms will allow them to spend their hundreds of millions of marketing dollars in ever more precise and impactful ways to get the vote out while not making any substantive changes that could address any of this, and we’re the ones left holding the bag.
Corruption in the developing world is largely petty and local - corruption in the US is population-wide and inescapable, and is only becoming more entrenched as our millionaire leaders lead us into a future of more laws and regulations that benefit corporations and their wealthy cohort at the expense of the rest of us. Thus: the US is more corrupt than the developing world.