The US is more corrupt than most developing countries

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:

  1. 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.

The consequences:
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.

Go tell that to the Chinese. :stuck_out_tongue: I’m sorry, but your entire premise rests on an inaccurate base typified by this paragraph here. Your view of 'the developing world’s corruption being ‘largely petty and local’ is laughable, especially for one who has ‘lived in multiple developing countries’.

No, it’s not.

Now if the OP wants to change that to ‘the US has more corruption than most developed upper tier countries’ I’d be willing to entertain that this could be correct, depending on which developed counties we are talking about and how we are defining corruption.

Can you name a few of the countries where bribery and so forth is rampant, but where the government is run for the benefit of the average citizen?


Can you name one?
Now, if you were to change that to “…is supposed to run for the benefit of the average citizen”(and maybe thrown in your definition of “the average citizen”).

No, I can’t name one. That’s the point.


I’ve obviously chosen the latter. What about you? You said you “have lived in multiple developing countries.” Why did you come back to the USA (or did you)?

I can name one for you if you like, but I’ll need to talk to you in private first. Just to, you know, shake hands and stuff.

I agree. The argument of the OP seems to be that some kinds of corruption count and some don’t.

First of all, it’s a factual error that “money = speech” is the law of the country. The Supreme Court, in a decision I disagree with, found that you cannot regulate speech by regulating money. That does not mean that money is speech.

Second, I really dislike our campaign system. It is based on a really dumb premise, that politicians need to spend roughly equal amounts of time raising money. It is a disservice to everyone, but it isn’t corruption. Corruption requires malign intent, but I think there are quite a few politicians who go into the business for the right reasons, vote their conscience, and are very responsible leaders who are in it for just doing the right thing. But they, too, must participate in this system. They have no choice.

That is a far cry from actual corruption, in which people use power for their own ends, generally to detract from those without power. Again, I think there’s a good number of politicians who approach their job with the view that they have to use this crappy system to gain power, which they intend to use as best as they can estimate for the benefit of the people who voted for them. (Of course, there are others who don’t share this charitable view, I’m sure.)

Finally, I disagree with the implication that elections are about the wealthy controlling the non-wealthy. Say what you will about unions, but they generally advocate for labor policies I’m quite sympathetic to, and they raise tons of money… in contrast to corporations, who generally advocate for bad labor policies I’m not sympathetic to, and they raise tons of money.

No, my argument was the types of corruption you see in “corrupt” countries affects a small portion of people a small portion of the time, but in the US our corruption affects most of the population most of the time.

It’s not about defining some kinds of corruption as non-corruption, it’s about breadth and frequency of impact.

So far, I have had to look up 2 words–oligopoly & Agnatheist–and that is a bad start. The oliogopoly I agree with somewhat, but the agnatheist, is another word for idiot, in my book.
When I have to look up a lot of words, the post tends to be of a fatuous nature, in my experience. And when it is long, that is another strike against it, so I am going to another one.

I disagree with this, too.

In the corrupt countries I’ve been to, the corruption is embraced as just a fact of life in spite of known consequences on people’s lives. (E.g., of course you have to bribe someone to get something done, but what are you going to do? Yep, I’ll just have to forego spending money on something I want to do in order to get some official motivated to do something I need.)

The campaign finance system the U.S. has results in a tremendous waste of time for officeholders, but I’ not sure it makes life worse for Americans in a perceptible way. Listening to you, one might come to the conclusion that the rich vote one way, and the poor vote another way, probably by large margins. Vote results show that there are differences between income levels, but the wealthy pretty much split their vote between Trump and Clinton, and the poor went to Clinton by 53-41.

Even if you compare Clinton against Sanders, there wasn’t a huge difference between voting among rich voters and poor voters. Link.

I think you are justifiably unhappy that we have a bad system for elections, but the key element for calling it corrupt is showing that the outcome is compromised. I don’t think that it is in a major way.

Not having lived in any developing countries I may have the wrong impression, but I thought that in countries with widespread small-scale corruption, corruption continues all the way to the top and everything is about knowing the right people. Could you give us an example of a country where politics is “purer” than in the US, but where there is corruption in everyday life?

With presidential campaigns in the billions and average senators needing to spend $10 million, it is the empirical reality, even if not enshrined explicitly in laws requiring this level of expenditure.

If we looked at actual non-corrupt countries though, you’d see the opposite of this, with campaign finance limits and spending limits enshrined in law. A verbal shorthand indicating that money = speech doesn’t lose much explanatory power.

You have a much more charitable and generous view of politicians than I do. But even in the cases you’re talking about, even somebody who genuinely WANTS to do the right thing, how much time can they spend actually doing those things if they need to raise $27k a day every day?

Especially when “doing the right thing” means NOT doing XYZ favorable to some corporation or special interest group, because it’s genuinely the better thing to do for the populace in their purview? Thus, cutting off potential donors, increasing incentives for competitors who do play ball to come up against you in a very well funded way next election cycle, etc.

My point is the whole system is fundamentally broken in terms of driving good governance, with almost all incentives and systemic biases actually driving the opposite.

So I just went over to Organization Profiles • OpenSecrets to look at top organizational contributors, and adding up all contributions from orgs with “union” or “asscn” and both the teacher ones got me to ~25% of donations by money, with the other 75% coming from the other side.

I think if we asked people from Europe and Canada about how labor-friendly the US is and where they’d prefer being a low-income worker, they’d rightfully laugh, so it seems like that skew in spend is driving appropriately skewed results for the corporate side, and I’m a little puzzled why you’ve called this out as a success story around campaign funding.

Ah, you know, don’t be so hard on yourself. I don’t think you are an idiot because you don’t understand what my tag line is. It’s cool man…not everyone is quick enough on their feet to be able to figure stuff like that out. All you had to do was ask.

Probably pretty funny that you looked it up as I made the word up. Wonder what results you got? :stuck_out_tongue:

(FWIW, it’s a contraction of atheist and agnostic, and has to do with several debates on this board in the past)

Yet the candidate who spent the most money and had the biggest campaign chest didn’t win. So spending money alone doesn’t win elections. It also doesn’t demonstrate the levels of corruption that puts the US on par with ‘developing countries’ or even established ones with more systemic corruption issues.

Why? Some of the most corrupt nations don’t have any campaign financing at all, since they don’t need to campaign.

Do you consider Europe and Canada ‘developing countries’? Also, there is plenty of labor corruption in ‘Europe’ depending on where in Europe we look. Or did you not want to talk about corruption? You seem to be going back and forth on what you want to debate.

This website may be of interest:

According to this site, the US ranks 16th in terms of corruption – worse than Canada (which comes 8th), on par with Belgium. So around the middle of the pack, more maybe towards the low end, when it comes to developed nations.

Obviously different rankers will measure things differently, this site, according to its FAQ, measures the following:

Looks relatively legit.

Plus, w/ “Third World” type of corruption, there is a stifling of the overall economy which has a considerable effect on everyone except the privileged classes. Well, it affects the privileged classes too, but generally to their benefit.