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Opinion News
February 26,2017

The future of corruption

Zafar Iqbal Khattak

Would a conviction in the Panama case bring an end to corruption in Pakistan, as some politicians want us to believe? Presidents, prime ministers, generals, judges and corporate CEOs of various corporations have been convicted in corruption cases at different times in different countries. But corruption remains rife. It is, in fact, robust and steadily growing – particularly under the dominance of the neo-liberal agenda or the doctrine of the Chicago School of Economics.

To serve justice, the courts must evaluate all available knowledge to fully grasp the nature and context of a crime. Such is the situation with corruption that it requires a broader contextual observation. Corruption is immoral, unethical and socially cancerous. But it is a natural, logical by-product of the economy itself as a corrupt institution. The economy is based on fraudulent and illusionary assumptions and corrupt practices.

Mainstream economists want us to believe that unlimited economic growth is not only necessary but also an infinite possibility. They want us to believe that on a closed, finite planet, linear growth is possible forever. This is absurd and defies logic. That explains why the economic growth project has caused ecological havoc, climate change, gross disparities, wars, and other social crises.

Ironically, all governments and dubious institutions – like the IMF, World Bank and WTO – still adhere to the mantra of unlimited economic growth as their central organising principle. It is religiously believed that economic growth on its own will solve all problems, such as poverty, unemployment, homelessness, hunger, crime, disease, war and environmental decay. The era of economic growth is over and the reliance on illusions is dangerously destabilising societies.

The economy has also failed on its magical promise of a ‘trickle down’ effect of spreading the wealth among people in the lower status. Instead, what we have witnessed is the shrinking of the middle class and the production of historically unprecedented inequalities in income and wealth distribution within and among nations. Such inequalities have created a plethora of issues.

Instead, what has trickled down is the fateful belief that everything – the population, cities, roads, homes, cars, luxuries, businesses, arms, and most importantly, individual income and wealth – can grow forever. It is therefore legally, politically, and morally acceptable that the six richest people own more wealth than the half the population of the world. It is also prudent that governments spend more than 50 percent of their budgets on militarisation while a majority of people lack basic facilities. This is an ugly facet of a race without an end point. Such absurdities dominate our economic and political world.

Since 1945, with the US at the helm of the so-called free world, economic rationality has superseded and moulded the behavior of all vital institutions – family, education, religion, politics, health, sports. This ‘economic imperialism’ has successfully reduced individual and national behaviour to pure materialism and egotism by washing away the positive role of the family, schools, spirituality and politics.

Under economic imperialism, almost everything is commoditised – including human life. The purpose of a successful life is perceived in terms of material success or the accumulation of wealth, which gives rise to a false, ego-based identity. This ego is in an unending competition with everyone else to be rich, powerful and part of the nobility and corruption is the most rational path to such goals. Rationality focuses on maximising gains at a minimal cost.

Practically, every single component of the economy – the extraction of resources, industrial production, marketing, advertising, distribution, consumption and disposal – employs corrupt practices that violate ecological and human integrity at many levels. There is more than enough evidence to support such arguments.

Economic interest and greed in the guise of ‘national interest’ are a major source of conflicts and wars, resulting in an arms race and the dehumanisation of societies. The previous century was undoubtedly the bloodiest, with more than 200 million killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The new century started with a dubious, never-ending war on terror, destroying societies such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Pakistan, and the list goes on. War is an evil and the economy is at its core.

For the economy to grow, it is vital that people continue to buy and consume. The consumer culture nurtures greed, individualism, envy, pride and competition as socially desirable values and replaces compassion, kindness, simplicity and honesty – values that promote humanity and hold the community together. No wonder our societies are in perpetual turmoil and a state of dissatisfaction. Why are the laws, courts, and politician numb to such crimes of civilisational proportions?

Futurist Hazel Henderson had warned that economics is a form of brain damage. Ridding societies of corruption through courts and bureaus is simply laughable when the nature of society and the economy alongside with the purpose or meaning of life has been corrupted.

Our emotional politicians need to realise the complexity and interconnectedness of the issue. Instead of slogans, they need to question the thought processes and value systems through which we perceive and behave. They need to realise that broader social transformation is required to create a truly humane society. But this is a hard, gradual, and epochal task and politicians are failing to step up to the challenge. Their rationality to maximise gains over a short period of time prevents them from taking historical steps. They fall prey to their own narrow interests which are based on politics.

Will the broader, contextual knowledge around the issue of corruption be considered in cases such as the current Panama case? Can such cases determine the fate and future of corruption in countries?

Email: iqbal777zafargmail.com


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