The war on corruption is leaving the world worse than we found it. BY MOISÉS NAÍM | MARCH 1, 2005
About a decade ago, the world witnessed a corruption eruption. As democratic winds swept the world, the dirty deals of once unaccountable dictators and bureaucrats came out into the open. During the Cold War, kleptocratic dictatorships often traded their allegiance to one of the two superpowers in exchange for its countenance of their thievery. With the superpower contest over, such corrupt bargains dried up. And, thanks to the information revolution, the slightest hint of corruption at the highest levels quickly became global news. Once people learned so many politicians had been on the take -- often in cahoots with business leaders -- it was only natural that there would be a public outcry for a "war on corruption." Countries enacted anti-corruption legislation, corporations adopted stern codes of conduct, and nongovernmental organizations such as Transparency International were launched to "name and shame" countries into action. National watchdog agencies, complete with powerful anti-corruption czars, sprouted everywhere. From Germany to Peru to South Korea, corruption scandals entangled seemingly untouchable former heads of state, and around the world an unprecedented number of top government officials and business executives were ousted or jailed. If you were running for office and challenging a powerful incumbent, you almost certainly ran a "clean-hands campaign," labeling your opponent as a corrupt fixture of the old order. For those in the trenches, the crowning event of the war on corruption was the 2003 U.N. Convention Against Corruption, endorsed by more than 100 countries. Unfortunately, the reports from the frontlines are not encouraging. "The last 10 years have been deeply disappointing," says Daniel Kaufmann, one of the leading experts on anti-corruption efforts. "Much was done, but not much was accomplished. What we are doing is not...
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