steps must be taken at the international level to curtail corruption's vast economic and social costs

Corruption and Transparency

Corruption destroys the foundations of human prosperity and the very purpose of governance, making it toxic to growth in both developed and developing countries alike. When the political establishment and the justice system have been captured by corrupt elites, a country is unable to rid itself of corruption. An international judicial mechanism, following the model of the International Criminal Court, could bring necessary justice by prosecuting entities that violate established norms on corruption.
Corruption destroys the foundations of human prosperity and the very purpose of governance, making it toxic to growth in both developed and developing countries alike. When the political establishment and the justice system have been captured by corrupt elites, a country is unable to rid itself of corruption. An international judicial mechanism, following the model of the International Criminal Court, could bring necessary justice by prosecuting entities that violate established norms on corruption.

There is a strong correlation between bureaucracy and corruption: the larger the state apparatus, the more opportunities state officials have to extract resources from their citizens. In countries with high levels of corruption, businesses allocate considerable time and resources to dealing with red tape, often paying bribes to facilitate business operations. The losses in economic efficiency are evident.

Combining the cost of bribery, corruption and associated organized crime, the economic toll of corruption is now estimated to be $2.6 trillion per year. For perspective, the sum of global defense spending amounts to under $2 trillion. Corruption undermines the credibility of national institutions, shrinks government revenues and investment, discourages entrepreneurship, creates perverse economic and political incentives, and deters foreign direct investment and foreign aid. Corruption is also tied to greater income inequality as the benefits of bribes and graft accrue to elites, leaving less government resources for those at the lower end of the wealth distribution continuum. Finally, bribery and corruption tend to lead to other forms of crime, breeding mafias and organized criminal groups. Corruption is a vicious cycle, meaning there is no end to the havoc it can wreak on the state and society. Its spread must be actively checked—if not by national governments, then by the international community.

There are many methods of tackling corruption. Effective steps include paying civil servants well to remove incentives to steal, creating transparency in government spending, cutting bureaucratic red tape, and deploying smart technology to improve accountability in government transactions. Corrupt officials must be prosecuted and punished. At the international level, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption provides a useful starting point; strengthening its monitoring mechanism would improve transparency and accountability. Furthermore, the creation of an International Anticorruption Court as a free-standing international court focusing on prosecuting corruption would establish binding international juridical oversight. This court would be designed to target “grand corruption” or the abuse of public office for private gain by a country’s leaders, taking away the impunity that national leaders often exploit. Currently, corruption at the international level results in the loss of trillions of dollars every year; the cost of a new international court pales in comparison to this staggering sum (the ICC, for example, costs about US$167 million annually).

Other Organizations to Look at

This book’s trenchant analysis of what ails the running of the globe should be read by policymakers everywhere, and certainly by those many citizens who concern themselves with fostering a better and more functional world. Change comes slowly, but this book is a prodding catalyst.

Robert I. Rotberg, Harvard Kennedy School, author of On Governance

Other Areas of Interest

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