How corruption undermines democracy


Democratic polities are undermined “when the virus of illicit finance, hidden in the secret channels of the global financial network, infects a democratic system that depends on trust to survive,” notes Oliver Bullough, author of Moneyland: Exploring the Secret Country of the Very Rich (forthcoming in 2018).

Russia’s own democracy died of corruption back in the 1990s, while the political systems of Nigeria, South Africa, Malaysia, Kenya, Ukraine, and elsewhere are perilously ill, if not terminally so, he writes:

Open discussion and the free exercise of votes cannot coexist with a system where decisions are made for money, and positions of power are bought and sold. Corruption is threatened by democracy, and corrupt individuals will always seek to undermine the rule of law to protect themselves. If we wish to protect our political systems from infection, we need to fight back.

Stanislav Andreski, a Polish-born academic who founded the sociology department at England’s Reading University, drew on his knowledge of his homeland to compare the “socialist handshake” (the paying of a bribe) to corrupt practices in countries such as Nigeria, he writes for the January 2018 edition of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy:

The difference, he said, is that “nobody can become a millionaire by accumulating the proceeds of graft” in a communist country.  The countries of the then-Soviet bloc were corrupt, but what was happening in the ex-colonies was something so much larger and more pervasive, that he thought it needed a new term. He called it “kleptocracy.”

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