There is still a comforting us-and-them attitude when Westerners look East. The moral superiority of the West is taken as read.
To be sure, corruption is rife in
The news might seem to support his cynicism.
All this has been played out against the backdrop of a global economic slowdown prompted by practices within the Western financial sector ranging from the morally questionable to the outright criminal.
In part the responsibility lies with financial institutions putting the bottom line above all else. In doing so, they fulfil that Muscovite's expectations and -- even if doing nothing illegal at home -- facilitate crime, corruption and embezzlement abroad. They also open themselves up to moral hazard. Only luck divides the high-flier from the rogue trader. The consequent risk-taking culture has led to such cases as
Questionable practices are often lucrative and the risks eminently bearable, with fines essentially transmitted to customers. After all, the gamble usually pays off and everyone lives to trade another day. Likewise, many Western companies that are models of rectitude at home willingly pay bribes abroad, albeit tactfully channelled through local partners or entered in the books as 'consultancy fees'.
The real problem is not immoral businesspeople, nor sloppy laws, but a lack of accountability. That, in turn, can be laid at the feet of legislators and the electorate. It is the job of government and society to reconfigure the cost-benefit analyses that encourage these corrupt practices.
A Eurobarometer survey at the end of 2011 found 74 per cent of European respondents saying that corruption was a major problem in their country. Yet while willing to express a diffuse dislike of corruption and financial chicanery, we seemingly regard it more like bad weather, something to endure, rather than a problem to fix.
It need not be like this. Perhaps the most productive time for the fight against the Italian Mafia came after 1992. Then, the murders of two prominent investigators,
Much the same is true here and now. There is certainly a role for technical fixes, such as increasing the capitalization of banks and improved regulation. But above all, there needs to be a willingness on the part of governments, nationally and collectively, to use the tools they have. In the short term this will be painful, turning away business and angering rich and powerful lobbies. It means squeezing tax havens, better international cooperation and treating crimes carried out abroad as seriously as those committed at home. It means recognizing that corruption takes more forms than just paying and demanding bribes and also treating white-collar criminals like criminals.
That, in turn, requires voters to demand such action from them.
If we truly want that warm glow of moral superiority -- and, more to the point, end a culture of corruption and complicity that hurts customers, society and the global financial and business infrastructure alike -- then we need to work at it. That means making our governments do their job.
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