The Corruption Perceptions Index

The countries with the lowest rates of corruption, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index  for 2011 (the only source of its kind).

Other countries in the top 10 include Canada, Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. The US ranks 24. Note that countries with big governments can be found all across the spectrum, from cleanest to most corrupt. Many of the world’s most secular societies also rank highly as well.

I think Canada and Australia are particularly impressive in their performance, since they’re far more populous, diverse, and geographically large than the others that rank highly. The trend seems to be that countries which homogeneous, small, and demographically compact tend to be less corrupt. But of course, it’s far more complex than that, and many other factors contribute.

Public Service

A few days ago, I was walking through Overtown, a rough and mostly Black part of town that everyone in faraway suburbia – myself once included – seems to fear even driving by. I felt oddly at ease, and most residents were friendly, if not a little perplexed at my presence (a lot of people asked what I was up to or where I was going, in a mix of politeness and curiosity). After all, how often do they get outsiders, especially from the more well-off and insular suburbs?

At one point, I was approached by a casually dressed but well-kempt man who shook my hand and welcomed me to the neighborhood. He was sincere and professional. He apologized for the litter lining the sidewalks and assured me he’d get it clean right away. He eventually introduced himself as the city official responsible for administering the area, and wished me a pleasant visit. I wish I had remembered his name, but I think I was too shocked by the revelation.
This man wasn’t what we imagine a public official to be, especially in these cynical times. He wasn’t in a crisp suit working in some cloistered high-rise office. He looked and behaved like the common man, walking the streets of his neighborhood with his constituents, wishing them well and exhorting them to clean up after themselves. I saw him directing others to tidy up the area, partaking in the dirty work himself without hesitation.
I couldn’t have asked for a more inspiring encounter. I know it’s not much to go by, but I still feel hopeful that there are good people out there working for the public good. I hope I can be one of those people some day.

Justice on Wall Street

Over at JW Gray’s Thoughts, my friend James raises some valid concerns about the lack of true justice against the regulators and bankers who knowingly – or at best with great negligence – engaged in shady practices that precipitated the worst economic crisis in decades. It’s a sobering testimony to the systemic nature collusion and venality in our political and financial systems (which often overlap far more than they should).

No question that no one in wall street seems to be going to jail for harming the economy, but were any crimes even committed? Some people don’t think so. For example, Obama said that the banks didn’t commit any crimes. Even, so there is ample evidence that there are wall street crimes that are not being appropriately punished:

First, we have reason to think fraud was involved when banks were buying and selling mortgage securities. In fact, a hedge fund company is suing Goldman Sachs for “purposely unloading $93 million in mortgage-backed securities it knew to be junk onto a client, then betting against those same securities in the lead-up to the financial crisis.”

Second, the Senate concluded after a two year investigation that “Goldman Sachs, the nation’s fifth-largest bank by assets, systematically misled clients, sold them financial instruments it knew to be junk, bet against them and profited off of their losses.”

Third, there’s a revolving door at the SEC, the government organization in charge with investigating banking & accounting crime. SEC investigators who are “soft on crime” against companies they investigate are likely to find great jobs at those companies later on.

Fourth, the SEC has been destroying records involving fraud investigations.”A whistle blower says the agency has illegally destroyed thousands of documents, letting financial crooks off the hook.”

Fifth, the SEC rarely brings any criminals to court and instead settle out of court for pennies on the dollar. The SEC has been charged with being soft on crime.  In fact, Goldman Sachs was accused of securities fraud and had the largest settlement with the SEC in our entire history–$550 million–which is just a few days worth of profits for the company. Additionally, Citigroup was recently charged with selling toxic mortgage debt and was going to settle with the SEC for merely $285 million, but a judge blocked the settlement for being an inadequate punishment.

Fifth, less financial crime is prosecuted under the Obama administration than we’ve seen in a long time. Bush Jr. was known for being soft on financial crime, but he still had more financial prosecutions while he was in power.

There’s a lot going on not mentioned here, but this is a start.

Much of what I said here was also discussed in The Young Turks’s Youtube video found here.

It’s tough to enforce justice when the institutions responsible are either too weak or too compromised to do it effectively. I honestly can’t say I’m optimistic about achieving legal recourse and reform. But there’s always a glimmer of hope, especially as more people get wind of this.