Monday, November 2, 2009

You Say Potato

With the troop levels in Afghanistan partly dependent on a stable Afghan government, there was lots (and lots) of jabber on the news today about how the Karzai regime and Afghans in general need to "be free of corruption" in order for the government to work. Am I the only one who finds this to be utterly ridiculous as a near term goal?

Wikipedia, for one source, goes into the many, many paths of political corruption and reminds us "In some nations, corruption is so common that it has gained normative status." meaning that pretty much all transactions occurring between two (or three) parties are contingent upon bribery, nepostism, cronyism, graft, kickbacks and the like. Forgive me, and correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Afghanistan one of those places that literally functions on the extra cash being funneled under the table?

When we ask for them to remove "corruption" from their government, who is defining the corruption? If the transaction involves a "normative" level of extra-legal grease that is so routine that it occurs when one buys coffee or fixes a bicycle, why would someone think it was odd to also require it for drawing government forms or getting a job? Now don't think that my incredulity here is in some way condoning corruption as a way of life or governing. I think removing corruption is a fine goal and especially necessary if the repressed and minorities have any hope of living a decent life. But I think corruption is defined much like pornography and speeding: anything more than what you do is illicit and crazy; anything less is amateur if not obstructionist. Corruption is a moving target. One could discuss its removal day in, day out for years but unless specific rules are laid down (fishing licenses cost $35, no more, no less, yes for you too), investigated, enforced, and treated seriously, it'll be business as usual.

Add to that, changing a normative behavior generally takes a generation. In the case of countries where the average age of the populace is less than 15, there's a hope this could cycle faster than ours where the average age is over 30 and a large number of voters are over 65. But it's not going to happen this year, next year, or during our next political cycle. And making demands for reform to happen now, Now, NOW! just strikes me as being infantile and pandering. But I guess jabber about setting up incentives to strive for measurably reduced corruption years from now doesn't lead the infotainment headlines. And may not even be something we ever have any say in, if the government actually resumes autonomy.

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