This phrase is indelibly etched into my brain from my days riding the London Underground - and it has so many meanings.
Transparency International published their 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index last month, no surprises - poor nations are perceived to be more corrupt than rich nations. The authors of this survey are mostly of the top twenty nations, and their definition of corruption is very top-20 nation-ish. I was born in Tanzania (126th), and have spent time in some of the more "corrupt" parts of the world; I'm not saying that inequity and corruption are not present, I'm saying instead that there is a gap in the understanding of how things get done in the top-20 world vs. the rest of the planet.
How much would the list change if we added a new measure to the index - efficiency of outcomes? It would include tax rates, lobby/PAC spending, pork-barrel budgeting, government-led "preferential" spending, etc. It should also include the time it takes to get something done and the extent to which ethics and that nation's constitution are violated or flaunted by the government.
We in the "developed" world suffer from the arrogant righteousness of our way vs. "theirs", and measure others based on what we value, and not what they value. I wonder what would happen to the index if "tolerance and respect for others" was included?
American foreign policy is all about minding (or managing) the gap - it hinges on the premise that US success requires every "them" to look like "US" - it is more "Soviet" than the Soviets were. Like the Soviets, America prefers to use force as the first resort and diplomacy simply to manage perception - I wonder when President Obama will replace every American ambassador abroad with a US Marine General?
The NY Times published an article today that contrasts America's approach in Afghanistan (and elsewhere) to China's - it's an excellent read, I say this not just because it vindicates my recent post on Afghan redemption :-). Afghanistan is blessed with abundant natural resources; China (and India) recognize this and are doing something about it. The Americans in the article scoffed at China's overspending to win the contract, but how different is that from TARP in America (the overpayment is less than 1/10th of 1% of TARP, and equal to the cost of sending 1,000 troops to Afghanistan for a year)? From the article (my emphasis):
Nurzaman Stanikzai was a mujahedeen in the 1980s, using American-supplied arms to help drive the Red Army from his homeland. Today he is a contractor for M.C.C., building the Aynak mine’s electric fence, blast wall, workers’ dormitories and a road to Kabul.
“The Chinese are much wiser. When we went to talk to the local people, they wore civilian clothing, and they were very friendly,” he said recently during a long chat in his Kabul apartment. “The Americans — not as good. When they come there, they have their uniforms, their rifles and such, and they are not as friendly.”
The Chinese, meanwhile, have rebuffed requests to join the Afghan war effort, saying that national policy forbids military action abroad except as part of a peacekeeping force. Instead, China’s foreign policy is based on commerce. Its state-owned companies have been snapping up energy and mineral resources worldwide for years now, often by overwhelming competitors with lavish offers.
The Afghan government is seeking bids for its second great mineral project, a behemoth called Hajigak that is said to contain 60 billion tons of iron ore. There are seven finalists — all companies from India and China. M.C.C. is one of them.
China and India it seems have a foreign policy strategy, while America has foreign policy attitude.
According to BillShrink.com's analysis of the most profitable companies in the world, 2009 was a tough, tough year - aggregated profits for the top 100 dropped precipitously, lowest in at least the last five years. The top 6 are all oil companies, and together their profits totaled $163 billion; despite the tough economy, the United States is home to fully half the most profitable companies. I wonder which countries will host the most profitable companies at the end of the next decade?
Some gaps are shrinking and others widening... which ones are we minding?
Oh and the United States is ranked 19th least corrupt, China 79th, and Afghanistan 179th.