The failed nations of the world victimize the people who live in them and put the rest of us at risk. Basket cases like Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are often linked to carnage and chaos, sometimes within their borders and often beyond.
The reasons why countries fail are complex. But among the causes is corruption. It subverts the rule of law and undermines the institutions of government. As we’ve said before, when politicians, bureaucrats and judges are for sale, those with money and power ravage the rights of those whose pockets are empty. Without honest and independent leaders, ordinary citizens lose the certainty of their legal, political and economic freedoms. They become mere victims without recourse or remedy.
In her brilliant speech, “Freedom from Fear,” Burma’s Aung Sang Suu Kyi said this: The effort necessary to remain uncorrupted in an environment where fear is an integral part of everyday existence is not immediately apparent to those fortunate enough to live in states governed by the rule of law. Just laws do not merely prevent corruption by meting out impartial punishment to offenders. They also help to create a society in which people can fulfill the basic requirements necessary for the preservation of human dignity without recourse to corrupt practices.
She was talking about Burma but could have had in mind dozens of other countries that have replaced ballots with bribes.
What countries today fall into that category? Foreign Policy magazine’s July / August edition contains its 2008 Failed States Index. The bottom ten countries are Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Chad, Iraq, D. R. Congo, Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, Pakistan and the Central African Republic. Then come Guinea, Bangladesh, Burma, Haiti and North Korea. It’s no coincidence that those countries also rank at the bottom of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, or CPI. Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s Burma, for example, sits 12th worst on the Failed States Index and next-to-last (behind Somalia and tied with Iraq) on the 2008 CPI. No wonder she knows so much about the link between corruption and fear.
Complying with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in order to stay out of trouble with the SEC or DOJ is always a good idea. Beyond that, refusing to become part of the corruption in any country is also the right thing to do — for the good of the people who live there and for the rest of us.