Corruption and development


Source: Valor Econômico - 02/05/2011

I begin the collaboration on this page feeling honored and, also, anxious to contribute to a respectful debate between positions that may be divergent. Without disagreement, debate is difficult; without respect, it is impossible. I propose today an issue that I know is burning, that of corruption. I grew up, believing that corruption and underdevelopment went together. Some thought that Brazil was underdeveloped, because it was corrupt; without getting to that, I considered our country corrupt, because it was underdeveloped. But is it really so?

Because, worldwide, we see that the richest and most developed countries also show a lot of corruption. Neither I, nor any entity that studies corruption, has consistent data on its real dimension. Even the most used indicator, that of Transparency International, speaks of perception of corruption. It is possible that major corruption goes unnoticed. We may never know about it. When the Government portal revealed spending on corporate cards, even the ones that caused the most outrage were minor; certainly, big corrupt people leave no clue. But, in any case, what is read about the most developed nations, with the exception of Scandinavian countries, points out astounding scandals. Let's not just talk about Berlusconi's Italy, Chirac's France, the accusations against former Spanish prime ministers or the 1976 Dutch crisis, when it was learned that the queen's husband had received a bribe from Lockheed. Let us focus on the American invasion of Iraq and the contracts it has provided.

Corruption is not just delay, because it exists in rich countries

In 2003, I was teaching at the University of Maryland. On your College Park campus, I saw a debate about the impending invasion. An advocate explained that it would cost taxpayers nothing because it would be paid for with Iraqi oil. Never before had I seen a thief being so explicit. But the truth is that not only was Iraq's black gold delivered to whom the invaders wanted, but the United States budget was bled to the bone. However, complaints of benefits to companies linked to the then US vice president did not lead to any more demanding investigation. By comparison, the fact that Chirac, in France, and those suspected of us by the PT's monthly allowance, are indicted today, is a significant differential, although many believe that none of this will result in convictions.

Or let's think historically. One of the phases of greater economic development in the United States, the end of the XNUMXth century, is also the heyday of “robber barons”, thieving barons, a nickname given to industrialists and financiers who had no qualms about dealing with employees, suppliers, competitors and the tax evasion. Its indecent practices did not prevent the country from growing economically.

I consider it very good that, in our days, movements advocate for a business environment marked by honesty. Having ethical guarantees is essential - sustains André Franco Montoro Filho in a well argued article from the book “The culture of transgressions”, edited by ETCO - for capitalism to work. I hope he is right. But I think this is just a form of capitalism, which has not worked at all times or in all places. It is certainly preferable for society as a whole; it must improve the lives of employees, competitors, especially small business owners, and the role of the state. But that does not mean that this is necessarily the dominant tendency of capitalism.

Does this mean that we must resign ourselves to corruption? No way. However, first, we must not confuse their perception with their reality. Today, the good news is that corruption is reported more than under the dictatorship. But that does not mean that the exception regime was more honest - just that it was more difficult to discover and report the misuse of public money. Society is more demanding. It is necessary that both the organs of Justice and the press improve their means of identifying and reporting acts of corruption. But there is also a second aspect that we must point out.

It is often heard today that being ethical adds value. In certain cases, it is true. The company that promotes a recall, the governor who corrects a policy, the journalist who acknowledges an error may suffer a negative impact on his image in the short term, but after that they gain greater confidence from their respective public. They lose at retail, they win at wholesale. Our time values ​​these behaviors, and that is a good thing. Only politicians, companies and newspapers also profit from, shall we say, less orthodox practices. From the examples of good practices, we cannot infer that ethics is always good business. Because it is not always. And, above all, it shouldn't be business.

There is no ethics without the risk of injury and failure. When we preach that ethics is advantageous or even profitable, we forget that it is often not. “Today, to be ethical, sometimes you have to be a hero,” says a character in John LeCarré's novel “The House of Russia”. Not all of us will have the stuff or disposition for heroism. But we must recognize that the reasons for fighting corruption and ensuring fairness in politics, the economy and society are, after all, really ethical. Fighting corruption to improve the economic environment is very good, but it is not enough. Promising young people - businessmen, politicians or journalists - a world that is both profitable and decent is taking the risk of not strengthening their moral fiber. When you have a choice, will you know how to do it? Will they have the courage to face the damage that decency sometimes requires?

Renato Janine Ribeiro is a professor of ethics and political philosophy at the University of São Paulo.