Corrupt: are we all or just the others?


Source: Portal Exame - São Paulo / SP - BLOGS - 09/12/2010

Author: Bolívar Lamounier

A Transparency International survey released today by Folha de S. Paulo shows that less than 6% of Brazilians admit to having practiced small bribes to obtain benefits from public health, education and tax agents. This tiny index places us alongside 23 other countries blessed by the patron saint of the honest.

The problem, according to the same survey, is that 64% of Brazilians think that corruption has increased in the last three years. In other words, there is almost no corruption, although we are almost all corrupt.

Discrepancies like this seem inevitable to me in this type of research - not so much because of their subjective character, but because the interviewee is asked for a somewhat embarrassing "confession" and then invites him to generically vituperate society's ills.

As today is the International Day to Combat Corruption, I will put my wooden spoon on the subject of corruption, reproducing excerpts from a text I wrote in 2007 for a seminar promoted by the ETCO Institute on the “culture of transgression”.

The media have recently been hammering the key to “amoralism” as they have spread across all social strata. That diagnosis sounds right to me.

In fact, millions of citizens do not even identify what is transgressive about certain transgressions; so many others view them with complacency or indifference, and many admit to having committed or to commit them frequently.

I even wonder if Brazilian society has simply jumped from a somewhat amoral pre-modernity (that of Portuguese colonialism) to a “modernity” that is also, only on a much larger scale.

A first point to emphasize is therefore the weakness of our normative order, that is, of our norms and values ​​as beacons for behavior in society. In fact, among us, guidelines and restrictions derived from tradition, family, religion or morals have never been very effective in inhibiting or curbing transgressive behavior.

It cannot be recalled that, in Brazil, Christian churches never exercised an authority over their flocks that was even remotely comparable to that which they displayed in Europe and the United States. I lack the competence to discuss whether the aforementioned weakness occurred due to the scarcity of material resources available to the clergy, the lack of vocations or in fact to the alleged absence of sin below the equator.

Another important point, whether we like it or not, is that corruption (transgressive behavior) has become widespread - this not only among us, everywhere - as the bad side of a currency whose good side is economic modernity: increased mobility social, the multiplication of opportunities, the growing access of the lower income groups to an infinity of goods and services.

In this perspective, this omnipresent transgression today is the secular version of the fall of paradise or, if you prefer, a perverse correlate to modernity. It is associated with the “desecration” of the world and the generalized legitimization of desire in motivating individual behavior.

In the 50s - the Panglossian era of “developmentalism” -, numerous intellectuals and politicians from all over Latin America believed that industrialization and urbanization would proceed without bumps and that the benefits of modernity would soon be distributed among the strata of society.

Two gross prediction errors. But the worst is that they also predicted or at least implicitly assumed that the outcome of such processes would be a well-integrated, peaceful society with substantially lower crime rates.

After half a century, if there is any shared perception among Brazilians, it is certainly that we have been achieved by history. The reality is that all of us, poor and rich, live in a society - as they say - anomic, frayed and shockingly violent.

But it is not fair to throw so much responsibility on the shoulders of sociologists and economists 50 years ago. If they projected a relatively painless trajectory, it was because they could not foresee the effects of four or five decades of industrialization, accelerated demographic growth, massive and highly concentrated urbanization in large metropolitan areas, fifteen years of “forced march” economic growth followed by a quarter of a century of near-stagnation, and three decades (from the early 60s to 1994) of virtually uninterrupted super-inflation.

How could all this have happened without further extending pre-existing poverty and social inequalities? How can we imagine a soft-landing, a smooth reintegration, in a society that has failed so many ruptures and contradictions?

But attention, attention. I definitely do not subscribe to the theory that sees crime as a direct consequence of poverty or income inequalities; or both combined with what I called the “desecration” of the world above. There are other variables at play.

What I am saying is that Brazilian modernization - for the reasons I summarized above -, was tremendously destructive to the social and normative fabric, even admitting its previous weakness in a country of colonial and slave formation.

To all that has been said so far, it is obviously necessary to add the role of the State. In theory, transgression must be controlled by preventive, dissuasive and repressive action by the State. But between the thesis and the reality there is in general a great distance. No state is 100% effective in this mission.

In Brazil, in addition to tolerating or not being able to prevent many harms, the State has directly or indirectly produced as many. In his role of applying laws (law enforcement), he has not been able to control the volume of transgressions, indeed, nor to prevent such behaviors from spreading. And I don't even have to stop at the porosity of the national territory to transgressive networks of extreme danger, such as drug trafficking. Or in the fact that the police bodies themselves, which are materially charged with restraining transgressive actions, are vulnerable to corruption in its numerous forms.

The tax burden and the high proportion of GDP it represents are also worth examining from the perspective of probable “transgressogenic” effects. Nobody is unaware that the current burden sterilizes enterprises and discourages entrepreneurs in all classes, restricts job creation and legitimizes, so to speak, tax evasion.

What about political corruption, clientelism and “state privatization”?

There are those who simply see current political corruption as a "survival" or "natural" extension of that old "patronage" of the countryside and rural areas, driven by ambitions that were generally content with naming the rural teacher or the postal agent.

Yes, of course, that old patronage partly survived. Its preferred habitat is today the periphery of large cities. In fact, when clientelism lost its rural bases, it became squalid as a source of political influence.

What was important in the second half of the 20th century, was that the State had become large as a buyer of goods and services; in this way, numerous positions and functions of ipso facto government have become levers of power and enrichment. The scale of operations has extended remarkably.

With pedestrian “stewardships” and the maintenance of office machines on the floor, and going through the eternal public works contract of the size of highways, ports and airports, it even today includes the contracting of exquisite services, such as direct administration advertising and state-owned companies.

With their keen nose, hundreds of pirates soon qualified to sail these new seas. Knowing the public machine like nobody else, they soon arrived in the archipelago of favors, government purchases, fraudulent bids and “unaccounted resources”.

Schematically, what I meant by the above comment was that, by breaking the barrier of underdevelopment, Brazil also broke what little it had of a normative order, and just started to build institutions and values ​​comparable, in this respect, to those of the more developed societies .

Most likely, the desired reintegration of society will happen - if it will happen - after an extended period of time. For this, higher levels of development will be a necessary, but not sufficient, condition.

Much will depend on the progressive reduction of social inequalities, the supply of opportunities, the strengthening of civilized standards of coexistence, a profound reorientation in the structure and way of acting by the State, and an unrelenting fight against drug trafficking and the resulting crime. .