Monday, November 13, 2006

Brit State Corruption

Italy is rated much more corrupt than the UK. But Brits are forced to pay their ruling elites much more than Italians pay theirs. And, unlike Italians, Brits get little in return for their money.

Here's how Transparency International defines corruption:

The CPI focuses on corruption in the public sector and defines corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain. The surveys used in compiling the CPI ask questions that relate to the misuse of public power for private benefit, with a focus, for example, on bribe-taking by public officials in public procurement. The sources do not distinguish between administrative and political corruption or between petty and grand corruption.
And here are some of the
latest rankings (the higher the CPI, the less corrupt):

Country2006 CPI

So why is corrupt Italy is a nicer place to live than the un-corrupt UK?

For example, corruption is said to deplete social capital (trust), and yet in many ways Italians trust each other more than Brits do. For example, while driving through the countryside we're often stopped by ladies looking for a ride to the next town. This is an example of how reciprocity builds social capital - the lady gets her shopping done more quickly, and our reputation in the community is enhanced and her many relations do us small favors.

Such an exchange is unthinkable in the supposedly un-corrupt and trusting UK. More generally, Italians (like Americans) routinely exchange small gifts and favors, building networks of reciprocity. Brits usually don't, so often struggle to blend with Italian society (Americans we know there found it much easier).

Or take the latest travel restrictions. At the request of the UK, the EU has now decreed passengers can't take more than 100 milliliters units of fluid through airport security, and these must fit in a small transparent plastic bag. So you can only take on board wine provided you buy it from government licensed concessions after clearing security. This confers zero security benefits but adds to state revenues.

The UK enforces this rule rigorously - a friend had to hand over an expensive bottle of wine he was carrying as a gift. But Italian airport security waved Mrs G through with her large bottle of freshly milled olive oil. That's because they know the rules are silly. (Plus you'd need air cover to part an Italian from their fresh olive oil).

So the airport security rules are a form of corruption. No Brit pol benefits directly, but tax revenues are increased for zero value, and those revenues feed the pols. I term this "institutionalized corruption".

Here's another example. Blair's government licenses organizations to set speed traps for motorists. The revenue is shared between government and the trapper. This provides the trappers with an incentive to maximize returns by using hidden cameras, or by positioning them immediately after recently changed (and poorly posted) speed limits. This is a lucrative business - some trappers even use license plate readers to track vehicles entering and leaving freeways so they can be billed for any average speed over the limit. There's little public good in this - road accidents are minimized by placing cameras visibly at accident back spots. And the more successful the camera in deterring speeding, the lower its revenue.

Another example is the Blair government's attempt to manipulate the global warming debate. They've announced plans to tax a range of CO2 generating activities, from SUVs, through budget airlines, to (even more) tax on gas. To back that up, they commissioned a report to stop the debate on global warming. But since it's junk science, it's been comprehensively demolished (both articles are well worth a read). Here's the Brit elite's response:

On Thursday, Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, compared climate skeptics to advocates of Islamic terror. Neither, she said, should have access to the media.
Institutional corruption doesn't just seek more taxes - it works to stop debate that might lead to it being ejected from office. For example, the ongoing stream of terror attacks has made Brits increasingly hostile to their Muslim guests. The Blair government gets votes from Muslims, and fears a nationalist party will erode its non-Muslim base. So it tries to shut this party down.

It has twice prosecuted a Brit nationalist pol for saying that Islam was "a wicked, vicious faith". They alleged racial discrimination, but since Islam is not a race, the guy was acquitted. Here's the response of Blair's expected successor:

New legislation may have to be introduced after the leader of the far-Right British National Party was cleared of stirring up racial hatred.

Pledging a legislative rethink on the issue, the Chancellor said: "Any preaching of religious or racial hatred will offend mainstream opinion in this country and I think we have got to do whatever we can to root it out, from whatever quarter it comes.", Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, said last night.
Criminalizing political speech would dump centuries of English common law.

So the Brit political elite is institutionally corrupt - it uses deception and censorship to maximize the tax revenues it feeds off, and seeks to prevent dissent that could eject it from office.

Brit institutional corruption is not reciprocal - Brits gain nothing from being trapped by hidden cameras, forced to buy expensive wine, or taxed to solve non-existent problems.

Compared with this, the Italian pol who accepts a bribe to give you a building license is positively benign - you get what you pay for.

Unfortunately, all three Brit political parties are similarly corrupted, so it'll be a while before the voters throw the bums out.

In the meantime we're spending our money with the wonderful and humanly corrupt Italians.