Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Washington Corruption, doing the "third world" proud.

Here is the latest corruption scandal in which Congresswoman Eleanor Norton-Holmes records herself begging for money from people who are working on the government projects she "handles." With my previous post about cop corruption I think I may turn this topic into a semi-regular feature. Americans are famous (infamous?) for preaching "good governance" to the rest of the world, and particularly to poorer or non-Western nations. But unless such messages are coming from a credible source they will, rightly, be ignored.

South Korea is famous for corruption between big business and government. Koreans hate it. But the manner in which this corruption is reported in the Western media, and even in the Korean media, fails to give much needed context. Unlike in most Western nations, Korean citizens by and large expect their governments to provide leadership in all facets of society, including the economy. This means that there is a normatively much closer relationship between government and business leaders than exists elsewhere. Think Korea Inc. And because of this close relationship drawing the line between what is corrupt and what is not can be exceedingly difficult. Compounding this problem is the character of business relationships in Korea. The first thing any business man learns when trying to work in Korea is that Koreans have a very relational, as opposed to legalistic, view of how to conduct business, make contracts, etc. Obeying the letter of the law, as opposed to the obligations that arise from a relationship-formed over many bottles of Soju, is not high on the priority list of most Korean businesses. Again, in this kind of context, how do you start defining corruption?

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