Jagdish Bhagwati is University Professor of Law and Economics at Columbia University and Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. A renowned expert on international trade, he has served in top-level advisory positions for the World Trade Organization and the United Nations, including Economic Policy Adviser to the Director-General, GATT (1991-93), and Special Adviser to the UN on globalization. He is the author of many books, including In Defense of Globalization.
NEW YORK – I just returned from India, where I was lecturing to the Indian Parliament in the same hall where US President Barack Obama had recently spoken. The country was racked by scandal. A gigantic, ministerial-level scam in the mobile-telephone sector had siphoned off many billions of dollars to a corrupt politician.
But several of the MPs had also been taken aback on discovering that when Obama spoke to them, he read from an “invisible” teleprompter. This had misled his audience into thinking that he was speaking extemporaneously, a skill that is highly regarded in India.
Both episodes were seen as a form of corruption: one involved money, the other deception. The two transgressions are obviously not equal in moral turpitude. But the Obama episode illustrates an important cross-cultural difference in assessing how corrupt a society is.
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