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Who Beats Corruption?

Corruption undermines the quality of life for people around the world, not only in poor countries. The US currently is witnessing several corruption scandals. Even America’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, responsible for providing relief after natural disasters and man-made catastrophes, was in the hands of inept political cronies rather than professionals. When hurricane Katrina struck America’s Gulf Coast, that incompetence proved fatal.

All societies require an effective government that can provide vital and irreplaceable public services and infrastructure. Thus, governments are invested with unique powers, especially the powers of policing and judicial control. But these powers are also readily abused. How, then, to ensure that governments are law-abiding as well as strong?

The best answer, both in theory and practice, is to find ways to hold governments accountable to the people that they serve. Elections are obviously one method, though campaign financing can be a source of corruption. Politicians around the world trade favors for cash needed to win elections, and they often use that cash to buy the votes of desperately poor people.

Clear electoral rules and procedures can help ensure transparency, but accountability also comes from the broad society in between elections. Privately owned newspapers, independent radio and television networks, trade unions, churches, professional societies, and other groups within civil society provide a bulwark against despotism.