Political corruption impedes innovation in science and technology

26 02 2015

In Mediterranean countries like Spain we are very used to corruption in the public authority. In recent years, when economic crisis brought about the scarcity of resources, many specific situations of corruption that previously were generally ignored have emerged to the public domain. It has become widely acknowledged that while a substantial part of citizens live with meager means, close to poverty, a vast deviation of public resources occurred to specific private or even personal interest. This realization has caused great scandal and maybe there will be some political upheavals as a result of this. For example the members of governing board of former public bank CajaMadrid (transformed into Bankia), were using limitless black credit cards for personal needs, while the bank they managed costed a finnancial rescue of some 30,000 million euro (yes, 40 billion dolars), that all citizens have had to suport, willing or not. The expenses of this particular issue are just a few milions but they are highly representative of the operation of Spanish politics, since all parlamentary parties were involved in the abuse, and only 3 out of 100 board members refused to use the irregular credit cards.

Indeed it must be said, that this problem has been known by everybody more or less. Historically these attitudes were regarded quite normal. Corruption is the normal way of doing politics in a dictatorships, as the one Spain enjoyed between 1939 and 1975.  We thought democracy would cretae cleaner politics with time, but this has not happened. In afacts these ways were easily tolerated in the recent decades, and people that commited these abuses was routinely reelected for office. The widspread belief was that anyone that you put in the office will do it, so we have to leave up to it. And when it is your turn, seize the day…

But now, beyond the natural reaction of indignation that the massive scale of corruption is producing, many people is recognizing that widespread corruption is a real cancer to the res publica (the public domain), that substantially degrades many aspects of life, not only moraly but also practically. Indeed corruption creates deep malfunctions in the mechanisms of a modern society. For example, it has become widespread in Spain to talk about “revolving doors”, which means that prominent politicians, when leaving office, become advisors of the megacompanies in the country (energy, telecom, …), so that they help with their connections to produce benign legislation and flavourous contracts. Such companies are few and they manage a lot, so a subtantial part of the economy is controlled by connections between a few partnerships of politicians and company managers. Often invoked benefits of free market and competition are just an ideal that is far from suceeding . Naturally all extra costs, and the loss of potential progress by less connected entrepeneurs, are finally supported by all citizens that barely have a chance to know what is going on behind the scene, as the whole system of public life is implicated in these ways. Undoubtedly this system impoverishes the economic and productive power of the citizens, in favor of the blessed casta.

While these debates are taking a growing share of public discussions, they are open to opinion and mood and the amount of damage is difficult to quantify. However, an excellent paper in Nature has done just this, which is to show the strong correlation between the level of control of corruption and the innovation in science and technology that the country actually produces. Just have a look at it.


Corruption: Good governance powers innovation

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi

18 February 2015



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