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  • Jul 29, 2014
  • Updated: 1:55pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 December, 2012, 3:14am

There's no perfect cure for corruption

I must go to Finland sometime - to tour and learn. As a society, it seems to get many things right.

Its students rank top in the latest Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. South Korea is second and Hong Kong third. But their education system is much more relaxed; so maybe students can achieve the same skills without the grill and drill every day of their young lives, as they do here and in Korea. Japan and Singapore - two other all-study-no-joy countries - come after us.

Finland also ties with Denmark and New Zealand as the world's most corruption-free places, based on findings in the annual Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International.

Granted, corruption is an elastic concept, but Transparency's annual study is the closest to a commonly accepted global reference. And its rankings come with some surprises. Or rather, they are only surprises to our bash-China-first brigade who out of ignorance or prejudice, just assume the mainland is the most corrupt and brutal country in the world. Actually, the Chinese are not even close, and well ahead of some democracies in Asia.

China ranks 80th, cleaner than Thailand (88) and India (94). The Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia are not even in the top 100. All except Vietnam are Asian democracies. Non-democratic Hong Kong is 14th, ahead of Japan (17), the United States (19), France (22), Spain (30), Taiwan (37) and South Korea (45). I am not denying the mainland has a serious corruption problem but let's have some perspective.

This doesn't stop Elizabeth Economy, of the Council on Foreign Relations, taking another shot at China: "180,000 mass demonstrations annually by most recent count; and an outflow of money through corruption, crime, and tax evasion as high as US$3.72 trillion over the past decade ... Is Xi Jinping up to the [anti-corruption] task?" India has tens of thousands of mass protests each year too, many of which are far deadlier; and the scale of its pervasive corruption relative to the size of its economy is, according to Transparency's index, worse than China.

Without good institutions and well-regulated markets, democracy is no panacea.

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megafun
democracy & corruption seems to have liitle relationship, as one observe Thailand laying behind China in this table!! maybe, its an educated popullation with a good legal system that really matters.
whymak
Though many will agree with you on a gut level, including yours truly, there are many problems with your statement. Fine, you are free to define democracy narrowly as a country using elections to choose leaders. But you still haven't defined corruption, let alone measuring it. Moreover, the corruption index should not be used in any serious discussion because it may be mathematically absurd.
Running a political economy is not all that different from managing a business. Good management means measuring risks against expected returns and analyzing costs vs. benefits. That means we have to quantify entities, in particular their variances.
Last but not least, we must avoid drawing conclusions using only one or two points from a data set, which is often the case with editorialized reports in mass media.
whymak
The corruption measure you talk about is actually a perception index. It posts a problem for someone with knowledge in math.
If you ask someone to rank an issue with an ordinal number, say from 1 to 10, and then sum up scores for all issues of one country in an opinion survey, you turn it into a cardinal number, from which you assign a ranking. That becomes gibberish. The difference between intervals 4-5 and 5-6 cannot be treated as equivalent values. Unfortunately all opinion surveys are done the same way. This is the wonder of social sciences.
Let us talk broadly about everything in equilibrium. You will see shortly why corruption is only one of many forces of a system in equilibrium.
In a human organism, if you focus on eliminating cancer, you must suppress all mutation. Nature doesn’t allow us to achieve this self-destructive feat because if we all have exactly the same set of genes, the human race could be wiped out by a single epidemic.
Corruption arises out of necessary exceptions to get things done and to guarantee system or group survival. A nation with absolute rule of law fanatics like inspector Javert in Victor Hugo’s novel is unlikely to survive and prosper.
Depending on the objective, there is actually an optimized amount of corruption defined by a nation’s laws (constraints), dynamics and initial conditions. Doctrinaire corruption indices or anecdotes are unlikely to be informative or useful.
shouken
Jackie Chan had it right. HK has turned into "a city of protest.” Perhaps the self-righteous HKers are capable of running a tiny city. If they are to run China, using their beloved democratic way, China will turn into a Protest Empire. Thank God we don't have these HKers running the Mainland! They will be far more inept than the so-called communists.
wwong888
how do i get a column in the scmp, so i can publish my daily brain f-a-r-t like alex lo? or how about that peter kammerer guy who said we should just tear down the border fence with china. jesus. SCMP editor - are you listening? can you hire some real journalists please?
whymak
"how do i get a column in the scmp?" Easy, if you could past the first step. Try to become literate. So far you have demonstrated zero reading comprehension. If Hong Kong's universal suffrage requires a literacy test, youn won't be allowed to vote.
pslhk
Readers like ww88 may not write and read but they enable many like Frank C, T Netherland, S Wild make a living ditching garbage to please their taste.
babyhenry
Go read Apple Daily. Its a fantastic newspaper made for the mass semi educated bigoted zombies of Hong Kong, why don't you join them and start an english version for Apple Daily. I am sure your f-a-r-t will smell better than Alex & Peter who knows it might be Jimmy Lai's next big thing.
ianson
Mr Lo, you are in China and China is the most populous state on the planet, hence you hear more about corruption here than in Vanuatu and Colombia. It's not China-bashing; it's because China matters a tidge more than Vietnam, no disrespect meant to them. We are indebted to you, on the other hand, for emphasising our non-democratic status in Hong Kong. It is this very fact that makes us particularly vulnerable to sliding 64 places down the scale to join the ignominy of China as a whole. Your piece, as usual, lacks any foundation in logic and delivers absolutely the wrong message. The true message is that we should be proud that we are still in a class distinctly superior to China and most other nations in terms of our resistance to corruption heretofore.
babyhenry
Seriousily did you missed the part where plenty of democracies are much more corrupted then HK is? If so how does it makes us much more less likely to slip to join the ignominy of China as a whole if we can vote?
My apologies, where is the foundation of your logic?
The only thing i can agree with you is our resistance to corruption, which I find have much more to do with the Education we had and our success of seperating Government and Courts, intead of an overly simplistic reason of "democracy".

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