Is America "the most corrupt" country in the world?
This statement in the affirmative by action star Jackie Chan has started an online storm, sparking more than 250 readers' responses on the Post website and heated discussions elsewhere.
I am quite intrigued. In substance if not in style, what he said is very similar to a speech the main character made at the end of British comic star Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator: "Imagine if America was a dictatorship. You could let 1 per cent of the people have all the nation's wealth. You could help your rich friends get richer by cutting their taxes and bailing them out when they gamble and lose. You could ignore the needs of the poor for health care and education. Your media would appear free, but would secretly be controlled by one person and his family.
"You could wiretap phones. You could torture foreign prisoners. You could have rigged elections. You could lie about why you go to war. You could fill your prisons with one particular racial group and no one would complain. You could use the media to scare the people into supporting policies that are against their interests."
An exaggeration, but basically true! OK, Cohen has a special genius for playing various buffoons, while Chan is a buffoon. Maybe Cohen's dictatorial character didn't mean it. But what he said is readily acknowledged and recognised by many people.
Chan was wrong to say "the most corrupt", but if he had said "a most corrupt country", then that becomes eminently debatable.
Here is what Simon Johnson, an MIT professor and ex-IMF chief economist, wrote: "The fact that our American oligarchy operates not by bribery or blackmail, but by the soft power of access and ideology, makes it no less powerful. We may have the most advanced political system in the world, but we also have its most advanced oligarchy."
And, of course, no one denies China is terribly corrupt, not least its ruling elite. Different countries and systems are corrupt in different ways. To me, there is no question that the political systems of the world's two largest economies are corrupt. The real question is: which system is resilient enough to self-correct without collapsing?