08 October 2010

Corruption Leaders/Followers

Happy Birthday, Sis! 

[More Jenial Thanks to Janine-Mendes Franco and Global Voices Online for posting My take on the FBI-led police corruption case.]

What does Us more damage: widespread corruption or stupid leaders? One could argue that stupid leaders "lead" to widespread corruption, or even that widespread corruption "leads" to stupid leaders. Hold those thoughts. For now, Let's just pick one or the other, as if the choice We made were totally separate. Widespread corruption or stupid leaders?

My vote is that widespread corruption does more damage than stupid leaders. Cynically, We've always had stupid leaders, but We've only had widespread political corruption since the Stupid (corrupt)Administration of the 1990s (which adds credence to the "they're both connected" theory noted above. Hold that thought.) We probably had widespread political corruption before then (depends on your definition of "widespread"), but We had notable cases of rampant corruption in the police force since the 1970s, so maybe We should take that into account.

It seems non-coincidental that Puerto Rico's socioeconomic decline is almost precisely matched to the 1968-1972 period, where a lamebrain (faux)governor packed the government with thousands more employees for three reasons: (1) to buy votes; (2) to make up for not having a damn clue about actually helping the Island prosper and (3) to buy votes. The expansion of government may have started a trend towards less accountability, which means greater chances for corruption, as evidenced by the police corruption cases of the early 1970s where the elite watchmen were nailed. When no one watches the watchmen, they plunge into corruption. In this case, stupid leaders launch the chance for widespread corruption.

But who was watching the leaders watching the watchmen? We were...not. The 1970s marked a fundamental change in local politics and the way Our democracy staggered forward. What was once a minority subject to a clear majority became the perceived--and thus actual--majority. In basic terms, the small government became the big government, and where once it was the government of the few for the many, it became the government run by many, led by few...ultimately for the few.

After 1968, the government quickly became the single largest employer on the Island. Day after day, the increase in jobs and pseudo-services fed the increasing tendency we have as boricuas to "wait for the government to do something," because the government was not only larger, it was closer, in the sense that more of Us were either in it or directly related to it by blood or friendship or patronage.

And where blood and friendship couldn't swing a service or fill a need, there was always patronage.

I said this before and it bears repeating: corruption is a matter of choice and if the perceived consequences are reduced, the chance for corruption increases. If you work at the Permits Office and you see one of your co-workers accept a bribe and get away with it, you might turn away in disgust. But if you see multiple instances of corruption with no penalties, you will reach a point where you think "Maybe I can do this, too" and then you make your ultimate choice. Human nature being what it is, risk-averse, when the risks are perceived to be acceptable, either because "no one is watching" or "everyone is doing it," then taking the plunge becomes much easier.

Now imagine what happens in a society where by vice of a huge government linking practically everyone on the Island, providing thousands of potential exchanges a day in a historically-stagnant economy, blindly electing the same double-handful of idiots to leverage their influence and hopefully benefit directly from it, saddled by an inferiority complex that greatly prefers a handout (or profitable shortcut, legal or not) to honest earning and increasingly bombarded by dozens of examples of widespread corruption a month?

You get Us.

We're a society that doesn't grow because We expect others to make Us grow. We're a society that doesn't make Our own changes because We expect others to make Us change against Our non-existent will. And thus We're a society where widespread corruption forces Us to live with stupid leaders. For no matter how stupid--or smart--a leader can be, widespread corruption cannot happen unless We as a society allow it. We can and have and will survive stupid leaders; We can and have but will not survive as a society with widespread corruption.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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