When it comes to corruption, the world can clearly be divided into three parts. “Heaven” and it takes no guessing what part of the world that is: the Nordic countries. “Hell”, basically authoritarian countries and failed or failing states. Venezuela, Somalia, North Korea, and Afghanistan, among others, belong in this corner. The rest of the world comes somewhere in between. The Corruption Perceptions Index 2012, released by Transparency International on Wednesday, is an exercise in such a classification. The index has both a rank—which is a relative measure for comparing different countries—and a score ranging from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). In the 2012 index, 176 countries have been ranked.
It is interesting to see where India is ranked. The country has a rank of 94, climbing one rank from 2011 when it stood at 95 out of 182 countries. In 2010, India was placed at 87 out of 178 countries. The scores for different years are not strictly comparable.
For complex societies like India, battling corruption—it goes without saying—is a herculean task. There is no “one-shot” solution—such as a strong anti-corruption law that Indian activists so believe in—that can tackle the menace. A strong anti-corruption law, for example, may help to an extent but it certainly can’t go all the way.
There are, however, pointers on what can be done. A look at the data from the 2012 index itself gives some hints. In countries that are ranked in between “heaven” and “hell”, basically the middling order in which those such as India are located, the nature of the government—statist or liberal—makes all the difference. Consider the score (0, highly corrupt, 100, very clean) and draw the line at roughly 50. A cursory glance at the list reveals that countries with a score higher than 50 are largely liberal, free market, economies, those below 50 mostly statist. India has a score of 36 and is clearly in the statist direction.
Given the nature of the public debate on checking corruption, India is going in the wrong direction: more laws and greater regulation. Perhaps a rethink is in order here.
How far can a strong anti-corruption law help in checking the menace of corruption?