Corruption as a Virtue - Looking at the State of Affairs Prevailing

  0 comments   |     by By Moa Jamir on February 16 , 2017

Looking at the state of affairs prevailing in our society in the recent past, a measured conclusion can be drawn that corruption and self-interest have become a virtue in the Naga society. Corruption is a global phenomenon. Humankind since ‘time immemorial’ has failed to hit upon a perfect antidote to free itself from its menacing grip. Only the prevalence varies.

 Conceptions of virtue and corruption have been central in the study of politics and history since at least the time of Plato and Aristotle, Richard K Matthews wrote in his introduction to book, “Virtue, Corruption, and Self-interest: Political Values in the Eighteenth Century.” Adam Smith, regarded as the father of modern economics argued that, “unrestricted pursuit of individual self-interest would create a harmonious public order where the benefits of economic growth would trickle down to all members of civil society.” To be self-interested, in other words, simply means seeking maximum personal benefits, which Smith considered as the ‘invisible hand’ along with competition – a virtue while explaining his rationale for market economy.

 Corruption as an open secret in Naga society has been discussed ad absurdum and may prolong ad infinitum – as it is intricately embedded in every layer of the society. Anchored safely and complementing each other by the ample bosom of tribalism, political partisanship, patrimonialism and public complacency et cetera; any attempt to free ourselves from its encompassing shackles produces more predicaments like the mythical Pandora Box.

 In early 1960s, a Harvard University Scholar Nathaniel H. Leff argued that while corruption  (bureaucratic) in many underdeveloped countries were widely condemned by observers on moral as well as having important prejudicial effects on the economic growth, it can have beneficial effects.  “Bureaucracy plays an extensive interventionist role in the economy, and its consent or support is a sine qua non for the conduct of most economic enterprise,” he opined adding that it is all more important because of the necessity for bureaucratic help in so many areas like licenses, credit, or simply “to get anything done.” It can act as a direct incentive necessary to mobilize the bureaucracy for more energetic action and since payment of the highest bribes is one of the principal criteria for allocation, corruption also brings an element of competition through bidding among entrepreneurs, reduces uncertainty and increases investment, he added. Other theorists too explain that corrupt practices can actually result in economic growth, though a general consensus is that, it has overwhelmingly detrimental implications.

 In our context, a goodwill visit to legislators or bureaucrats is mandatory pre/post election or new posting. Often, processes and actions which can be construed as nepotism and favoritism otherwise become a normal practice in the administration and polity. A minister getting you a job, a departmental head enabling a ‘backdoor’ appointment or any ‘added services’ are neither derided nor viewed as an offence but goodwill gestures.

 Last week, in a popular Naga social media platform, one member posed a hypothetical question. “… An officer drawing a monthly salary of Rs. 1,50,000/- will earn Rs. 18,00,000/- annually… if he also has some other side income, say Rs. 10,000/- monthly, his annual side income will be Rs. 1,20,000/-… Therefore, his annual gross income will be Rs. 19,20,000/-. If that officer wants to buy a spacious land in some prime area and build a palatial building, he will need at least Rs. 2 crores.”

 The officer would need 16 years of savings to buy and build houses worth Rs. 2 crores, he concluded posing an open-ended question – “Can we just roughly measure ourselves whether our Govt Officers are accumulating wealth according to their earnings?”.  An invisible hand of the different kind.

 Thus, instead of looking at corruption and self interest as a vice in Naga society, is it time to consider it as a virtue? “Temptation succeeds temptation, and one compliance prepares us for another; we, in time, lose the happiness of innocence, and solace our disquiet with sensual gratifications,” goes a quote attributed 18th century English scholar Samuel Johnson.

 Let’s get lost in its sensuality.

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