Corruption is undermining the credibility of representative democracies. Let me insist, in dictatorships (religious, atheistic or in any other form), credibility does not matter much for obvious reasons; until the inevitable crisis arises and insiders stage a coup or violent revolution overthrows the regime. I am concerned with corruption in representative democracies because, if not eradicated, it can end up in dictatorship.
We can classify corruption in many categories; large or small, public or private, criminal or civil, etc.
Today I am interested in another type of corruption; legal corruption.
You may wonder, “how can you have legal corruption in a representative democracy, don’t representative democracies have separation of power to prevent corruption? How can laws allow corruption, it makes little sense, you will have to explain”.
I explain, legal, institutionalised corruption is when any level of government in a representative de democracy approves laws, procedures and policies that are corrupt because they violate the moral laws most citizens adhere to.
In representative democracies, you can also have a corruption of large segments of the population. This happens, for example, when the country has laws against, for example, nepotism, but most citizens think it is moral to employ in government their relative because “he is my brother, son, etc.”, although the person knows that by doing that he or she violates a clear law and regulation against such practices.
Such corruption is very common in the Mediterranean countries of Europe; I have first hand knowledge because I come from Spain. But I suspect the vast majority of countries of the World have much worse corruption than Spain in this regard.
Anyhow, today I will write about legal corruption.
What is legal corruption? Legal corruption happens when the politicians or the bureaucrats put in place laws, regulation or procedures that clearly favour a certain person, business or members of business association or professional association.
In legal corruption, the elected politicians approve laws that discriminate in favour of those who have influence on politicians. In legal corruption, not always the law is involved, often bureaucrats, with the approval of the politicians, put in place procedures favouring some at the expense of others, sometimes at the expense of most citizens.
Examples of legal corruption:
Laws that make it legally difficult for new companies to be set up and compete. For example, the politicians may make a law that makes it impossible for the public health system to provide medical doctors in sufficient number so that every citizen has a family doctor. Another example could be tariffs that are not put in place to protect the economic interest of the population, but the interest of a few organizations.
Such can be the case when the politicians pass laws that make it almost impossible for other companies to enter the market; such is the case when there is not much competition among the country’s telecommunication companies but foreign companies are not allowed to enter.
All of us know of many other cases in our countries of such legal corruption.
How such corruption be eradicated?
Elected representatives in representative democracies are unable or unwilling to tackle the problem.
Why would that be?, when they know from the media (although some media take part in a conspiracy of silence, or of minimisation and distraction, which is another type of corruption), that such legal corruption concerns most citizens.
Most people agree that such corruption is a problem but, because it is legal they do not know what they should do about it.
At election time, bribery and other types of illegal corruption may be an issue. Here, politicians launch fiery speeches on how they will eradicate it if they win the election. But we know all parties in power have corruption scandals. It does not matter who is in power, sooner or later, a bribery or other corruption will stain them. They may even lose the election because of corruption, but the new party in power will eventually have its own corruption scandal.
So, there is not much citizens can do about ordinary corruption; they can claim: ” we need honest politicians, enough of crooks”, but it does not matter because the system will always produce corrupt politicians. It is the system that is the root problem. Corrupt politicians are just the product.
Citizens at election time have many issues in their minds; they may decide to vote for the party with more corruption scandals because they feel that on other issues, it seems to be the more competent party. For example, a minister might have had to resign for taking a bribe, he or she may even go to jail, but most voters may decide that his party is the one that will do a better job on the economy, on education, on pensions, etc.
Representative democracy also works in a way that makes legal corruption practically inevitable.
This is how it works; in a representative democracy, the party in power, particularly if the same party makes up the executive and the majority in parliament, has too much power. It can practically pass any law or regulation it wishes to favour this or that business, industry or profession. Of course, they will also find lofty arguments to justify such laws; the health of the people, jobs, justice, national security, etc.
To win elections. to gain power, to win elections, in representative democracies, politicians and their parties also need money, lots of it. Here is where the lobbies with lots of money, and groups who can “deliver” votes, come into the picture.
Politicians need the money and the support of those powerful lobbies.
During the election campaigns, no party takes issue with a system they need to get elected. Their speeches are about justice, fairness, equal opportunity, equality, etc., but no party ever says: “if we get elected we will make it illegal for politicians and their staff to meet with lobbyists and to accept election help in the form of money or in kind, etc.”
They will not do that because to compete in elections, all politicians need the help of those powerful lobbies, although such lobbies do not represent most citizens.
But politicians also need votes, they need the votes of those who often suffers damages because the elected politician has to “return the favour” to the lobbies. As a result, political parties and politicians have become master manipulators; “how must we speak to voters so that they believe we will work for them, when we know often we will not do so”. This, in itself, is another form of legal corruption.
There is only one reliable way to fix the problem of legal or institutionalized corruption; give the people the power to stop any law, regulation or policy formulated by the politicians, and also give the people power to decide issues and propose new laws and changes to the constitution. In other words, make sure the politicians have less power than the people on any issue the people decide that they want to decide.
That is called direct democracy. Direct democracy practically eradicates legal corruption because it defangs the lobbies; no point for the lobbies to work hard on politicians because the politicians will not be able to deliver if a number of voters become angry enough that they will organise a popular and binding referendum on the issue.
In a direct democracy, the people have the power to propose new laws, laws that the politicians must enact. For example, in a direct democracy if the health system leaves many citizens without a family physician, the people can organise a binding referendum on a proposal to decide the government must do what it takes to ensure that every citizen has a family physician.
As a result, the politicians will have to pass laws, and regulations to make that happen. The solution could be to allow entry to any practising family doctor from another comparable country, or graduates from any country who can prove satisfactory medical training. The proposal could also state that professional exams for such people will be eliminated because most local physicians with years experience would not pass such extensive theoretical exams either. Alternatively, the proposal could state that the government must increase the number of graduates from the country’s universities so that in x years the problem would be eradicated.
Direct democracy is what they have in Switzerland; I suspect it is one factor that give Switzerland the best universal health care system, and more doctors per inhabitant than most other countries, as well as the shortest waiting times in the World for elective surgery and the shortest times to see specialists.
Telecommunications, air travel, how the legal system works, education, etc., all will benefit from direct democracy.
But the politicians of representative democracies, and the lobbies, dislike reducing the power of the politicians. This means you will have to fight to bring direct democracy to your country, just like the Swiss had to.
By the way, Switzerland is the country where the people trust the politicians the most.