Sunday, June 04, 2006

Old-style corruption better?

Thats the title of the editorial in Down To Earth magazine of May 15, 2006. The editor, Sunita Narain, argues that given a choice between the legalized 'lobbying' system of the US and good old under-the-table-cash bribing system of India, she had prefer the latter. Her reasons being that while both systems hold democratic processes hostage, bribes are at least vulnerable to being exposed but the lobbying system is law-proof!

On first thought, the idea of someone endorsing bribing and corruption seems outrageous, but if you think carefully she probably has a point. The editorial lists a bunch of instances (in the realm of environment affairs) where corporate interests have influenced legislation negatively. And many more come to my mind.

For starters, lets talk about healthcare in the United States. The fact that the US does not have universal healthcare seems to come as a surprise because almost every American you meet would rather have it. I have no references to cite, but I take the liberty to assume that it is the insurance lobby which manages to ensure that things stay the way they are. It seems to be an insult to democracy that something that nearly all voters would want cannot materialize because the election campaigns of their political representatives are being payrolled by elements that want the contrary.

I might be stretching my imagination to say that the US' foreign policy and constant overseas military activity too is affected by lobbying groups of arms manufacturers, military contractors and multinational businesses. Or maybe its not such a stretch.

Some might argue that the American way (of influencing policy), even if not right, is at least legal. I guess this is a tough one to debate, given the fact that the laws that make it legal have been written by law-makers who were susceptible to the influence. Constitutionally, would it be an ideal state of affairs if market interests are structurally separated from the state (in the same way like religion is separated from state)? Practically, this would mean payrolling election campaigns through public funds and ensuring that law-makers are insulated from business interests. Has this ever been tried anywhere?

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