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Why Are Eastern European Countries So Corrupt?

If you look at a map of Europe and superimpose Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index atop each country, you will see a very clear line demarcating Western and Eastern European states according to the perceived levels of corruption within.

Here is that image.

The blue and light blue states are considered the least corrupt in Europe. Yellow and orange are somewhere in the middle, while the various shades or red and pink denote European dens of iniquity - and corruption. What can I say about Romania's light pink? At least we're not as bad as the Serbs, Ukrainians, Moldovans, and, of course, the Russians, who seem to be unable to escape that trademark crimson red. Good ol' Russia.

You might think it has something to do with public sector wages, but, according to research comprising of data from the World Bank's Worldwide Bureaucracy Indicator and the Control of Corruption Index, this isn't necessarily the case:

"Are better paid civil servants less corrupt? Existing cross-country evidence tends to point toward a weak but negative relationship between corruption and the public sector wage premium (c.f. Van Rijckeghem & Weder 2001). Such an empirical link wouldn’t be surprising: economic theory suggests that the costs of corruption depend on the relative attractiveness of public sector jobs as compared to the private sector.

Interestingly, that is not what the data say: as the figure above shows, merging the WWBI and the World Bank’s Control of Corruption Index suggests that there is no relationship between the extent of corruption (indicated by lower Control of Corruption scores) and the public sector wage premium. On the one hand, this is a correlation and not an estimate of the causal impact. On the other hand, the absence of an association over such a wide range of wage premia suggests that—if there is a causal relationship—there must be some other important factors that move with the wage premium to offset its impact." -- Pamela Jakiela, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development (link here)

In not so many words, the data indicates that better paid civil servants are not less likely to be corrupt and that factors other than public sector wages contribute to the level of corruption.

The problem is we don't know what these 'important factors' might be. We can always assume, of course, which is what I'm going to do.

Here is another graph:

This Google Trends line chart is showing the popularity of three specific searches: 'Netflix', 'torrent', and 'free download'. Although 'free download' is somewhat ambiguous, depending on context, the legal standing surrounding the other terms is clear enough. But what does online piracy and Netflix have to do with corruption?

Quite a bit.

The point of intersection, where Netflix begins to overtake searches on torrents and free downloads, coincides with the 2016 worldwide expansion for the streaming service. If this particular chart were summed up, one could say it is a visual representation of the manner in which a legal service, in becoming readily accessible to the worldwide market, contributes to the decline of illegal online piracy.

In other words, when pirating content became more complicated than paying for content, demand for pirated content naturally plummeted. Nothing unusual about it. You can either worry about finding the right torrenting tool, setting it up, downloading the right file (at the right quality), hoping you get what is advertised (instead of a blank file, a mislabeled file, or a virus), or you can pay $10/month and never worry about any of those issues again while watching (almost) everything your heart desires in high definition and above board.

Eastern European countries are corrupt because they are not like Netflix and they don't offer their citizens a Netflix. What they provide is an old, inefficient, bureaucratic apparatus. They impose opaque laws, archaic processes, and, maybe most importantly, a lack of transparency with regards to the expected outcome(s). That is, the outcome, when interacting within this system, is very often unexpected. Or worse, unjust.

Again, in not so many words, Eastern European countries are corrupt because bypassing the law is often easier and more accessible than respecting legal processes.

Ever tried getting a building permit? It's ridiculously hard and time consuming. But grease a few palms and it becomes very easy. Want to open a new type of business, perhaps the first of its kind? You cannot, because anything not already defined by law is an automatic 'no'. But if you send generous gifts to the right people you'll have a new law in no time. Would you rather fill out your forms and just get to work on your project while skipping the whole bribing thing? Of course, because aside from it being illegal, it is downright humiliating, but so it goes.

There are obviously cases where corruption is clearly part of a larger, organized criminal endeavour, much like the way the PSD clan ran government. There are also cases where incompetent people don't know any better and find bribe taking to be easy solution. But I'd say that it is this Netflix/piracy analogy that best reflects the divide between East and West.

It is the difference between countries whose governments, for better or worse, work for their citizens to ensure a solid foundation from which to build up their societies,  and countries whose citizens are still treated like nothing more than cogs that should spin mindlessly in their spindle until they are ground up and replaced as the monolithic state continues to churn away in its indifferent march to nowhere, blind to a simple truth of human nature: The vast majority of us, if given the choice, will always choose what is easy. Something as critical to the success of a healthy, functioning society as operating within the boundaries of the law should always be easy.

Map image by SSYoung - Own work [1], CC BY-SA 4.0,


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