Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Democracy as Anti-corruption

Matt Yglesias posted the other day on the problem China has in curbing corruption and he relates that to the lack of Democratic institutions. He attributes the relatively low level of corruption in the Western Democracies to our democratic institutions. In his words
Simply put, the main way that corruption gets exposed is through a combination of a free press and active, opportunistic opposition parties eager to make hay out of corruption scandals.
A succinct way of stating something true. Critical review and transparency are really the only effective way to uncover errors, whether due to accident or corruption.
One of the conservative arguments for expanded government police powers has been that if the prosecutors and police had an easier time arresting, questioning and trying people they could do a better job catching criminals. And actually that is true. They would be able to do a better job catching criminals. Unfortunately, they would also be able to keep their jobs and positions of authority while doing a really bad job of catching criminals by using the expanded powers to silence the folks who might be inclined to point out that they weren't doing their jobs. In fact, with much expanded powers the police and prosecutors would be in a good position to work with criminals, and yet keep their positions, because they could silence those who would object. This would make them even more powerful and wealthy. It would be lousy for us and beneficial for them. Any you know what. For all of the past five thousand years of human history, that is exactly the kind of thing people in authority did when granted extensive police powers. And that is why many people think it is a bad idea to expand the police powers of government to the extent that Conservatives wish.

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