15 February, 2015

Legalizing Corruption

Sitting idly on a silent summer night, my mind goes back to the boy who was asked to bribe a “policewaalaa” 4 years ago. Now that the elections are done and the country has elected its champion, I ask one of the evangelist’s supporters why they love him so much.

‘He tells his bureaucracy to get the work done, when they take bribes. It’s at least better than other states where you pay bribes and still can’t get the job done.’

It felt equally astonishing and fantastic to me that we’ve arrived in an age where giving bribes is a for-granted absolute which everyone knows and no one minds. It’s something which an economist would eloquently describe as “tax”. But of all people, economists understand the costs of taxation.

The premise of taxes are to build a civilized society. Each penny of tax which reduces the country’s economy, has to be compensated by producing goods and services which citizens can take as their own as a whole. At some point, wealth, not goods and services, came to be seen as a measure of civilization and taxes were levied on the rich to help the poor. Later, civilization came to be understood by equality, not of opportunity but in living conditions, and taxes meant helping those who were in need. But no economist was appointed to lay the definition of need. And we came to live in a country when one is “needed” to pay to prove his innocence. Irrespective whether a crime has been committed or not.

But this new leader. He promises that you will be granted your share of space when you pay. Once you pay the tax, you’re entitled to what you bought. I wonder, is this just a way of legalizing corruption? The activists may have their day fasting in the scorching sun. But to me, to the bribe-payer, the bribe is nothing but an additional tax. The only difference being that my income tax doesn’t hurt my conscience and bribe does. But why should it? After all, it’s going in to the same pocket. Yes, the income tax gives me a fair amount of paperwork to prove that my debt to the nation has been paid. An equal amount of paperwork goes in to allow that debt to be paid to someone else’s account, who really doesn’t give a damn about national welfare. The bottom-line remains, that both legal taxes, and bribes are extorted by the same means for the same end. So why should I be ashamed of one if not the other?

An argument which comes to my mind is that the policy-makers have not prescribed bribery. That’s what makes it immoral. I have 2 arguments against that. Who are these policy makers? The people responsible for leading the country to a staggering rate of inflation and unemployment? Even a novice like me understands that the economy is in distress and it’s only a matter of time when it collapses. Secondly, who cares what these policy-makers have prescribed in theory? As long as I have to pay to keep the motor of my life running, I don’t care if I’m paying what is prescribed or more.

My mind goes back to a time when I was running late to catch a train and I had no time to buy a ticket. My alternative was to bribe the official to allow me to board the train. At that point, I wished corruption was legal. It would be convenient to simply bribe the TC without worrying about his morality and principles. I wished bribery were just like another transaction where I could simply buy the corruption I required. And I found nothing wrong with that. As long as a man is willing to pay for a service up for sale, why should he be denied of it? The only question which remains is, is the service really on sale? What is “to sell?"

Yes, I thought that because I could afford corruption. But how long can I afford it? And how long can the nation afford it? How long would it be before the nation collapses under the weight of excessive taxation?