Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Not So Different

Sometimes getting some distance yields a new and helpful perspective. That certainly seems to be the case for Lawrence Weschler, whose op-ed essay appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Weschler, director of the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU, was traveling in Uganda when he and his driver were shaken down by a police officer and a couple of soldiers for taking pictures. It cost his driver $20 to avoid any further problems. The driver was calm about the transaction: he considered the corruption just part of doing business in that troubled country.

Clearly Weschler was appalled at the bribery, but upon further reflection he had to admit that the corruption endemic to Uganda was not all that different than what he sees in this country.

In America, corruption is concentrated at the highest levels of society, masquerading, for example, under the name of "campaign finance." Election campaigns have become so expensive that candidates have to go begging to anyone who will finance them. And the billionaires and millionaires and hedge-fund operators and CEOs and their lobbyists are, in turn, only too happy to contribute. They lard the "people's representatives" with grotesque "contributions," after which those representatives prove only too willing to turn around and carve out billions of dollars in specifically targeted tax breaks and subsidies structured exclusively for them.

As a result, while we don't, in general, have to pay off police officers during traffic stops, we do live in a society in which one of the richest men in America reports that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.

Education, meanwhile, is funded by local property taxes, and the rich make sure it stays that way. The result? Their kids get a far better education than those living in poorer neighborhoods. When people try to remedy that injustice through affirmative action programs, the rich protest and get judges to overturn the programs as racist. They are, however, perfectly happy to take advantage of programs that favor the children of alumni. And it's all perfectly legal.

In Uganda, corruption tends to arise out of desperation. In America, more typically, the wellsprings are greed, pure and simple. And it's hard to decide which is the more dismaying, the more disfiguring, the more disgusting.
[Emphasis added]




Post a Comment

<< Home