What I’m Reading

From The New York Times: “Mob Muscles Its Way Into Politics in Bulgaria

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Politics is played to the death in Bulgaria, where the lives of politicians can be as cheap as spent bullets and murky business groups wage a murderous struggle for their cut of everything from real estate deals to millions in European aid.

[…]

“Other countries have the mafia,” said Atanas Atanasov, a member of Parliament and a former counterintelligence chief who is a magnet for leaked documents exposing corruption. “In Bulgaria, the mafia has the country.”

By almost any measure, Bulgaria is the most corrupt country in the 27-member European Union. Since it joined last year, it has emerged as a cautionary tale for Western nations confronting the stark reality and heavy costs of drawing fragile post-Communist nations into their orbit, away from Russia’s influence.

It is important to remember that corruption isn’t isolated to any one country or region. Every country deals with corruption at some level or another. That being said, having an (more) honest judicial system and bureaucracy is something we Americans and other Westerner take for granted. True, the US has be rocked by several scandals over the recent years (no-bid contracts, signing statements, political intimidation, etc), the average citizen is rarely involved. In the cases I cited above, those all have occurred in the halls of power. I would be very hard pressed to find one of friends who was forced to bride doctors to get a blood transfusion or a prosecutor to take legal action. In Bulgaria, this is a daily occurrence.

Americans tend to rail against red tape and bureaucracy. Despite it’s bad rap, we forget the reasons why we have such regulation. That in front of the bureaucracy, every American is equal. We have to jump through so many hoops and fill out so much paperwork to ensure this equality. For example, the paperwork I have to fill out and the tests I have to take are the same ones Bill Gates has to take (provided I was in Washington state).

Of course, this can be taken advantage of. When you have several layers of oversight, people can start to demand a cut which stifles justice and business growth.

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Corruption and over regulation go hand in hand. For example, if Coca Cola wants to do something as simple as installing a vending machine in Russia, they have to satisfy a myriad of regulations. Article 575 of the Russian civil code forbids companies from selling anything for free. This includes the space given to Coca Cola to set up a vending machine. At the same time, Article 615 prohibits subletting property without consent of the land owner and selling a product without a cash register[i]. This means that Coca Cola must run a gauntlet of landlords, tax collectors, bureaucrats and since they are participating in a retail trade, it must also interact with fire, health and safety inspectors. Business is stifled since there are too many steps and too many people with oversight; all of whom may be willing to make a simple process difficult for their own profit.


[i] “A Coke and a Frown.” The Economist October 2000: 73

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What makes America and other countries more resistant to this wanton abuse of power (I think) is a bureaucratic tradition. Meaning we have had a dependable bureaucracy because we have in, in our lifetime, always had one and expect it. Bulgaria, on the other hand, snapped from Communism to Democracy in a matter of months. In the period of transition, ambitious people saw a shortcut to wealth and power and took it at the expense of the Bulgarian people. As a result, an inept bureaucracy is a daily expectation and permeates through the rest of society. I mean, having to bribe a doctor for a blood transfusion!? Sickening.

But these are my thoughts. I’ve never had been asked to give a bribe or actually seen any corruption outside what I read. I approach all this from an academic standpoint (the quoted text above is from a college paper I wrote about how corruption hinders development). What do you think? I am I right? Or am I wildly off the mark sitting in my irovy tower?
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