Two movements, fundamentally opposed, are at work in the world: corruption and anti-corruption. The marketization of the economies of China, India and Russia in the past two decades has exacerbated the corruption in those countries. Businesspeople and politicians, often hardly distinguishable, become billionaires in tandem.
But corruption is falling out of favor in more and more countries as more and more governments realize that while it may get things done in the short term, it corrodes everything in the long term. As public anger rises everywhere against the grossest inequalities the modern world has seen, it provides the fuel for future fires. Bribes, the most common form of corruption, are a crime not just against the law but against the public. Those states now climbing the wealth ladder will risk worse than poverty if they do not grasp that truth.
What do they need? A good bureaucracy, that’s what.
For two centuries, disparaging bureaucracy has been a major component of our freedom myths. Charles Dickens, Franz Kafka, George Orwell rynd Alexander Solzhenitsyn all made the bureaucrats villains in their work. In Dickens’ 1857 masterpiece, Little Dorrit, an inventor, Daniel Doyce, goes gray attempting to register his invention at the Circumlocution Office ‑ a tragicomic institution dedicated to squashing all private initiative. He gets a final judgment that:
[U]pon the whole, and under all the circumstances, and looking at it from the various points of view, [we are] of the opinion that one of two courses was to be pursued in respect of the business: that was to say, either to leave it alone for evermore, or begin it all over again.
Likewise, anti-bureaucracy is a major trope in U.S. culture, one that harks back to a time when government was tiny and people were free. In Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, the country’s defining president is attended by at most two officials. When messengers bring him news from Congress during the debate on the anti-slavery amendment, they burst into a White House empty except for Lincoln and his young son.