Non-Fiction Reviews

A Very Short Introduction to Corruption

(2015) Leslie Holmes, Oxford University Press, £7.99 / US$11.95, pbk, xxiii + 143pp, ISBN 978-0-199-68969-9


You may well ask why a science & SF site is reviewing a book on corruption?  The answers are many.  For writers, corruption in one form or another is often the plot fulcrum around which a plot turns. For those concerned with society's technological advancement the face of corruption is changing: for example, cyberspace ID theft was unheard of just a couple of decades ago.&Nbsp; And then, for everyone – a set which includes this site's regulars – corruption affects us all.

Almost everyone in N. America and western Europe living in the years after the 2007/8 financial meltdown knows at least someone who has lost their job (and some even their home and marriage) due to the economic recession. Indeed, the day I sat down to write this review I had just chatted to our community police officers who were waiting to see whether they would lose their jobs due to Britain's budget deficit brought on by the said financial crash. The meltdown was not due to any natural disaster: there was no plague of farm pests, no factories were blown up, there was no destruction of resources. The crisis was due to those in the financial sector falsifying the value of their sub-prime mortgages and the greed of their colleagues who bought and sold in a financial feeding frenzy. The crisis was due to corruption.

As if this was not enough, just a few years later there was another exposure of financial corruption when it was discovered that the LIBOR (inter-bank loan rate) was being fixed. Meanwhile there is corruption elsewhere, and just this week (September 2015) a car manufacturer with an international reputation was found to have 'fixed' the way its products' energy efficiencies and pollution emissions were estimated: fines of the order of billions of pounds/dollars/Euros are expected… And then of course there is the petty corruption and small-time crookery that is too common at any level and all too prevalent in nations with the poorest in the world.

Corruption is a hugely important topic and you really deserve it to yourself to get more than a little acquainted with it. And it is not just the above financial example. I could have cited the false presentation by Greek economists, supposedly scrutinised by European Community economists and signed of by politicising of many nations, that enabled Greece to enter the Eurozone for which it was unsuited and which in turn led to the collapse of the Greek economy in 2013/4 plunging swathes of the Greek middleclass into poverty and those already in poverty to rely on aid such as food banks. Sadly, I am sure that you can come up with many more examples of your own.

Here the Australian sociologist Leslie Holmes has done us a huge favour in providing this easy and quick to read short guide to corruption.

Along the way we discover that the level of corruption does not correlate with the level of governmental regulation: something I found to be a surprising notion but actually it is criminalising and policing corruption that is effective. And that the corruption seems to have a clear inverse relationship to economic development and activity: the greater the corruption the less the wealth creation.

The reasons why people are or become corrupt are also explored. Disturbing – because we all seem to be prey to this one way or another – is the willingness to participate in corruption even if only to pay a small bribe.

Problems? Hardly any: the text is largely very good. However the section explaining the Corruption Perception Index was a little confusing. The text uses the term 'scaled' while the accompanying table has columns of 'rank' and 'score', and the thing is that these latter two have an inverse relation to each other and relating the text to the table necessitates a double take. But this is a minor quibble for what is a rather good introduction that takes little time to digest.

Yes, this is a somewhat depressing read and clearly our supposedly sophisticated and technologically advanced 21st century society is still very prey to baser criminal instinct. We do have a long way to go. But a start to putting things right surely can only come about when enough of us appreciate and understand what is going on. This is a necessary first step before we can begin to think of going on and doing something about it, such as question our political leaders. Here Leslie Holmes' text is an excellent beginning. Recommended.

Jonathan Cowie

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