Each nation has its own unique history and culture and meaningful change can only start from within, but the U.S. can help.
Nigerian protesters carry a mattress, on which "Kill corruption not subsidy" is written / Reuters
Corruption in emerging markets is at the core of key development, globalization, foreign policy and national security problems facing the United States. In recent years, the U.S. has had some success in implementing an international anti-bribery convention. But it has had significant issues when fighting corruption in major counter-insurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and in new international development initiatives.
As it exits Iraq and Afghanistan and tries to reshape its development programs, the U.S. faces a fundamental question: can it provide realistic leadership, with others in the world community, to help reformers in corrupt nations combat this global scourge?
Fighting corruption in emerging markets is surpassingly difficult. It involves displacing those with malign power. It cannot be initiated and led by outsiders. Corruption pervades and distorts society in nations like Russia and China where the U.S. has great interests. It was a primary cause of the popular uprisings in the Middle East and elsewhere. It remains a huge issue in the emerging markets of Africa and Asia and, especially in failed and failing states. It is a pervasive obstacle to legitimate and transparent economic globalization. And it undermines a key goal of current counter-insurgency military strategy -- the building of a civil society.
At the core of these problems is bribery of public officials, and officials' extortion and misappropriation of funds. In the last 20 years, there has been growing recognition that corruption of this sort has a widespread and insidious impact. It distorts markets and competition; breeds anger, cynicism and discontent among citizens; stymies the rule of law; corrodes the integrity of the private sector; and impairs development and poverty reduction. Bribery, extortion, and misappropriation also help perpetuate failed and failing states -- and sectors of other states -- that are incubators of terrorism, the narcotics trade, money laundering, human trafficking, counterfeiting, piracy and other kind of global crime.
As noted, the U.S. has attempted three primary initiatives against the corruption of bribery, extortion and misappropriation in recent years.
Global Anti-Bribery Conventions
Currently, 37 nations have ratified an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) anti-bribery convention and enacted national laws comparable to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The OECD convention and the FCPA address an important but limited part of global corruption: prohibiting companies headquartered in the industrialized world from bribing officials in emerging markets. But, in addition to the limited effect (it does not directly address the criminal power structures in less developed countries), more than half the signatories to the convention do not have active enforcement programs, and another quarter have only modest programs. Energetic enforcement by developed world authorities is necessary to pressure their multinational corporations to create an effective, internal anti-bribery culture. Non-enforcement is pernicious protectionism, as nations, eager for trade and jobs at home (especially during a great recession), look the other way at the illicit practices of their corporations and fail to act on their anti-bribery commitments under the OECD convention.
The United States has been by far the most active nation under the convention through muscular enforcement of the FCPA (more than half the cases brought under the convention have come from the U.S. even though it has only 10 percent of OECD exports). The U.S. will continue to have a lead role beyond such prosecutions: in ensuring robust OECD monitoring (but the OECD has no sanctions over inert member nations other than naming and shaming); in pushing major exporters and bilateral partners like France and Japan to move beyond investigations to real sanctions; in helping secure the accession of China, India and Brazil (Russia, South Africa and Israel have recently ratified the convention); and in resisting efforts of some U.S. business groups, like the Chamber of Commerce, to weaken the FCPA in Congress.
Contemporary Counter-insurgency Theory
General David Petraeus's co-authored "Counterinsurgency Field Manual" puts substantial emphasis on political, social, and economic programs as more valuable than conventional military operations in removing the root causes of insurgent conflict. As refined in his famous 2009 report on the status of the Afghan war, General Stanley McChrystal articulated four pillars of U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, one of them being creation of good Afghan governance and effective anti-corruption efforts. McChrystal noted that, in a society where illicit drugs are 30 to 50 percent of the economy, there was extensive corruption and criminality among government and other leaders -- in the economy, in judicial, administrative, and political entities, and in international aid programs. This in turn created overlapping, illicit networks between government, criminal, and insurgent groups that were a well-spring of anger and disillusionment among the population.
Yet, as the United States exits Afghanistan, almost no one would say that the rampant corruption has been reduced. There have been bribery and misappropriation scandals in Afghan banks, in Afghan elections, in administration of U.S. aid funds and in everyday life. Allied anti-corruption experts have been pushed away by the Karzai government. The economy still is dependent on opium. The military was not trained to deal with these complex issues of governance, and the officials from U.S. and other development agencies, despite good intentions, have, in the broad, not effected durable change. In broad summary, the anti-corruption pillar of counter-insurgency has been weak and unstable, just as in Iraq, calling into question the important, non-military elements of the current U.S. counter-insurgency doctrine.
This administration, like most before, has paid lip service to the importance to national security and global stability of international development which spurs economic growth, builds institutions and fights corruption in the less developed world. In the last year, it has launched a number of bureaucratic initiatives, all with an anti-corruption centerpiece. In September, 2010, President Obama issued a Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development that, per the White House, "recognizes that development is vital to U.S. national security and is a strategic, economic, and moral imperative." In September, 2011, the administration launched an Open Government Partnership to support national efforts that promote transparency, fight corruption and empower citizens. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) unveiled yet another initiative, Domestic Finance for Development, that will "help developing countries create reforms in tax administration, budgetary transparency and anticorruption." In addition, the U.S. seeks anti-corruption measures at the G-20, and "coordinates" such efforts with the World Bank, other international financing institutions and other industrialized nations' aid programs. And on and on and on.
President Obama claimed that he was offering a new vision of development. Rather than just delivering assistance (education, food, health care), the Administration would seek to aid nations to develop governing capacity to address problems themselves. This is, in fact, hardly a new aspiration. Development agencies have been talking about "capacity building" in less developed countries for decades. But this worthy goal collides with the deep corruption that infects attempts to build legitimate, accountable government in so many emerging markets, not just in failing states but also in rising nations like China and India where corruption is rampant. In fact, only 16 percent of AID's $11 billion in costs of operations in the fiscal year ending in September 2011 were devoted to "governing justly and democratically." And, as the President acknowledged in announcing his 2010 directive, "So we are leading a global effort to combat corruption, which in many places is the single greatest barrier to prosperity, and which is a profound violation of human rights." (Emphasis added.)
Leading a global effort to combat corruption? Hardly. What has been missing in the announcements and implementation of development initiatives is the following:
A tough analysis of the political and power structures that cause and perpetuate corruption in emerging nations.
A plausible account of the processes of political, social, economic, and legal change necessary to establish rule of law and transparent/legitimate government in the diverse cultures of varied nations across the globe and at different levels of development.
An acknowledgment, and then definition, of the limited role that outsiders, like the U.S., can play when stimulus must come from within the developing nation (which is especially difficulty in failed and failing states that pose great foreign policy and national security issues).
A realistic account of how to fund and staff that limited role, how to set priorities, how to measure progress or failure -- and a recognition of how limited are funds and how contingent are anti-corruption efforts.
Of course, asking and answering such questions would require speaking candidly (undiplomatically) about sovereign foreign nations and telling the truth in a U.S. political culture which demands posturing and bromides.
Beyond humanitarian educational, medical and nutrition foreign assistance, the United States thus has an important if limited role in assisting progressive elements of less developed countries -- when they ask -- to help create sustainable economies and economic institutions and establish legitimate, transparent, accountable government with reduced corruption. (I should add that so, too, the U.S.'s international credibility depends on effectively and energetically fighting street, organized, and white collar crime at home.)
In conjunction with national allies and international organizations, the United States needs to go beyond its successful enforcement against multinational corporations under the OECD anti-bribery convention and its Panglossian public posture on counterinsurgency and development. It needs to articulate a hard-nosed vision and set of initiatives that build upon, and do not ignore, the powerful corrupt forces that frustrate such development and governance world wide. And that do not promise too much. The great conundrum of corruption for well-meaning outsiders like the United States is that each nation has its own unique history and culture and meaningful change can only start from within, often in fraught conditions of political division and conflict.
Ben Heineman Jr. is is a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, in Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and at the Harvard Law School's Program on Corporate Governance. He is the author of High Performance With High Integrity.
Thursday’s terrorist attack in Paris did not “help” Marine Le Pen.
Following Thursday’s terrorist attack on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, which killed one police officer and wounded two others, Donald Trump made a prediction. “The people of France will not take much more of this,” he wrote on Twitter. “Will have a big effect on presidential election!” It seemed like the American president was implicitly backing one of the leading candidates in that election, the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, who has campaigned on rooting out Islamic extremism from the Republic and practices a Trump-like brand of populist-nativist politics.
Then Trump dispelled any doubt about his message. The attack, for which ISIS has claimed responsibility, will “probably help” Le Pen’s chances, the American president told the Associated Press, “because she is the strongest on borders and she is the strongest on what’s been going on in France.” (This despite the fact that the Champs-Elysees attacker was a French citizen ensconced well within French borders.) Trump didn’t explicitly endorse Le Pen. But he effectively endorsed her sales pitch to voters. “I believe whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism and whoever is the toughest at the borders will do well at the election,” Trump said.
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
The early results out of a Boston nonprofit are positive.
You saw the pictures in science class—a profile view of the human brain, sectioned by function. The piece at the very front, right behind where a forehead would be if the brain were actually in someone’s head, is the pre-frontal cortex. It handles problem-solving, goal-setting, and task execution. And it works with the limbic system, which is connected and sits closer to the center of the brain. The limbic system processes emotions and triggers emotional responses, in part because of its storage of long-term memory.
When a person lives in poverty, a growing body of research suggests the limbic system is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overloads its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways.
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
For the first time in modern French history, neither candidate is from a major party.
Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the far-right National Front, is through to the second round of the French presidential election, where she will face Emmanuel Macron, the independent, who won Sunday's first round with 23.7 percent of the vote. Le Pen won 21.7 percent. It's the first time in French history that neither candidate from a major political party is in the second round runoff. It's also the first time a far-right candidate is in the second round since 2002 when Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, lost to Jacques Chirac.
Macron and Le Pen’s strong showings Sunday, which saw an approximately 77percent voter turnout (slightly lower than the 79 percent who voted in the first round in 2012), signaled a rebuke of the political establishment that has dominated French politics for decades. Macron launched his centrist party in August 2016 after he quit his role in President François Hollande’s Socialist government, and despite the party’s youth it boasts a quarter of a million members. Meanwhile, Le Pen’s FN secured the most votes it has ever received in its nearly half-century history, surpassing the 18-percent first-round finish it saw in 2012.
By antagonizing the U.S.’s neighbor to the south, Donald Trump has made the classic bully’s error: He has underestimated his victim.
When Donald Trump first made sport of thumping Mexico—when he accused America’s neighbor of exporting rapists and “bad hombres,” when he deemed the country such a threat that it should be contained by a wall and so clueless that it could be suckered into paying for its own encasement—its president responded with strange equilibrium. Enrique Peña Nieto treated the humiliation like a meteorological disturbance. Relations with the United States would soon return to normal, if only he grinned his way through the painful episode.
In August, Peña Nieto invited Trump to Mexico City, based on the then-contrarian notion that Trump might actually become president. Instead of branding Trump a toxic threat to Mexico’s well-being, he lavished the Republican nominee with legitimacy. Peña Nieto paid a severe, perhaps mortal, reputational cost for his magnanimity. Before the meeting, former President Vicente Fox had warned Peña Nieto that if he went soft on Trump, history would remember him as a “traitor.” In the months following the meeting, his approval rating plummeted, falling as low as 12 percent in one poll—which put his popularity on par with Trump’s own popularity among Mexicans. The political lesson was clear enough: No Mexican leader could abide Trump’s imprecations and hope to thrive. Since then, the Mexican political elite has begun to ponder retaliatory measures that would reassert the country’s dignity, and perhaps even cause the Trump administration to reverse its hostile course. With a presidential election in just over a year—and Peña Nieto prevented by term limits from running again—vehement responses to Trump are considered an electoral necessity. Memos outlining policies that could wound the United States have begun flying around Mexico City. These show that Trump has committed the bully’s error of underestimating the target of his gibes. As it turns out, Mexico could hurt the United States very badly.
Inside Walmart’s curious, possibly ingenious effort to get customers to build up their savings accounts
Late last summer, Dawn Paquin started keeping her money on a prepaid debit card from Walmart instead of in a traditional checking account. The wages from her factory job—she works from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., inspecting blades on industrial bread-slicing machines—now go directly onto the Visa-branded card, which she can use like a regular debit card, though unlike most debit cards, it is not linked to a checking or savings account. She made the switch after a $4 check she wrote to buy coffee for herself and a friend tipped her checking account below the required minimum and triggered $100 in overdraft fees.
This was before she got the factory gig, and she wasn’t working full-time. Paquin lives in Salem, Illinois, where, she told me recently, if you don’t have a college degree, your job choices are “fast food or factory.” Money was extremely tight. “I kind of had a bit of resentment about banks after that,” she said dryly.
Tracking the controversies, allegations, and investigations into the president and his administration
Donald Trump entered the White House as one of the most scandal-tarred presidents in American history—what his imbroglios may have lacked in depth, they made up in variety, encompassing legal, ethical, and sexual controversies. (In a twist, one of Trump’s few competitors for the crown was his rival, Hillary Clinton.) They ranged from race discrimination to mafia connections, from petty hypocrisies to multimillion-dollar alleged frauds.
Now that Trump is president, some of those controversies have continued to shadow him. But the presidency has also occasioned a whole new set of disputes. Looming largest is the question of whether his campaign colluded with Russian agents to interfere in the election, a question being investigated by the FBI as well as panels in both houses of Congress. They also include ethical and legal questions surrounding members of his cabinet, his allegation that Barack Obama spied on him before the election, and various conflicts of interest.
A boring juice product sold itself as the next great technology phenomenon. There was only one way things could go.
Juicero is a startup that sells a $400 machine that squeezes packets of diced fruit and vegetables to produce fresh juice. A person might assume that a product so simple and boring, yet weirdly expensive, couldn’t possibly attract the entire internet’s derision. A person would be wrong.
It’s best to begin this story in March of last year, when the New York Timespublished a profile of the company’s founder Doug Evans, a former Army paratrooper who had already started and sold the successful Organic Avenue line of cold-pressed juices and healthy snacks. Evans was not a Silicon Valley veteran, but he spoke like one, rhapsodizing his product with quasi-religious grandiosity. “Not all juice is equal,” he told The Times. “How do you measure life force? How do you measure chi?”
Neither Emmanuel Macron nor Marine Le Pen is from one of the two political movements that have dominated the country for decades.
Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have little in common on the face of it. Macron, who exit polls project as the winner of Sunday’s first round presidential election in France, is a political neophyte. His centrist, globalist, pro-EU policies, are antithetical to the populist movements sweeping the West. Le Pen, who finished second in Sunday’s election, is an embodiment of that movement: Her far-right National Front (FN) has festered on the fringes of French politics for decades. She is against immigration and the EU, and a strong advocate for nationalism and borders.
But what unites Macron and Le Pen, who will face off in a second round on May 7, is that they each represent a backlash against the political movements that have dominated modern France. For the first time in a recent presidential runoff in the country, neither of the two candidates will be from the traditional center-left and center-right movements.