Top 10 Signs the US is the Most Corrupt Country in the World

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –


Those ratings that castigate Afghanistan and some other poor countries as hopelessly “corrupt” always imply that the United States is not corrupt.

VOA reports :

While it is true that you don’t typically have to bribe your postman to deliver the mail in the US, in many key ways America’s political and financial practices make it in absolute terms far more corrupt than the usual global South suspects. After all, the US economy is worth over $16 trillion a year, so in our corruption a lot more money changes hands.

1. The rich are well placed to bribe our politicians to reduce taxes on the rich. A nonentity like Donald Trump got filthy rich via tax loopholes, and is now trying to buy the presidency. The way the Supreme Court got rid of campaign finance reform and allowed open, unlimited buying of elections is the height of corruption. Note that despite his supposed “populism,” Trump never talks about the unfairness of our current tax system, instead dividing and ruling working and middle class Americans by stirring racial and religious hatreds. As it stands, 400 American billionaires are worth $2 trillion, as much as the bottom 150 million Americans. That kind of wealth inequality hasn’t been seen in the US since the age of the robber barons in the nineteenth century. Both eras are marked by extreme corruption.

2. Money and corruption have seeped so far into our media system that people can with a straight face assert that scientists aren’t sure human carbon emissions are causing global warming. Fox Cable News is among the more corrupt institutions in American society, purveying outright lies for the benefit of the billionaire class. The US is so corrupt that it is resisting the obvious urgency to slash carbon production. Even our relatively progressive president talks about exploiting all sources of energy, as though hydrocarbons were just as valuable as green energy and as though hydrocarbons weren’t poisoning the earth. All of the GOP candidates for the 2016 presidential election are climate change deniers, all of them in the back pockets of Big Oil, and this includes Trump.

Even Qatar, its economy based on natural gas, freely admits the challenge of human-induced climate change. American politicians like Jim Inhofe are openly ridiculed when they travel to Europe for their know-nothingism on climate.

3. Instead of having short, publicly-funded political campaigns with limited and/or free advertising (as a number of Western European countries do), the US has long political campaigns in which candidates are dunned big bucks for advertising. They are therefore forced to spend much of their time fundraising, which is to say, seeking bribes. All American politicians are basically on the take, though many are honorable people. They are forced into it by the system. Former House Majority leader John Boehner has actually just handed out cash on the floor of the House from the tobacco industry to other representatives.

When French President Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated in 2012, soon thereafter French police actually went into his private residence searching for an alleged $50,000 in illicit campaign contributions from the L’Oreale heiress. I thought to myself, seriously? $50,000 in a presidential campaign? Our presidential campaigns cost a billion dollars each! $50,000 is a rounding error, not a basis for police action. Why, George W. Bush took millions from arms manufacturers and then ginned up a war for them, and the police haven’t been anywhere near his house.

American politicians don’t represent “the people.” With a few honorable exceptions, they represent the the 1%. American democracy is being corrupted out of existence.

4. That politicians can be bribed to reduce regulation of industries like banking (what is called “regulatory capture”) means that they will be so bribed. Billions were spent and 3,000 lobbyists employed by bankers to remove cumbersome rules in the zeroes. Thus, political corruption enabled financial corruption (in some cases legalizing it!) Without regulations and government auditing, the finance sector went wild and engaged in corrupt practices that caused the 2008 crash. Too bad the poor Afghans can’t just legislate their corruption out of existence by regularizing it, the way Wall street did.

5. That the chief villains of the 2008 meltdown (from which 90% of Americans have not recovered) have not been prosecuted is itself a form of corruption.

6. The US military budget is bloated and enormous, bigger than the military budgets of the next twelve major states. What isn’t usually realized is that perhaps half of it is spent on outsourced services, not on the military. It is corporate welfare on a cosmic scale. I’ve seen with my own eyes how officers in the military get out and then form companies to sell things to their former colleagues still on the inside.

7. The US has a vast gulag of 2.2 million prisoners in jail and penitentiary. There is an increasing tendency for prisons to be privatized, and this tendency is corrupting the system. It is wrong for people to profit from putting and keeping human beings behind bars. This troubling trend is made all the more troubling by the move to give extra-long sentences for minor crimes, to deny parole and to imprison people for life for e,g, three small thefts.

8. The National Security Agency’s domestic spying was a form of corruption in itself, and lends itself to corruption. With some 4 million government employees and private contractors engaged in this surveillance, it is highly unlikely that various forms of insider trading and other corrupt practices are not being committed. If you knew who Warren Buffett and George Soros were calling every day, that alone could make you a killing. The American political class wouldn’t have defended this indefensible invasion of citizens’ privacy so vigorously if someone somewhere weren’t making money on it.

9. As for insider trading, it turns out Congress undid much of the law it hastily passed forbidding members, rather belatedly, to engage in insider trading (buying and selling stock based on their privileged knowledge of future government policy). That this practice only became an issue recently is another sign of how corrupt the system is.

10. Asset forfeiture in the ‘drug war’ is corrupting police departments and the judiciary.

So don’t tell the Philippines or the other victims of American corruption how corrupt they are for taking a few petty bribes. Americans are not seen as corrupt because we only deal in the big denominations. Steal $2 trillion and you aren’t corrupt, you’re respectable.

23 Responses

  1. An excellent and very truthful article, omitting only the lesser-known extreme corruption of the federal and state judiciary. The corruption and debasement of society is due to the inability of the US Constitution to protect the institutions of democracy from economic concentrations that did not exist when it was written. But the necessary amendments to limit funding of mass media and elections to limited and registered individual contributions cannot even be discussed because those instruments of public debate are already controlled. As Europeans say, in a word the problem is “Capitalism.”

    The right wing has always invented foreign and domestic enemies to pose as protectors and accuse their opponents of disloyalty, as Aristotle warned millennia ago of the tyrants over democracy. Their abject selfishness, ignorance, hypocrisy, and malice rule the sheeple with propaganda and fear, of false accusations and economic starvation. With the rise of economic concentrations, they have hollowed out democracy to an empty suit of armor that blunders around the globe, swinging its sword madly.

    Is there a cure for right wing tyranny? There is no cure for selfishness, ignorance, hypocrisy, and malice but to educate the next generation, and no cure for established tyranny but revolution, neither of which is feasible against our advanced totalitarianism. They have indeed reduced the United States to, “a third-rate, sorry excuse for a nation” (as the late Bill Moyers put it) that history will despise, and future historians will praise whatever slow or rapid process imprisons it economically or brings it down for recycling into something worthy of its better citizens.

  2. Many thanks, Juan, for again taking the time and having the courage to look at events and policies from a principled standpoint.

  3. Juan, while I am sure you don’t mean to, you write this as though the public were a passive spectator and not an essential culprit for corruption. While many of us believe in vigilance in regard to maintaining our experiment of self-government, there is a critical mass of the public that variously ignores, is apathetic to or ignorant of its responsibilities in this regard. There has been, in short, a complete collapse of public virtue that has fed your ten points substantially. I know that we historians shy away from moral or ethical assessment in terms of analyzing historical causality – but there are occasions when we disregard it at the peril of impoverishing a full knowledge of a given historical period. Here is John Adams on this:

    “When the people give way, their deceivers, betrayers, and destroyers press upon them so fast, that there is no resisting afterwards. The nature of the encroachment upon the American Constitution is such as to grow every day more and more encroaching. … The people grow less steady, spirited, and virtuous, the seekers more numerous and more corrupt, and every day increases the circles of their dependents and expectants, until virtue, integrity, public spirit, simplicity, and frugality become the objects of ridicule and scorn, and vanity, luxury, foppery, selfishness, meanness, and downright venality swallow up the whole society.”

    This (i.e., the corrupt nature of our politics) has not come about just by an elite leading the people by the nose; the people have decided that they want to be led by the nose. The public virtues of mutual affection towards fellow citizens, of generosity, of the common good, have all but universally collapsed into a compressed black hole of self-indulgent rage, fear, selfishness, and willful ignorance. Neal Postman and many other cultural critics, (even Frank Zappa in a stunningly prescient 1984 episode of the now defunct Cross-Fire) saw it all coming and warned us. But we didn’t need them to tell us how all of this could go down – Cicero and Aristotle long ago instructed us about the dynamics by which free states can sink into totalitarianism, and now It Can’t Happen Here has become It Is Happening Here.

    So much for faeces Romuli (“the left over shit of Romulus”, as Cicero referred to the crude and ignorant Roman mob), anyone for faeces Americae?

    • The current presidential polls appear to provide supporting evidence for your point. According to the latest more than half of adults would like to see one of this sorry lot as president: Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Bush and Hillary.

  4. ” Steal $2 trillion and you aren’t corrupt, you’re respectable.”

    Murder one human and it’s a crime, kill a few million and you’re a great warlord.

    Rob a train and you’re a crook, swindle ownership of the railroad and you’re a great investor.

    One unconsensual partner makes you a rapist, but…

  5. Wow. Simply sensational observations Professor. Thank you for writing this. That’s a keeper.

  6. It’s a variation on an old joke: “you’re only called crazy if you’re poor – rich people are “eccentric”.

    I’d also note that corruption implies illegal activity – it’s not technically corrupt to pay someone a fee for services rendered. That said, the current US system of legalized bribery of political officials does the same type damage to our society as that resulting from a system of petty corruption.

  7. “Corruption” should be set beside “terrorism” as a term of art used to describe Bad Things done by Bad Guys. There’s a whole system of culture-soaked terminology built along these lines — if there’s a modern Devil’s Dictionary somewhere, it would need constant updating. (The latest addition might be “carpet-bombing” which we learn from the NYT editorial today is something we never, ever do.)

    There’s a positive side, too: the US is a “democracy” even though it is governed by a minority which has struggled mightily and successfully to keep the majority out of the process. Even on the liberal side, it’s OK to speak of our “democracy” as being “threatened” but scarcely permitted to insist that the democratic illusion is over and has been for quite a while. The whole thing has an Orwellian flavor, but it’s more conceptual than linguistic — it’s just unthinkable that we share properties with the Bad Guys and the vocabulary adapts to this unshakable, self-defining belief.

  8. How about the oaths of office to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States that have become meaningless to all but a miniscule number of politicians?

    How about the millions of American “citizens” who re-elect politicians guilty of being complicit in criminal conspiracies and crimes against humanity?

    How about “the business of American is business” and “morality has nothing to do with business decisions”?

    How about … heck I don’t have all weekend to list other possible examples so check this out:

    “Donald Trump is America” by Andrew Kahn – link to

  9. One stolen dollar is a crime. A trillion stolen dollars is a statistic.

    The US elite adheres to the axiom “Steal big and you’ll get away with it.”

  10. Everything Juan lists here is true, and clearly the US is more corrupt than many European nations, especially the squeaky clean Nordic ones. However, saying it is the “most corrupt” is simply overdoing it. I just checked Transparency International’s current national rankings and the US is the 17th least corrupt out of 175. At the bottom are such places as Somalia, North Korea, South Sudan, and Turkmenistan. Yes, the US is unpleasantly corrupt, with this having global significance because of our size and power. But we are nowhere near the leagues of most nations on the planet, and especially some of the really awful whoppers down at the bottom of that list.

    • Transparency International does not count the wealth transfers of 2008 to the rich as corruption. Nor does it consider the monetary scale of corruption as opposed to frequency of petty bribe-taking. It is all in the criteria.

  11. Without question your analysis is spot on. Any thinking, reasonably intelligent person (whose numbers seem to be shrinking) will agree. What is not so clear is what to do about it. The complexity of both issues and regulations provide a complete obfuscation to the average person, even one who attempts to maintain reasonable knowledge of the salient issues.

    I suspect that the only meaningful way we could ever effect change is to enact a constitutional amendment to provide for national referenda. If single issues could be addressed in a manner which the FEC could require to be stated in a manner that comprehensible by the average person while providing focus on that, and only that, issue we might stand a chance of retaining a representative democracy. Unfortunately, there is a much greater chance of pigs flying than for this method to be enacted by Congress.

  12. I might add that many current political practices have been exported to other countries by the American politics industry. Things like deceptive robocalls, push polls, advanced tv propaganda to knock down the opponent’s positives, and voter suppression techniques like draconian voter id laws. The notion of the permanent campaign has also spread undermining inter-election civility. All in all, its a nasty bag of treats which only some countries have succeeded in resisting.

  13. How times have changed. At one time in Europe and Japan if high-ranking officials and other prominent people were exposed in some scandal they either resigned in shame or were forced from office. In extreme cases, suicide was called for. Now America’s moral wretches have changed the rules. Hire morally-bankrupt public relations charlatans to prove that the crook is basically a very nice person and not a crook. Even if by the terms of the Nuremberg Trials he/she is a war criminal.

  14. “Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992 and raised $62 million for that campaign, a record at the time. The new money in the Democratic Party ended up yielding $1.07 billion for President Obama’s reelection in 2012: money given directly to his campaign, to the Democratic National Committee, and to outside, unaccountable super political action committees…”
    Unsurprisingly, research shows that politicians respond to their funders, not voters. It’s fairly clear that most Trump supporters have suffered from pro-big business political policies. Consider how trade deals enable the outsourcing of steel and auto jobs, but continue to protect doctors, lawyers, and other highly paid professionals. link to

  15. Of course we have BY FAR the most corrupt government on the planet. Our entire electoral system is based on bribery. In what other country is bribery a constitutionally protected right?

  16. I noted that the corruption in the US is important because of its size and global importance. But in percentage terms the scale of wealth transfers and corruption far beyond mere petty bribery in say Russia completely dwarfs what goes on in the US.

  17. I would have enjoyed this article if it wasn’t slanted to the left… I agree republicans are terrible.. but the Dems do the same thing with a different angle.. to call out one side repeatidly and omit the other is journalism that doesn’t adhere to it’s own warning

  18. A definition of corruption would be helpful. I would define corruption as where officials act, directly or indirectly, in their own interest rather than in the interest of those they supposedly represent. Such corruption can be ‘overt’, such as taking bribes to award contract, or ‘covert’, where their actions, while seeming to be legal, are not in the interest of their constituents. With such a definition it becomes obvious that virtually the entire US Congress is corrupt.

  19. The US Congress is the most corrupt in the world because it actually voted to make it LEGAL to bribe Congress!! They call it lobbying, but it is bribery pure and simple.

Comments are closed.