Dateline: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Every year, a group called Transparency International releases a list of the most corrupt and least corrupt countries in the world.
Normally, I take this kind of stuff with a grain of salt. There are some good insights into all of these studies, but paper knowledge doesn’t replace boots on the ground in any kind of internationalization plan, whether it’s the best place to start an offshore company or which country is most free.
We frequently discuss why culture is the most important element in choosing a society where you can “go where you’re treated best”. The fact that politics helps shape culture is why choosing a society where people have their heads on straight works.
If you think China is a great place to bank because they aren’t big fans of the US over there, then you might also like the fact that the population can’t vote out the group that makes opening a bank account there so easy and elect a group that wants to make it hard.
Most of us, on the other hand, are familiar with democracies, but frequently see the masses in our home countries beating the drum for guys like Bernie Sanders who will only make things worse for the economy.
What if there were countries where the voting public believed things were heading in the right direction because of pro-business, pro-freedom policies, rather than in spite of them?
Those countries do exist, but only if you look beyond the usual suspects you may be used to. Those usual suspects often include a number of countries widely touted by the so-called gurus.
Just as a muscle can only grow when it is torn, finding safe havens for wealth and freedom means stepping outside of your comfort zone a bit. So far, the people I have personally helped move overseas and plant flags have found it worth it.
Which countries are most corrupt?
Every country has corruption in some form. One infographic reads (with all intents to be serious), “more than six billion people live in a country with a corruption problem”. So, basically all of us.
It’s funny how people in the west point here to Southeast Asia for the fact that traffic cops will pull motorcyclists over in search of a $5 “tip”.
Growing up in the US, the biggest complaint I heard about Mexico was the corruption, with the foremost examples being traffic police.
That pales in comparison to the daughter of a family friend being shot and killed recently by a police officer in the United States… for sitting next to the wrong guy.
Or how this year’s Presidential election will likely cost $5 billion — more than the GDP of Montenegro — and largely paid with special interest dollars. That sounds a lot more corrupt than buying the traffic cop a pack of smokes to me.
It’s interesting to see which institutions are viewed as most corrupt in each country.
For a handful of Eastern European and African countries, the judiciary was deemed to be the most corrupt element.
The police are also a concern in African and Central American countries, with places like Mexico and Indonesia ranking them as the worst element. (The running joke with Uber drivers in Mexico City last month was calling the police “los ladrones” — or robbers).
Norwegians said business was the biggest corrupting influence… joined only by Algeria and Fiji.
For British, Australians, and New Zealanders, the media is seen as most corrupt.
However, most of us are from one of the countries that deemed political parties to be the biggest hurdle to progress. Count the US, Canada, and most of Europe in that category. Politicians are the biggest thing getting in our way.
Politics and the five magic words
If you live, run a business, or have assets in a country that is on the decline, the corruption and politics will eventually have an impact on you. It only takes so long before someone gets elected and decides to take your stuff, or at least make it next to impossible to acquire more.
The challenge I see is that most people perpetually imagine that this is in the future. Whenever I speak with folks who tell me their biggest problem for wanting to go offshore is “the Federal Reserve and its crazy policies”, I realize that they don’t think it will ever hit THEM. It’s just something to be angry about at that point.
Until you acknowledge that statistics are just a convenient way to keep track of stuff that actually happens to people, you’ll never be ready to internationalize.
So let’s take a look at statistics for two countries: my birth country of the United States, and my upcoming home base of Georgia.
Georgia is an interesting example as a former Soviet state that decided that the road to competitiveness was to slash taxes, make all taxes flat, and make the entire economy pro-business. And people actually like it.
For the purposes of this illustration, we’ll consider my theory that Transparency + Lack of Government Intervention = Freedom. Denmark may be transparent, but it’s transparently socialist. Somalia may not be transparent, but you can’t accuse the formal government of getting in the way. Our goal here is to look for a place with both.
Georgia vs. US: A case study in corruption
Has corruption increased, decreased, or stayed the same in the last two years?
United States: 60% say it increased, 10% say it decreased
Georgia: 12% say it increased, 70% say it decreased
Do you feel that political parties are corrupt?
United States: 76% yes
Georgia: 30% yes
Do you feel the legislature is corrupt?
United States: 61% yes
Georgia: 34% yes
Do you feel the military is corrupt?
United States: 30% yes
Georgia: 13% yes
(Pretty crazy considering the pro-military sentiment in the US)
Do you feel the media is corrupt?
United States: 58% yes
Georgia: 42% yes
Do you feel the religious bodies are corrupt?
United States: 35% yes
Georgia: 8% yes
Do you feel business is corrupt?
United States: 53% yes
Georgia: 28% yes
Do you feel the education system is corrupt?
United States: 34% yes
Georgia: 22% yes
Do you feel the police are corrupt?
United States: 42% yes
Georgia: 26% yes
Do you feel public servants are generally corrupt?
United States: 55% yes
Georgia: 26% yes
You can see there are a lot of areas of potential corruption. When the public comes to dislike a certain group, they take actions against them. The fact that so many Americans dislike business — note that it doesn’t say big business; just business — has a lot to do with the fact that businesspeople are under attack in the US now.
The fact that religious bodies are deemed corrupt will inevitably mean fewer religious freedoms.
The fact that Congress and public servants are deemed as corrupt will mean constant upheaval of the sort that puts a billionaire with weird hair on the top of every Presidential poll.
Are any of those good for your country? Maybe… or maybe not. The better question is, are they good for you? Because you are the person that matters. You are more important than a pin on a map.
And if you don’t think about YOUR well-being as opposed to the country’s, you’ll never make the changes you need. I see it every day.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about what’s happening around you, but you also have to worry about you. The fact that so many people in the United States and most other western countries are angry at just about every institution makes me worry that big changes are coming.