Is Corruption Just Too Entrenched for Revolution to Succeed?

Feb 13

I had a lengthy conversation with a friend of mine (an Egyptian economist) today about why he believes that the Egyptian Revolution, while giving him hope, is unlikely to succeed.  The answer, in short, is that the rot of corruption is too deeply rooted in the Egyptian economy, and it is simply unrealistic to expect it to change.  The most favorable outcome in his opinion was that a new, less corrupt autocracy, take power. As an economist, his analysis rests on rational choice, and on those terms, it is hard to understand why the same people who one month ago were willing to extort money from the population to supplement their ridiculously low wages will now press for reforms that would meaningfully restrict their ability to extort these rents, or why the elite will give up their addiction to seeking rents through obtaining favorable deals from the government. My answer is that there has been a revolution in political consciousness, and large sectors of the population do not want to go back to the pre-revolutionary way of living.  Rather, they want a lawful salary that is fair and allows them to live honestly.  This demonstration of bankers and policemen in the face of calls by the Supreme Military Council is evidence of this determination and should be encouraged.  In the absence of such demands, the risk of a return to the status quo ante —with its murderous cynicism — is all too real.

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  1. I tend to agree with your friend at least for the short and medium term. Major structural changes to labor laws and white collar criminal statutes need to occur, and be enforced fairly, in order to rid Egypt of its culture of corruption. It is unrealistic to expect workers whose salaries place them at or below the poverty line not to engage in corruption in order to meet the basic needs of their families. In their eyes, at the micro level, the means justifies the ends. Ultimately, there needs to be a mass redistribution of wealth in coordination with effective rule of law reforms to avoid good people from doing bad things in order to survive.

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