Which country is more corrupt: Brazil or the United States?

18 February 2016

I have Brazil on my mind, since I will be giving a major speech there in two weeks (which I will explain in next week’s TWOG). The country has been experiencing a serious scandal in recent years, centered around Petrobras, the national oil company, with many prominent people in government and business having been accused of bribery. The economy has been suffering, and Dilma Rousseff, the President of Brazil, is in danger of being impeached.

The question I wish to raise early in my talk is this. Which country is more corrupt: Brazil or the United States? This may sound irreverent, but I believe that in one critical respect, the answer is obvious, and it’s not Brazil.

The corruption in Brazil is criminal, and can be prosecuted. In fact, it is being prosecuted. Over a hundred people, including a former prominent executive of Petrobras and a former senior minister of the government, have been sentenced to prison terms.

The contrast with the United States is stark. The most significant corruption facing the country is legal, and its perpetrators cannot be prosecuted. The  “Citizens United” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 threw the doors wide open to private donations—institutional and personal—in public elections and that is having a devastating effect on the country’s renowned democracy. The Supreme Court legalized bribery, and it has spread throughout the political process and is having dangerously effects in the society. The most evident manifestation of this has been the repeated refusals of Congress to legislate on gun controls, thanks to the money its members receive from the gun lobby.

Meanwhile, in September the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled that donations from private legal entities to electoral campaigns were no longer allowed. Eight of the eleven justices considered such private financing to be in direct violation of the country’s constitution.

For two hundred years, the United States stood as the world’s model for progress and democracy. Might Brazil now assume this role? It is in pursuit of the answer to this irreverent question that I will be going to Brazil.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016 Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here (link now fixed).

The Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States of America (Scalia has since passed away)The Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States of America (Scalia has since passed away)

A prosecutor and justice of Brazil (as depicted by fans at Carnival)