NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Rule By Law -- Here And Abroad

October 28, 1996

Officials of the International Monetary Fund say they are looking more closely these days into the link between financial disarray in the Third World countries it serves with development loans, and official corruption and the lack of reliable judicial systems there.

Past practice has usually been to excuse away fiscal mayhem in these countries as a legacy of past colonialism, or the result of natural disasters -- anything other than the venality or maladministration of the rulers. But now IMF officials are blaming the plight of poor countries on the "cancer of corruption."

Often this is a part of the legacy of communism when party bosses were essentially a law unto themselves.

  • Russia is notorious for the absence of reliable law enforcement.
  • China, experts say, has a better record for the observance of contracts -- but is hardly corruption-free.
  • Even such advanced industrialized countries as Belgium and Italy have had cause recently to question their own judicial systems.

Indeed, legal observers are beginning to question whether even the United States suffers from erosion in its legal traditions.

  • They cite evidence that liability claim lawyers are turning the law into their private plaything as a means of making themselves even richer.
  • After the O.J. Simpson trial, many Americans wondered if expensive lawyers can guarantee impunity.
  • Elsewhere, laws are flouted daily by huge illegal drug cartels.

Observers note that even the White House is under an ugly ethical cloud. So how much longer, they wonder, can the U.S. credibly preach anti-corruption sermons to third world countries?

Source: George Melloan, "A World Seeking Justice Is Running Low on Exemplars," Wall Street Journal, October 28, 1996.


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