Despite the distressing inequality, hatred, misogyny, bigotry, absurdity, social cleavage, and capitalist greed that have triggered financial and climate crises in the world that are now at cataclysmic levels, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’s book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress claims that enlightenment is faring way better than ever before.
However, Nepali writer Devendra Raj Panday’s book The Idea of Integrity in the Universe of Corruption and Anti-corruption, published a few months after Pinker’s, asserts that reason, science and enlightenment, instead of contributing to gross integrity, have created a deficit at the personal and institutional level in the both the Western and Eastern worlds in recent times.
Panday’s book reasons that income inequality in a socially and culturally fractured world, and nearly imploding humanity, are the by-products of the integrity deficit in both the West and the East.
Now an octogenarian, Panday was born and brought up in a family of the Rana oligarchy’s court and his father was an official at the Nepalese Embassy in London before World War II. He studied in India and then started a career as an officer in the National Planning Commission of Nepal.
Later on, he got a scholarship to study for a master’s degree in public and international affairs in the US at the climax of civil-rights movement and at the peak of the Vietnam War. He also completed his PhD there, and these two events of US history profoundly influenced his world view.
After his return to Nepal, he became finance secretary but quit the post and joined the pro-democracy movement against the despot monarch, and became finance minister soon after the restoration of democracy in 1990.
In 1993, Panday joined Transparency International, a Berlin-based global anti-corruption campaign, and was elected twice to its board.
His passion for studying US and Western politics, governance and public policy are still intact and meticulous at his advanced age. This book is the outcome of the knowledge, observations and self-reflection of his career, and of his civic engagements. He expresses his thoughts as an authority on corruption and anti-corruption both in his scholarship and his campaigning.
The prevalent anti-corruption literature and legal and constitutional frameworks of the governments of the world define corruption as graft, bribery, kickbacks, rent-seeking, embezzlement, state capture, and private gain at public cost, and it is the common belief that it can be coped with through law, police, courts and jails. However, Panday audaciously claims that an unbridled and callous pursuit of selfish goals by a small group of people with power and wealth at the cost of powerless, vulnerable, poor and weaker but significant section of the population is not a technical and legal challenge but a moral one for both Western and Eastern countries.
It is a question of integrity at the personal and institutional levels in each and every country in the world, from a family to a community to the national and the global level.
For instance, Panday points out that innocent kids in schools, colleges, and universities, churchgoers, and nightclub visitors pay with their lives in gun violence for the dishonesty of politicians in the course of election-campaign financing by the gun manufacturers in the US. Some 33,000 people lose their lives in gun violence in the US annually, more than those who lost their lives in road accidents every year.
To get a driver’s license, Americans face a background check and a medical-fitness check, and then need to pass tests. However, there is no need to prove mental-health fitness or undergo a background check to obtain a gun in the United States. Gun violence is a real case of the dishonesty of politicians. However, with the help of science and reason, right-wing politics makes the gun-violence a case nothing but a mental-health issue.
Panday’s book depicts a somber picture that every year in India, more than 12,000 poor farmers commit suicide every year. Despite the politicians’ vow to stop the most productive people’s obduracy to kill themselves, nothing has been done. However, people like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi are able to carry off lucrative scams with the help of corrupt politicians.
Panday also reveals that many of his compatriots from rural areas of Nepal died from diarrhea and dysentery because of a scarcity of essential medical supplies and lack of immediate response from government health authorities. However, a recent report showed that politicians going abroad for medical treatment had cost Nepali taxpayers more than 71 million rupees (more than US$600,000 at the current exchange rate) over the previous decade or so, often when treatment for their illness was available domestically.
Panday’s book beguilingly illuminates how the most educated commit corruption, as they have enough knowledge to escape punishment. The governments of the world try to fix this problem merely by using the law, police, jails, and courts. Meanwhile the churches, mosques, monasteries, and temples fail in moral persuasion.
The colleges and universities have been unsuccessful in teaching natural and social science in a way that uphold integrity among the graduates they produce, and as a result, right-wing political doctrines are disguised as science, claiming that there is no climate change; gun violence is a mental-health problem; capitalist greed is good; and the supremacy of specific races and genders worldwide. Therefore, building and upholding integrity is key to opposing social evils, Panday suggests.
Furthermore, Panday points out that people in the US learn how to avoid tax and maximize their personal wealth at the cost of others. For example, US President Donald Trump believes tax avoidance is being “smart.” As a result, the institutions created by the Western world such as democracy, the rule of law, and transparent and accountable governance are under more severe crisis than ever before.
Once, the concept of democracy, the rule of law, transparent and responsible governance was taken as the gifts of Western civilization to govern the public affairs in many non-Western countries. However, these ideas gradually became less attractive because Western countries themselves relinquished these concepts both domestically and globally. Panday claims that Western soft power has been declining as the result of corruption and integrity deficit within the Western democracies. Now corruption and integrity deficit have become the socially accepted norms and values in the West.
Despite the unprecedented development of human knowledge, expansion of schools, colleges and universities and a huge surge in the number of people with university degrees, and more sophisticated legal measures to combat it, corruption is thriving more than ever before.
Besides, Thomas Piketty writes in his monumental volume Capital in the Twenty-First Century that the inequality in the world is the outcome of r>g, where r, the real rate of return on capital, is higher than the economic growth rate, g. However, Panday has postulated the dramatically different view of “c>h”: Inequality is the outcome of the number of corrupt politicians and civil servants having an alliance with the greedy capitalists that infringe the law being greater than the number of the honest politicians and civil servants, as pointed out by The Atlantic columnist Moises Naim.
Scholars and activists are myopic in depicting the theory of corruption and anti-corruption and campaigning at the global level because their reasoning lacks understanding of the root causes of social evil.
Readers will find the book extraordinarily fascinating in looking at the theory of corruption and anti-corruption, and they will enlighten themselves about how the Western countries have been facing a shrinking sphere of influence at the global level.
The Idea of Integrity and the Universe Corruption and Anti-corruption by Devendra Raj Panday (Kathmandu: Redink Books), 528 pages, 1,290 Nepalese rupees.