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Corruption and Crime: A Comparison of Russia and Mexico

Corruption and organized crime can be a major issue in a developing nation. Crime is humankind’s biggest economic activity. And when a state is born, two things are also born. Politics, which is the influencing a state, and crime, which is the avoidance of the state. (Roskin) Thus, crime and corruption are woven into all states. But there are wide differences in the amount of crime and corruption in between countries. Many developed countries maintain internal affairs offices, which are effective at curbing institutional crime. And effective police departments that enforce the law and protect civil society. But for other countries, such measures are lacking. Like in the case of Mexico, a very lucrative drug market fuels cartels, and police corruption, who widely accept bribes. In the case of Russia, politicians win elections in landslide victories, after the opposition drops out. What must then be pointed out is that while having similar challenges to democracy, Russia and Mexico are fundamentally different countries. Nearly on opposite sides of the world, and stemming from completely different cultures, corruption and crime both manifest separately. So, there must be some alternative underlying causes.Corruption and crime are linked to and have both a cause-and-effect relationship with a lack of political development, high socioeconomic inequality, and mistrust for political institutions. These trends are manifested for Mexico and Russia through the police, economic forces, and a weak state. (Roskin)

Firstly, as fundamentally different countries, thier differences deserve recognition. Mexico and Russia are on near opposite sides of the planet. Mexican culture is a blend of Spanish culture, which was imposed, and native culture, like the Aztecs. Mexico exists within Latin America. Russia on the other hand was formed earlier by the Slavic people. While both being quite religious nations, Russia is heavily Orthodox Christian, while Mexico is predominantly Catholic. Also, because Russia was closed off to the rest of the world during the enlightenment, enlightenment thought didn’t enter. While Mexico, under the influence of Spain and France, had much more enlightenment thought enter. And Russia is a dominant party system, while Mexico only was a dominant party system, and is now a three-party system. And while both have crime, Mexico has the unique issue of drugs, particularly a drug trade with the United States. Russia has no such issue. (Roskin) Furthermore, Russians generally have a higher quality of life, being less likely to die as a child, making 40% more money, much less likely to live below the poverty line, and a greater chance at having internet access. And pay less for food and transportation. (Quality of life Comparison)

Corruption in Mexico is quite widespread, but not nearly so as in Russia, where it is more concentrated and centralized. In Mexico, there are many interest groups, which stems from a history of clientelism. But the largest interest groups are the drug cartels. Nearly half a million people make a living on drugs there. And in a weak state, crime ignores state power, and corruption is unrestrained. Assassinations occur there even to today, and police rarely arrest rapists, murderers, and kidnappers, and thus most crime never even goes reported. The government has used military force against corruption, but a fundamental challenge exists. Drug money is irresistible to poor Mexicans, and some soldiers leave the army to work for the cartels because they pay much better. Mexican police are widely known to accept bribes, as commonly depicted by pop culture. (Roskin)

Corruption in Russia is arguably much worse though. In Russia, there exists two mafias, one of street crime, and the other of white-collar crime. Banks knowingly launder money. The FSB, the replacement of the KGB, knowingly could solve crimes but doesn’t on purpose because it is corrupt. Russia is described by some as a kleptocracy because it is ruled by thieves, who are the oligarchs. Russia features a state-controlled media. And the FSB is known to hack and interfere with other people’s systems, and still distribute propaganda. But perhaps the biggest evidence of corruption in Russia is the amount of control Putin has on political institutions. The upper house is essentially controlled by Putin, as well as the constitutional court. Many members of the Soviet KGB became members of the FSB. And many members of the FSB end up running Russia’s institutions, like Putin. (Roskin)

So, it makes sense that such corruption and crime breeds mistrust for political institutions in both Russia and Mexico. Like with Mexico, crime goes unreported, because why report a crime that won’t be solved. The same goes for Russia. But even more so than Russia, a revolutionary south still exists in Mexico. A radicalized south largely votes for Mexico’s PRD party, which is staunchly anti-U.S. and anti-capitalist. The Russian government currently only wears a performance-based mask of legitimacy and is quite vulnerable to economic turbulence. Most Russians accept and want Putin simply because they want food, order, and stability Because they see themselves as victims of the west, like the southern Mexicans. In Russia, there is largely no unifying national identity. Such symbols aren’t implemented well by the state. From the Wilson Center, “Mexicans’ reported levels of trust and confidence in a wide range of institutions have been declining for many years. Between 2013 and 2014, virtually every institution, from the police to the church, from television stations and universities to political parties, Congress, and the president, have suffered from rising public distrust.” (Franco) This decline of mistrust mirrors that of Russia. Mistrust is primarily an effect of crime and corruption, but it is also a cause because as more people stop seeing the state as legitimate, they’re more likely to be willing to get involved with crime and corruption.

Next is inequality. Socioeconomic inequality is more prevalent in Mexico. This is in part due to how Russians are natural egalitarians and believe in equity, or the equality of outcome. But in Mexico, wealth inequality is rampant. 40% live below the poverty line. 22 million work in the black market. Most people are poor and there is no domestic capital to invest. Mexico is in need of foreign and private investment to ramp up economic growth and to become more equal. Also, while Mexico is not outright racist, skin color is a factor in wealth and income, due to historical trends. Wealth inequality is an issue in Russia too, despite being natural egalitarians. (Roskin) 90% of financial assets are held by the top 3% of people. For comparison, this puts Russia in a similar place for wealth inequality as the United States. (Guilford)

Both Russia and Mexico have what is called the oil curse. Their economics are too dependent on state-run oil companies. Oil does not always course crime and corruption, but normally does so in weak states. In this way, the blessing of oil is really a curse. From an economic perspective, the more that a nation’s wealth can be extracted from a resource, and not the productiveness of the citizens, the less that that treasury needs to be invested into the citizens. The odds for corrupt behavior become worth the risk for the great reward it and oil has to offer. Wealth becomes aggregated into a few hands. (Grey) Pemex, Mexico’s state-run oil company happens to be one of the most inefficient in the world. (Roskin) And it has had documented cases of corruption, such as “an arrest warrant was issued for the former head of state oil company PEMEX, Emilio Lozoya.” This was for graft charges. (House) Russia has this oil problem but not to the same extent. But in general, Russia’s lack of embracing of a free market has resulted in the trend that efficient companies that are not corruptly connected to the state leave Russia. This leaves Russia’s business as inefficient and corrupt. This is bad for Russia; economies are too complex to manage in the long term. Russia is desperate for economic growth. Both Russia and Mexico are in need of freer markets. But more so, as captured by a quote from Milton Friedman, Russia and Mexico are in need of stronger political institutions and rule of law. The quote reads “a Free marker isn’t the basis of economic growth; it is Rule of Law.” (Roskin)

Russia and Mexico are surprisingly similar regarding political institutions. Both have had dictators historically and had a strong central force in government. They’re both weak states, which are states that have weak and unbalanced political institutions. Both are presidential systems, where the president holds the majority of the power. In Russia, Putin has both the upper house and constitutional congress under his thumb. In Mexico, politicians’ personalities are important, and the congress is below the president in power. Both have some party proportional electoral systems, but Mexico is mixed with single-member districts seats too. Russia is party proportional only. Both were, up until recently dominant political party systems, but now Mexico features a three-party system. Mexico’s historical dominant party is the most responsible for its corruption though, even too today. Both are federalist governments that are highly centralized in power. And one social similarity is that there is no unifying set of ideologies. This occurs in two different ways thought. In Russia, in the wake of Marxism, which has failed, all other ideologies have been snuffed out and killed. And in this way, Russia lacks civil society, but this is repairing over time. Russia needs a real attempt at a free market. Oppositely for Mexico, it is a Hodgepodge of many conflicting ideologies. Like liberalism and positivism, which conflict at the fundamental level of individual responsibility. Mexico has ideologies of socialism, anarchism. Anticlericalism, fascism, and communism. And obviously, it is impossible to blend these. So, both nations are lacking universal and consistent principles to unite a national identity over. This is very unfortunate. (Roskin)

While all three points of this paper are causes and effects of crime and corruption, it is this final one, weak political institutions, that is the biggest cause of crime and corruption. But it is still an effect. Because crime and corruption bleed into maintaining the status quo and structure of politics to ensure it continues to exist. There is too much to gain by being corrupt, that those who are not corrupt are pushed out of politics and beaten by those who are. And this is a tragedy.

In conclusion, countries that are plagued with weak political institutions and are oil-rich are set up to become corrupt and laced with crime. Unfortunately, it is a self-sustaining circumstance. This corruption and crime contribute to socioeconomic inequality and an understandable mistrust in those political institutions. Which then also contributes to stabilizing the crime and corruption. This trend  serves to explain the conditions of both Mexico and Russia regarding corruption and crime, despite them being mostly different countries. This makes the path to democracy a difficult one. Both states desperately need to diversify their economies away from oil. For Russia, an economic policy that encourages entrepreneurship, and retains efficient companies is needed. For Mexico, they also need this but also need more foreign and private investment. These economic changes would contribute to the gradual formation of a middle class, taking citizens out of poverty. This middle class may then become politically active and demand stronger institutions for democracy. Both countries are in delicate situations because economic turmoil could spell regression, and economic turmoil is possible due to the dependence on oil. But these countries can become strong and solid democracies. But difficult roads await.

 

Bibliography

Franco, Arturo. Mexico: The Unbearable Cost of Distrust. 05 03 2015. 7 12 2020. <https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/mexico-the-unbearable-cost-distrust>.

Grey, CGP. The Rules for Rulers. 24 10 2016. 7 12 2020. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rStL7niR7gs>.

Guilford, Gwynn. On incomes, Russia and the US are now equally unequal. 12 04 2018. 7 12 2020. <https://qz.com/1250100/income-inequality-russia-and-the-us-are-now-equally-unequal/>.

House, Freedom. Mexico. 2020. 7 12 2020. <https://freedomhouse.org/country/mexico/freedom- world/2020>.

Quality of life Comparison. 12 2020. 7 12 2020. <https://www.mylifeelsewhere.com/compare/mexico/russia>.

Roskin, Michael G. Countries & Concepts. Ed. Maureen Diana. 13. Charlyce Jones-Owen, 2016. 25 10 2020.

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