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22 Oct 2015

Towards a region with more integrity and transparency: images in the fight against corruption

Francesco De Simone

Read it in Spanish.


Several years ago, when I had just started working on anti-corruption issues, a colleague and dear friend showed me a New Yorker cartoon, as a way to explain to me the nuances of something we had been discussing.

In the cartoon, two men, clearly former white-collar professionals, are hanging out in a prison cell. One looks at the other with a puzzled expression and says “All along I thought our level of corruption fell well within community standards.”

For people who are familiar with corruption (and anti-corruption), there is so much in this cartoon. The idea that a little bit of corruption is often tolerated. The idea that the very same concept of corruption is context-specific, varying depending on the cultural and social environment. The idea that many see corruption as acceptable, because, after all, everybody does it. And there’s a bit of that sense of arrogance that stems from being able to act with impunity, which generated much public anger following the 2008 financial crisis. There’s also, the idea that the two guys who got caught were maybe the only ones who got to pay, while their bosses are still free, laughing behind their back…

At the time I laughed out loud. I thought it was really clever and that was it. But really I couldn’t imagine that that image would have stuck with me throughout the rest of my professional life and to this day. It is often the case that when I read a statement by a politician or public officer jailed for corruption, my mind wanders back to this cartoon. Sometimes I read a long academic paper, and conclude that its essence could be summed up by this very same cartoon. Just recently, I read “The Honest Truth about Dishonesty – How we Lie to Everyone, Especially ourselves”, a wonderful book by Dan Ariely, and couldn’t help going back to that carton. And again I thought about that cartoon a few weeks ago when, with some IDB colleagues, we started thinking about launching a cartoon contest focusing on corruption.

That’s the beauty of the cartoon: its ability to capture with one image so many nuances, perhaps more than you could do with the thousands of words contained in the stack of (unread) academic papers that is sitting on my desk as I write. And the fact that this powerful image comes with humor and irony makes it easier for it to stick and be remembered. It is a universal language that is capable of going way beyond the barriers of language, time and culture.

This has been a momentous year for corruption and anti-corruption in the LAC region. We hope the Cartoon Contest the IDB is launching today will be an opportunity for a (humorous) reflection on corruption, and we encourage creative people from around the LAC region, both professionals and amateurs, regardless of their age, professional trajectory, and level of experience.

Good luck!

Click here to participate in the contest and learn more details.




“I like physics, but I love cartoons.”

―Stephen Hawking

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