The dangers of affluenza
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'O Tempora, O Mores' ("Oh, what times, oh what customs") was a phrase famously uttered by Roman philosopher-statesman Cicero in a speech deploring the corruption and villainy of his age. It's a phrase that resonates strongly in India right now, with the corruption storm buffeting the UPA government getting bigger and potentially more destructive with each passing day. Indeed, so unceasing and insidious has been its snowballing effect that Anna Hazare's original crusade against sleaze has been almost forgotten. While various agencies differ over the actual cost to the country of the 2G scam, the invisible cost is what is gradually assuming alarming proportions. As the 19th century Austrian satirist Karl Kraus once wrote: "Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual, the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country."
That conclusion raises some inescapable truths. Somewhat inevitably, the rapidly growing economic pie and parallel rise in government revenue and expenditure since 1991 has given rise to greater opportunity for graft, and a similar growth in levels of greed and ambition. Between them, the 2G scam and the Commonwealth Games affair could end up costing an amount with a humungous number of zeros. Back in 1987, what was considered the biggest corruption scandal in Indian history, the Bofors deal, came down to a payoff involving some Rs 60 crore, the cost of putting up a modest high-rise building in Mumbai today. So, are we seeing the flip side of India's economic growth trajectory of the last two decades; a parallel shift in morals and levels of greed?
We seem to have reached a stage where the social disease that Jesse O'Neill, author of The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence, calls "affluenza" has reached dangerous levels in the concentric circles of power — whether it is a minister arbitrarily deciding policy, a politician overseeing an international sporting event, successful businessmen in one sector taking a shortcut to another, or a middleman bribing MPs to switch sides for a crucial vote of confidence. Tihar Jail currently houses them all.
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