Thursday, September 01, 2016

17th Century Corruption

Such is the habitually moralistic tone of post-2008 social and political commentary that it is now basically taken for granted that behavious that are ethically dubious for individuals are also collectively wrong. And crucially, that even when beneficial to unscrupulous individuals, they are inevitably deleterious to society as a whole.

In Latin America we see these notions driving the various anti-corruption movements. Latin Americans look around and conclude that corruption is largely responsible for their relative lack of development compared to say the US or the UK.

Yet just the other day I came across this reference in Samuel Pepys's diary to some advice his patron Lord Montagu had given him as he began his new post in government.

"In general speaking that it was not the salary of any place that did make a man rich, but the opportunity of getting money while he is in the place".

The London of 1660 was the world's largest and fastest-growing commercial centre. Yet this kind of attitude to graft was highly prevalent and could hardly be said to be seriously shackling the developmental potential of seventeenth century British society.

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