□ Thousand □ Million (check one)
Occupied with necessary real world tasks for about a week, I got back into the unreal world of news recently and noted two stories, both on the front page of the New York Times. The stories are superficially quite different, but they struck me as oddly similar. One dealt with a hedge fund billionaire who persuaded well-placed, already quite wealthy individuals to feed him insider information for $500,000 a year. One of those so approached reportedly hesitated for a while before finally (was it reluctantly?) accepting the offer. The other tells of the Pakistani Army Chief who now “balks at U.S. demands to cooperate,” as the headline tells it. That article contains this sentence: “While the general does not want to abandon the alliance completely, he is more likely to pursue a strategy of decreasing Pakistan’s reliance on the United States, and continuing to offer just enough cooperation to keep the billions of dollars in American aid flowing.”
The temptation to receive $500,000 regular as clockwork, or $500 million, ditto, must be enormous for some. For the principled individual, to be sure, the temptation would be a mere flicker of emotion, never genuinely entertained, almost a little inward laugh of dismissal. But in a mental or cultural setting drained of all higher meaning, such numbers will produce titanic “moral” struggles, it would seem. Indeed, in the Pakistani case, the numbers are much bigger. Five hundred million is roughly the average annual volume of grants and credits that flowed from the U.S. to Pakistan in the 2000-2008 period; over and above that flowed an average of $740 million in military and civilian aid.
Now it seems to me that the sheer presence of so much extra wealth—not already spoken for by human needs—in itself produces corruption. By in itself I mean this. We have lots and lots of people, and in these situations there will always be some people inclined to offer such money and some who will be inclined to accept it. And to reach the places where either action is possible would probably require an amoral stance only informed by that great slogan of modernity: You only go round once!