Recife

The Human Toll of Corruption

Statistical portraits of commerce and economics are important, but big numbers gloss over the impact of economic trends and policies on individual lives and families.

The same occurs when talking about corruption, perhaps because it is so widespread. We talk about the global problem in abstract terms—about the amount of money siphoned away from economies—rather than in human terms.

Unemployed in Recife, Brazil. Photo by Tom McMahan

Unemployed in Recife, Brazil. Photo by Tom McMahan

So, here’s a human story. During a recent trip to Brazil, where corruption is creating social chaos and taking down high-level business and political leaders, I stopped in the northeastern coastal city of Recife. There I spoke with an executive of a private bus company that provides public transportation in this city of about four million people.

He told me that four years ago his company had close to 400 buses circulating through the city. Today, he said, the company is down to 80 buses. This number shocked me, because Brazilians are so dependent on public transportation. I asked him what accounted for the reduction.

“Corruption,” he said. “The federal corruption scandals have caused tens of thousands of people in this region to lose their jobs. With those job losses, there was a domino effect in other industries and even in small businesses. Fewer people are riding buses because they don’t have anywhere to work.”

No newspapers are paying attention to what’s happening in one bus company. But 300 idle buses sitting in a hot parking lot are tangible symbols of corruption's impact: people without jobs, families with no income, children who can’t get to school, a rise in emotional depression, and increased crime.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, we read that Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, has been formally charged with corruption. He could end up being the second Brazilian president forced out of office in 18 months. It’s estimated that 60 percent of Brazil’s lawmakers are either under suspicion of, being investigated for, or formally charged for corruption. The money lost from the economy is in the billions of dollars.

But it is in the homes of Brazilian families, in the lives of children, and in the stress of unemployed men and women that we see the full brunt of corruption.

At the core, corruption is a lack of love for fellow human beings. Without love in commerce, people suffer. Corruption dehumanizes economics and imposes suffering on people. 

For more on this topic, we encourage you to work through a book by Tom Petersen called The Economy of God, which can be purchased on Amazon in print or digital formats.