Transparency International released its 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index, ranking the world’s countries by levels of corruption, in January 2016. Why a “perceptions” index? According to the institute, it’s the best way:

“Corruption generally comprises illegal activities, which are deliberately hidden and only come to light through scandals, investigations or prosecutions. There is no meaningful way to assess absolute levels of corruption in countries or territories on the basis of hard empirical data. Possible attempts to do so, such as by comparing bribes reported, the number of prosecutions brought or studying court cases directly linked to corruption, cannot be taken as definitive indicators of corruption levels. Instead, they show how effective prosecutors, the courts or the media are in investigating and exposing corruption. Capturing perceptions of corruption of those in a position to offer assessments of public sector corruption is the most reliable method of comparing relative corruption levels across countries.”

With that in mind, here’s the map of the perception of corruption globally:

The top ten, least-corrupt countries are the following:

  1. Denmark
  2. Finland
  3. Sweden
  4. New Zealand
  5. Netherlands
  6. Norway
  7. Switzerland
  8. Singapore
  9. Canada
  10. Germany, Luxembourg, United Kingdom (3-way tie)

Since you’re probably curious, the United States ranks sixteenth in the world for the lowest perceived levels of corruption.

The ten worst countries for the perception of corruption are the following (1 being the worst):

  1. North Korea, Somalia (2-way tie)
  2. Afghanistan
  3. Sudan
  4. South Sudan
  5. Angola
  6. Libya
  7. Iraq
  8. Venezuela
  9. Guinea-Bissau
  10. Haiti

A couple of things stand out. First, it’s painful to admit that four countries in which the U.S. and other Western powers waged war and then, to a greater or lesser degree, attempted to “nation build” are currently among the top ten for corruption. On the other hand, North Korea’s ranking of the worst in comparison to South Korea’s ranking of 37th least-corrupt country is stark as well. In South Korea the U.S. was involved in “nation building” after the Korean War (1950-1953) and introduced many of its principles of government and economics to the country. The North, on the other hand, followed its own path of a strange, deified communism.

The point about South Korea and the U.S. actually brings up another very relevant question: What do the yellow-ish countries with the lowest perceptions of corruption have in common? They have all been deeply shaped by the West’s traditions and principles, particularly the idea of the rule of law — “the rule of law means the government of law, not men.”

As unpopular as dead, white Europeans may be today, over the centuries they were the ones who built the foundation for our current order, which stands in stark contrast with the rest of the world. Europeans were not perfect, but they made incredible advancements in and refinements to the rule of law and what it meant for individuals, families, businesses, churches, and governments. It is a shame that many are so fixated on the imperfections that they ignore the accomplishments. 

Aside from taking issue with the idea that the West’s traditional approaches to law, government, and society are often superior to other areas of the world, some may also argue that what the map represents is actually wealth inequality. In other words, it is poverty that creates corruption. The argument is quite similar to the one put forth regarding urban crime in America and its relationship to poverty. Alas, in the case of the West, it has not always been rich. In fact, for quite a while it was poor compared to much of the world as it developed its philosophies of government and society, rooted in a sort of Christian-Hellenism ethos after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Could it be that it is actually the development of both the rule of law and our Western attitudes towards things like the individual, property rights, government, virtue, etc. that actually enabled us to become so wealthy? Before the West could ever be imperialistic, it had to actually establish a relatively high degree of order and wealth. It’s very hard to be a global imperialist if you’re broke and in chaos. 

These days, much of the West’s political, media, business, and educational leadership seems intent on jettisoning the traditions of the West while embracing multiculturalism; too many look with disdain on our past. Sadly, we do so at our own peril.