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@semihakcomak – beni düşündüren şeyler – things that make me think

Immoral growth

moralThe term “jobless growth” was coined in the 1930s to explain the situation of the US economy. The economy grew but did not create enough jobs.

The economy bureaucrats in Turkey are mesmerized by numbers. In all occasions they mention how the Turkish economy skyrocketed. But if you put the numbers aside for a while and look at the ethics and especially work ethics in Turkey we better coin a new term, “immoral growth”, to explain the recent state of the Turkish socio-economic change. Turkish economy grew, but we internalized and legitimized lying and corruption.

Below is some anecdotal evidence that I, my family or my close friends encountered. This is actually a long list but I selected four:

  • The plumber/mechanic cheats and ask for excessive money for the services,
  • 5 and 50 Turkish Liras were almost the same colour. There were so many complaints that when you pay to a taxi driver with 50 TL, the taxi driver quickly changes the 50TL with 5TL with hocus- pocus and asks for more money arguing that you gave 5TL instead of 50TL. Similar complaints made the Central Bank to change the colour of the 5TL. Now it is purplish,
  • You shake hand with a mechanic to deal with the repairs in your house. The mechanic doesn’t show up. If you call and ask what went wrong he says everything is fine it is just someone else offered more money,
  • The electronic scale that the seller use in the bazaar is biased towards weighing less.

And some facts from the recent corruption perception index:

  • 68% percent of Turkish people say that corruption in public organizations is a problem
  • 66% say that the political parties are affected by corruption
  • 27% say that they have bribed a public official in the education services; 23% police; 20% registry and permit services (average is 21%, in 2011 it was 33%).
  • 2002-2007 the bribe percentage was on the 4-7% band. After 2010 it reached to 20-30% band.
  • 2002-2007 people who say corruption increased was on the 30-40% band. Recent corruption barometer shows that more than 50% of the people think that corruption has increased.

And two recent events that further supports my argument:

  • The match fixing and corruption scandal resulted in UEFA ban of Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş. Our own institution (Turkish Football Federation) was so weak and incompetent that the whole process was mismanaged which made an international body to act against the will of the local federation,
  • A large scale of doping scandal is shaking Turkish athletics. Some say that it is so big to include 30 athletes some of whom won medals in international events such as European and World Championship and even the Olympics.

So Turkey not only skyrocketed in economic growth but also in corruption!

We do really have an ethics problem in Turkey. What is more interesting is that nobody seems to care about this. Many acts that could be labelled as “unethical” and “unlawful” have become part of the daily life in Turkey (e.g., lying; cheating in exams; fail to pay tax; false claims to obtain public services; giving bribe to public officials etc.). Unethical behaviour is so common in our daily life and work life that most people do not act against it. In a way immorality is internalised. It became the software of our mind.

There is a major cultural factor that shapes the internalization of immorality in Turkey. We live in a country where “easy gain”, “fast-result”, “save the short-run” logic is superior to almost anything. To achieve certain ends people can easily cheat. We learn this in school. I remember quite a number of people cheating in exams in primary, secondary and high school (even in university) but I do not remember a single case in which cheating resulted in a penalty. The most you get is a warning. When as individuals we learn that we will not be penalised when we cheat, we internalise cheating. This is in fact a very simple process which as a result immorality is community-wide internalised.

One way to deal with this problem is creating binding institutions. So for instance if from now on we see that immoral acts against the law is seriously penalised by the judiciary we have to change our behaviour (the judiciary is sending strong signals to us that any similar act will be penalised). However in Turkey the judicial system has unfortunately failed to follow this simple track. Now and then we read in the newspapers, we watch on TV, we hear people talking on the streets that people who cheat are acquitted with simple warnings. Unfortunately Turkish judicial system is not binding which is a major factor that shapes the legitimization of immorality.

I label this internalisation and legitimization process of immorality as “immoral growth”. People cheat, lie and behave unethically to reach status and to obtain financial gains. So immorality pays off in the short run but any immoral growth process is unsustainable in the long-run. It would collapse eventually. The social turmoil after the “Gezi Parkı” events was a real test to the immoral growth process. We have seen the degree of immorality in public service, media and the government, which I would say is the most important achievement of the “Gezi Parkı” events that most people overlook.

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