Global Cooperation

We waste $2 trillion a year on corruption. Here are four better ways to spend that money

Protesters hold a sign reading "More education less corruption" to protest against a plan by opposition lawmakers to oust Peru's Education Minister Jaime Saavedra in Lima, Peru, December 12, 2016

The $2 trillion wasted on corruption each year could help tackle important global challenges Image: REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

Stéphanie Thomson
Writer, Forum Agenda
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Global Governance

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

Every year, we waste $2 trillion on corruption. If that sounds like a lot of money, that’s because it is – and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In fact, this already gargantuan figure only takes into account money spent on bribes, and doesn’t include the more difficult to quantify economic consequences of graft – lost investments and a reduced tax base, for example.

Of course, when we start talking about billions and trillions, the numbers start getting a bit abstract. To help put the scale of the problem into some context, here are four global challenges we could tackle with that money – and still have some change left over.

$116 billion: wipe out hunger

From Yemen to Madagascar, conflict and natural disasters have led to devastating famines, and around the world nearly 800 million people don’t have enough food to eat.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In 2015, the UN estimated that by investing $116 billion a year – a drop in the ocean compared to the trillions wasted on corruption – we could wipe out hunger in a little over a decade.

$8.5 billion: eradicate malaria

In 2015, 212 million people were infected with malaria, and 429,000 of them died. That same year, 34 nations committed to eradicating the disease over the next 15 years. To do so, researchers estimated it would take $8.5 billion in funding – starting at around $600 million a year through till 2022, dropping thereafter.

This figure has been described as “very conservative” in that it doesn’t take into account issues like drug resistance. “The target is constantly changing, so we may have to re-cost malaria elimination in a few years’ time,” one of the researchers warned.

Still, $600 million a year seems like small change when compared to the amount being frittered away on corruption.

$1 trillion: bridge the global infrastructure gap

Infrastructure – our roads, bridges, electricity grids – might not sound particularly alluring but it is literally what keeps our cities, countries and regions ticking over.

Despite its importance, we’re not investing the money required: while we should be spending $3.7 trillion each year, we’re falling short by $1 trillion.

This crumbling infrastructure is a huge drain on our economies – in the US, it could cost 2.5 million jobs and $4 trillion in lost GDP between now and 2025, according to researchers.

$26 billion: provide basic education to all children

Education might be the “great equalizer” but for many children around the world – 100 million, says the UN – it’s something they can’t access.

But according to 2014 research, if we were to invest just $26 billion each year into the problem, we could provide basic education to all children in 46 low and middle-income countries.

Not only is that a fraction of what we spend on corruption, it’s actually also an incredibly smart investment, according to UNICEF research: “Evidence shows that, on average, each additional year of education boosts a person’s income by 10% and increases a country’s GDP by 18%.”

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Related topics:
Global CooperationGeo-Economics and Politics
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