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Anyone who lived through the 80s in Brazil has a bitter memory of hyperinflation, when prices changed every week.

The amount of money back then was a kind of fiction, a convention. At first glance, you’d think we had lots of money, because the amounts were measured by such huge numbers. 10’000 was change. Everyone was a millionaire then, because a million was the price of a meal. The number was meaningless, as it would change soon. 2 did not really mean 1 + 1, it was just a name.

That made me think about how should we measure the size of a bribe.

Every now and then, when a new corruption scheme is discovered, someone will say that it is the biggest scheme ever. I am always very skeptical of such a claim, because it would imply the person knows about all of the corruption schemes, which is very unlikely, even for the crooks themselves.

In fact, maybe the numbers about corruption are on the rise because they are becoming less and less meaningful.

As in: Toninho Malvadeza (the arch corrupt politician) had power of life and death over his piece of Brazil, but maybe he got less money out of it than Cunha, and still he was a bigger fish no matter how you look at it.

The big numbers in the news might mean that today’s crooks are just not as competent as the crooks of decades past.


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