Last week, the Columbia Broadcasting Network aired the first episode of its new reality show Hunted. It is billed as the most elaborate hide-and-seek game. Nine teams of two fugitives attempt to hide for 28 days somewhere within a 100,000-square-mile region from an elite team of 18 intelligence and operations experts. Any fugitive team that escapes capture after 28 days will be awarded a cash prize of $250,000.
If the show had aired thirty years ago, nearly every fugitive team would collect the cash prize. However, in our digital age of GPS satellites, social media, ubiquitous security cameras, smartphones, cell phone towers, surveillance satellites, and credit and debit cards, it is almost impossible to hide from technologically equipped authorities. The only chance the fugitive teams have is in their numbers and the limited amount of untraceable cash they are allowed to use. Capturing three or four fugitive teams for the hunters will be easy. Capturing all nine in just 28 days, even with technology, will be challenging.
While modern technology is stripping away much of our privacy, it is also proving to be a powerful tool for reining in corruption. One proof of that is a recent corruption map of the world published by the Transparency International organization (see figure below).
Figure: World Corruption Map—the most corrupt countries are dark red and the least corrupt are yellow. Credit: Transparency International
The map shows an inverse correlation between a nation’s level of accounting and surveillance technology and its level of corruption.
Another evidence of the capacity of modern technology to rein in corruption is a recently published report of an antipoverty experiment performed in Andhra Pradesh, India.1 In Andhra Pradesh, 19 million poor people are intended to benefit from a social safety net program where cash is transferred to them. The big problem is that most of the poor there do not have bank accounts. Thus, local officials or postal service employees distribute the cash to them directly. Typically, many different officials and employees handle the cash during the distribution process, resulting in thievery that substantially reduces the amounts the intended beneficiaries receive.
Countries like Indonesia have attempted to solve this corruption problem by distributing goods instead of cash. The Indonesian government makes available very low quality rice, rice that richer people would never eat, to its poor. Nevertheless, only about a third of the distributed rice actually gets in the hands of the poor.
There is another problem with the distribution of goods instead of cash. Instead of the poor buying what they really need, they must subsist on what the government thinks they need.
In two different social service programs, a workfare program that offers guaranteed employment for millions of poor households and a pension program that provides income for elderly poor people, smart cards replaced cash. The beneficiaries were given smart cards that were tied to their electronic fingerprints. Now, only the real beneficiaries could pick up the payments. The introduction of these smart cards reduced corruption by 41% in the workfare program and by 47% in the pension program. The poor in Andhra Pradesh still must use cash to make most of their purchases. Thus, while corruption is much reduced, it still persists.
A separate experiment in Niger revealed another economic benefit from modern accounting technology—mobile income transfers.2 Welfare program recipients who previously had to travel to a benefit distribution center and wait in line to receive their benefits instead were issued mobile devices. A study showed the time savings associated with the mobile transfers of funds resulted in the recipients taking better care of their households, and especially their dependents. The household diet diversity increased by 9–16% and the household children ate an additional one-third of a meal per day.
These technological advances in the distribution of funds may help answer a biblical prophecy question that I have been fielding ever since I taught a seven-year long Sunday school class on the book of Revelation in the 1970s. The question is what would ever cause virtually all the peoples of the world to receive the mark of the Beast that is mentioned in the thirteenth chapter of Revelation: