- Politics and Social Issues
Corruption – A Benign Evil?
What does corruption do? Other than giving a good excuse for the absence of good governance and the presence of bad citizenry, what all does it do.
What is corruption? It is but a form of dishonest or unethical conduct by a person entrusted with a position of authority, often to acquire personal benefit. Corruption may include a large number of activities including bribery and embezzlement, though it may also involve practices that are legal in many countries. It takes the form of government, or 'political', corruption, when an office-holder or other governmental employee misuses one’s official capacity for personal gain.
It always has been a part of human society, if the available history, popular ballads, and the present outlook of our society, are anything to go by. Our first stop, therefore, has to be human society itself. How and why, corruption is so attractive?
How it Manifests
Human society is a mixture of many elements, each capable of taking the position of an independent society. At any instance, depending on where the directing force comes from, one of these will be in the forefront. This directing force is needed to be supplied externally, and for doing that we have various systems of government. Depending on which element of a society is made to bloom, the directing force being the facilitator, the society will take various shapes, popularly identified by few epithets, like autocracy, aristocracy, or democracy. Whatever the shape a society may take, its fortunes will be decided by the element in bloom, particularly its reaction to internal and external forces. Let us see how, the structure, organization and functioning of different shapes of the society, influence our topic of interest, corruption. In each, the type of people who constitute the majority can be specified as under. (However a minor group of people who follow a different, or opposed outlook cannot be ruled out in each such group, as it is normal in any kind of distribution.)
Where to Look For
One: An Ideal Society: There is no corruption. Those belonging to the governmental machinery won’t be deviating even wee bit, from the established norms. Those belonging to the citizenry will live happily, whatever the circumstances.
Two: A Society of Normal Citizens: Those citizens belonging to the governmental machinery will try to do whatever is necessary to ensure optimum conditions. Also, those belonging to the citizenry will reeling under the effect of such steps, while co-operating earnestly in maintaining those. This is where the vast majority of citizens dwell, and this is also where the lion’s share of the efforts to guide humanity’s future comes from.
Three: A Society of Abnormal Citizens: Those citizens who take an extreme view of whatever they are seized of, to support, or to oppose, or to be indifferent to society’s fortunes.
Four: A Society of Concerned Citizens: Those citizens who actually belonging to the group of abnormal ones, but who does not get marked thus, the declared professed intentions being always for the betterment of society.
What do we See
Out of these four, the first group does not exist, except perhaps in theory. The second group, which constitutes the majority, continues with life, trying to adjust itself to the existing social norms. They may join the corrupt forces, if beneficial, as well as staying away from it, if it is inconvenient otherwise. Or, they effectively remain ambivalent to it. The third and fourth groups have people engaging constantly with existing norms to find faults, to derive whatever benefit that can accrue thereof, to oppose such abnormalities tooth and nail, or to support or oppose restructuring efforts. Both the third and the fourth are active groups, fourth being of a more pronounced ambience in every society, thanks to its sublime aims. Because corruption exists as a part of society, almost all would be looking for deriving whatever benefits they could. Some of these could be pecuniary, and some others rather philosophical gains, and many, a mixture of both.
But the fact that they are benefited need not make them the cause; they are just being realistic by taking advantage of the existing system. To find out who out of these four is the cause of corruption, I think it is necessary to examine who gets benefitted the most. For group two representing the bulk of population, we can see that, effectively, they have chosen corruption just as a default choice. But, from the above it is clear that corruption is leading to significant gains for those belonging to the last two groups. Being always in positions of reckoning, those people can apply corrupt practices to further their superior, unearthly ambitions. In addition, those belonging to the fourth group are also benefited by satisfying much of their needs of self-actualization, the most superior one in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
This surprising finding clears one of my early doubts. There always is disproportionate clamor about actual or perceived losses due to corruption. You see, those of the fourth group are the real gainers here as it amplifies their ‘concern’ many fold. Corruption, then should be coming with certain benefits? For example, in a paper published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Svensson (Fortune 08/07/2014) surveys the literature on the economic effects of corruption, and they can be severe. He notes that there is a strong negative correlation between the wealth of a nation and its level of corruption, and that this corruption often harms the poorest in a society. Also, most corruption is nowhere near as outrageous, and there are times when the presence of corruption can actually lead to just outcomes. According to Chris Blattman, an associate professor of political science at Columbia University, this might be why economists have not been able to link levels of corruption to growth rates. While overall wealth is associated with lower levels of corruption, there is very little evidence that corruption leads to slower economic growth.
I think we should first attack the causes of corruption, if it becomes an issue.
I agree, corrupt officials are like parasites that feed off society and benefit only themselves. Furthermore, as corruption becomes more prevalent, ethical people lose faith in the system and are sapped of their drive to work honestly. But it's important to understand that because we live in an imperfect world, corruption, especially in a controlled manner, can function as a lubricant to overcome some of our worst problems.
© 2017 ROY T JAMES