Corruption is humanity’s greatest problem. It is the reason for more unnecessary misery than anything else. It destroys fairness, eliminates justice, engenders graft, creates abuse and kills trust. Corrupt societies cannot cooperate effectively and must depend on coersion instead. This handicaps the society and productivity falls. With all these negative impacts, why does corruption exist at all?
The root of corruption is in human nature. People tend to take advantage whenever they see one. This isn’t an evil in itself. We always use whatever influence we have every day to make our lives better.
Competition between advantages is inevitable. Some acts will benefit one’s self at the expense of others. This too is not an evil in itself. Life is often competitive, but only a child makes a fuss about someone else getting the last doughnut. Humans enjoy and celebrate competition. Look at the popularity of professional sports. Many of the games we play have a zero sum. Humans generally recognize that mutual benefit is often preferable, yet our minds are still captured by those who risk their lives and fortunes in competition with others.
We could define corruption as the acts of individuals who show a consistent pattern of taking advantage at the expense of others. It sounds reasonable, but this is an oversimplification and rarely seen in reality. Other people quickly recognize such individuals and they eventually become ostracized and their influence curtailed. Effective corruption requires more than just one person to participate in it.
Another necessary element that enables corruption is the human tendency to form groups. The superficial reason we self-organize into groups are varied and complex. However, it can be assumed that advantage is the root motivator. This is both normal and generally healthy behavior. However, the participants in any group tend to behave differently toward those within the group than to those outside it. This is tribalism – an us versus them attitude that naturally arises in human groupings. Corruption’s first act is to exclude outsiders.
Can we suppress our tribalistic instincts? Perhaps not. At best, we seem to be capable of mentally expanding our tribal group to include the whole of humanity. Even then, we are susceptible to pulling in the fences around our nation, our family, or whatever group we identify with whenever we are under stress or threat.
Human groups tend to have structure and power becomes concentrated in few leaders by multiple followers. Such power structures are all around us, from the basic family unit, to corporations, to massive treaty organizations between nations. Again, we build these structures based on perceived advantages.
Concentration of power allows small groups to wield influence over large ones that would be otherwise unattainable. It is inevitable that some decisions that those in power make will benefit some over others and will be made based on the preferences and advantage of the powerful. Corruption is thus born.
Influence is advantage is power is corruption. We all posess power in exactly the proportion we have advantage and influence over others. We are all corrupt in the same proportion.
Money is power. It’s become a cliché because it is perfectly true. More than simply a medium of trade, it allows one to trade nothing – an idea, a piece of paper or more often than not a number in an account – for a real thing or action. Now, getting something for nothing would certainly be a form of power, but that isn’t quite what’s happening.
Money is not real. But it is a concrete idea that exists in multiple minds – a shared delusion. This delusion allows even complete strangers to perform the most powerful human act: cooperation. Collaborative effort is the productive force behind all of our greatest accomplisments.
Money is advantage. Sufficient quantities of money can buy almost anything. Food, sex, property, justice, even loyalty can be bought. The more money you have, the more influence and advantage you have. The concentration of money is the concentration of power.
Force is power. Nothing is more effective in getting what you want than threatening to take away everything someone has with a gun, a bomb, a stealth fighter or a nuclear weapon. Force has been the deciding factor in more of history than any other type of power.
Advantage is power is money is force is corruption. They are equal. When you are talking about humans, they are the same thing in different orders of magnitude and different faces. Absolute power does not corrupt absolutely. Absolute power is absolute corruption. The only way to minimize corruption in power is to avoid concentrating it in the first place.
How corrupt are we? For this we can look to another cliché. Follow the money. What you will find is that a handful of individuals now control the vast majority of all money and in the world and thus the corporations that produce almost everything we need, desire and use. These corporate puppets now have so much influence that they can write their own legislation and expect it to be passed with hardly a finger raised in protest. When you can get anything you desire for sufficient quantities of an idea (i.e. money) you have absolute power.
Our judicial and political systems are fully corrupt too. For example, when an average person goes to court without a lawyer, they almost invariably lose. The rules of litigation have become so arcane that only those within the legal profession understand them. This is advantage and power. Lawyers become judges and politicians and thus become the ones who then make the rules for courts to enforce. This is a self-reinforcing feedback loop that keeps those with power in power.
What do we do? Can we organize our society in such a way that power remains with individuals? Democracy and communism actually share this goal and both miss it by differing degrees. The problem, again, is that concentration of power is the mother of corruption. The collapse of communism was inevitable because it had no mechanism to correct its own corruption. Democracy is little better. The longer a democracy exists, the more corrupt it becomes as various groups figure out ways to make it work for themselves to the detriment of everyone else.
Anarchy then? Every man for themselves? No. All concepts can be taken to an illogical extreme. The only solution to corruption is to prevent and to dismantle all concentration of power, but we still need to be able to cooperate. My experience has been that all organizations begin to lose effectiveness when they expand beyond a particular size or do not share common goals. That may be a useful guidepost.
Money is the root of all evil. The final cliché. Though it isn’t the root – it is equivalent. Money is power is corruption is evil.
Money plus power plus influence equals corruption. It’s a simple mathematical equation. To avoid the evil of corruption, it is the concentration of all forms of power that we must resist.
We need a new idea. Nothing we have tried works and keeps working. No power structure can avoid concentration of power, so it seems that power structures themselves should be avoided. We need a voluntary charter. A shared set of ideas that allows us to cooperate with each other without requiring yeilding our influence to powerful authorities. I’m afraid I don’t have the answer and it’s possible there is no answer. It’s worth trying though.