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The causes and effects of corruption, and how to combat corruption, are issues that have been very much on the national and international agendas of politicians and other policymakers in recent decades (Heidenheimer and Johnston 2002; Heywood 2018). Moreover, various historically influential philosophers, notably Plato ( The Republic ), Aristotle ( The Politics ), Machiavelli ( The Prince and The Discourses ), Hobbes ( The Leviathan ) and Montesquieu ( The Spirit of the Laws ), have concerned themselves with political corruption in particular, albeit in somewhat general terms (Sparling 2019; Blau 2009). For these philosophers corruption consisted in large part in rulers governing in the service of their own individual or collective—or other factional—self-interest, rather than for the common good and in accordance with the law or, at least, in accordance with legally enshrined moral principles. They also emphasized the importance of virtues, where it was understood that the appropriate virtues for rulers might differ somewhat from the appropriate virtues for citizens. Indeed, Machiavelli, in particular, famously or, perhaps, infamously argued in The Prince that the rulers might need to cultivate dispositions, such as ruthlessness, that are inconsistent with common morality. [ 1 ] And Plato doubted that the majority of people were even capable of possessing the requisite moral and intellectual virtues required to play an important role in political institutions; hence his rejection in The Republic of democracy in favor of rule by philosopher-kings. Moreover, these historically important political philosophers were concerned about the corruption of the citizenry: the corrosion of the civic virtues. This theme of a corrupt citizenry, as opposed to a corrupt leadership or institution, has been notably absent in contemporary philosophical discussion of the corruption of political institutions until quite recently. However, recently the corruption of political institutions and of the citizenry as a consequence of the proliferation of disinformation, propaganda, conspiracy theories and hate speech on social media, in particular (Woolley and Howard 2019), has become an important phenomenon which philosophers have begun to address (Lynch 2017; Cocking and van den Hoven 2018; Miller and Bossomaier 2023: Ch. 4). Social media bots are used inter alia to automatically generate disinformation (as well as information), propagate ideologies (as well as non-ideologically based opinions), and function as fake accounts to inflate the followings of other accounts and to gain followers. The upshot is that the moral right of freedom to communicate has frequently not been exercised responsibly; moral obligations to seek and communicate truths rather than falsehoods have not been discharged, resulting in large-scale social, political and, in some cases, physical harm. One key set of ethical issues here pertains to an important form of institutional corruption: corruption of the democratic process. For instance, revelations concerning the data firm Cambridge Analytica’s illegitimate use of the data of millions of Facebook users to influence elections in the U.S. and elsewhere highlighted the ethical issues arising from the use of machine learning techniques for political purposes by malevolent foreign actors. The problem here is compounded by home-grown corruption of democratic institutions by people who wilfully undermine electoral and other institutional processes in the service of their own political and personal goals. For instance, Donald Trump consistently claimed, and continues to claim, that the 2020 U.S. presidential election which he demonstrably lost involved massive voter fraud. The problem has also been graphically illustrated in the U.S. by the rise of home-grown extremist political groups fed via social media on a diet of disinformation, conspiracy theories, hate speech, and propaganda; a process which led to the violent attack in January 2021 on the Capitol building which houses the U.S. Congress.

In the modern period, in addition to the corruption of political institutions, the corruption of other kinds of institutions, notably market-based institutions, has been recognised. For example, the World Bank (1997) some time back came around to the view that the health of economic institutions and progress in economic development is closely linked to corruption reduction. In this connection there have been numerous anti-corruption initiatives in multiple jurisdictions, albeit this is sometimes presented as politically motivated. Moreover, the Global Financial Crisis and its aftermath have revealed financial corruption, including financial benchmark manipulation, and spurred regulators to consider various anti-corruption measures by way of response (Dobos, Pogge and Barry 2011). And in recent decades there have been ongoing efforts to analyze and devise means to combat corruption in in police organizations, in the professions, in the media, and even in universities and other research-focused institutions.

While contemporary philosophers, with some exceptions, have been slow to focus on corruption, the philosophical literature is increasing, especially in relation to political corruption (Thompson 1995; Dobel 2002; Warren 2006; Lessig 2011; Newhouse 2014; Philp and David-Barrett 2015; Miller 2017; Schmidtz 2018; Blau 2018; Philp 2018; Thompson 2018; Sparling 2019; Ceva & Ferretti 2021). For instance, until relatively recently the concept of corruption had not received much attention, and much of the conceptual work on corruption had consisted in little more than the presentation of brief definitions of corruption as a preliminary to extended accounts of the causes and effects of corruption and the ways to combat it. Moreover, most, but not all, of these definitions of corruption were unsatisfactory in fairly obvious ways. However, recently a number of more theoretically sophisticated definitions of corruption and related notions, such as bribery, have been provided by philosophers. Indeed, philosophers have also started to turn their minds to issues of anti-corruption, e.g., anti-corruption systems (often referred to as “integrity systems”), and in doing so theorizing the sources of corruption and the means to combat it.

1. Varieties of Corruption

2.1.1 personal corruption and institutional corruption, 2.1.2 institutional corrosion and structural corruption, 2.1.3 institutional actors and corruption, 2.2 causal theory of institutional corruption, 2.3.1 proceduralist theories of political corruption, 2.3.2 thompson: individual versus institutional corruption, 2.3.3 lessig’s dependence corruption, 2.3.4 ceva & ferretti: office accountability, 3. noble cause corruption, 4. integrity systems, 5. conclusion, other internet resources, related entries.

Consider one of the most popular of the standard longstanding definitions, namely, “Corruption is the abuse of power by a public official for private gain”. [ 2 ] No doubt the abuse of public offices for private gain is paradigmatic of corruption. But when a bettor bribes a boxer to “throw” a fight this is corruption for private gain, but it need not involve any public office holder; the roles of boxer and bettor are usually not public offices.

One response to this is to distinguish public corruption from private corruption, and to argue that the above definition is a definition only of public corruption. But if ordinary citizens lie when they give testimony in court, this is corruption; it is corruption of the criminal justice system. However, it does not involve abuse of a public office by a public official. And when police fabricate evidence out of a misplaced sense of justice, this is corruption of a public office, but not for private gain.

In the light of the failure of such analytical-style definitions it is tempting to try to sidestep the problem of providing a theoretical account of the concept of corruption by simply identifying corruption with specific legal and/or moral offences. However, attempts to identify corruption with specific legal/moral offences are unlikely to succeed. Perhaps the most plausible candidate is bribery; bribery is regarded by some as the quintessential form of corruption (Noonan 1984; Pritchard 1998; Green 2006). But what of nepotism (Bellow 2003)? Surely it is also a paradigmatic form of corruption, and one that is conceptually distinct from bribery. The person who accepts a bribe is understood as being required to provide a benefit to the briber, otherwise it is not a bribe; but the person who is the beneficiary of an act of nepotism is not necessarily understood as being required to return the favor.

In fact, corruption is exemplified by a very wide and diverse array of phenomena of which bribery is only one kind, and nepotism another. Paradigm cases of corruption include the following. The commissioner of taxation channels public monies into his personal bank account, thereby corrupting the public financial system. A political party secures a majority vote by arranging for ballot boxes to be stuffed with false voting papers, thereby corrupting the electoral process. A police officer fabricates evidence in order to secure convictions, thereby corrupting the judicial process. A number of doctors close ranks and refuse to testify against a colleague who they know has been negligent in relation to an unsuccessful surgical operation leading to loss of life; institutional accountability procedures are thereby undermined. A sports trainer provides the athletes he trains with banned substances in order to enhance their performance, thereby subverting the institutional rules laid down to ensure fair competition (Walsh and Giulianotti 2006). It is self-evident that none of these corrupt actions are instances of bribery.

Further, it is far from obvious that the way forward at this point is simply to add a few additional offences to the initial “list” consisting of the single offence of bribery. Candidates for being added to the list of offences would include nepotism, police fabricating evidence, cheating in sport by using drugs, fraudulent use of travel funds by politicians, and so on. However, any such list needs to be justified by recourse to some principle or principles. Ultimately, naming a set of offences that might be regarded as instances of corruption does not obviate the need for a theoretical, or quasi-theoretical, account of the concept of corruption.

As it happens, there is at least one further salient strategy for demarcating the boundaries of corrupt acts. Implicit in much of the literature on corruption is the view that corruption is essentially a legal offence, and essentially a legal offence in the economic sphere. Accordingly, one could seek to identify corruption with economic crimes, such as bribery, fraud, and insider trading.

But many acts of corruption are not unlawful. Bribery, a paradigm of corruption, is a case in point. Prior to 1977 it was not unlawful for U.S. companies to offer bribes to secure foreign contracts; indeed, elsewhere such bribery was not unlawful until much later. [ 3 ] So corruption is not necessarily unlawful. This is because corruption is not at bottom simply a matter of law; rather it is fundamentally a matter of morality.

Secondly, corruption is not necessarily economic in character. An academic who plagiarizes the work of others is not committing an economic crime or misdemeanor; and she might be committing plagiarism simply in order to increase her academic status. There might not be any financial benefit sought or gained.

We can conclude that many of the historically influential definitions of corruption, as well as attempts to circumscribe corruption by listing paradigmatic offences, fail. They fail in large part because the class of corrupt actions comprises an extremely diverse array of types of moral and legal offences undertaken in a wide variety of institutional contexts including, but by no means restricted to, political and economic institutions.

However, in recent times progress has been made. Philosophers, at least, have identified corruption as fundamentally a moral, as opposed to legal, phenomenon. Acts can be corrupt even though they are, and even ought to be, legal. Moreover, it is evident that not all acts of immorality are acts of corruption; corruption is only one species of immorality.

An important distinction in this regard is the distinction between human rights violations and corruption (see the entry on human rights ). Genocide is a profound moral wrong; but it is not corruption. This is not to say that there is not an important relationship between human rights violations and corruption; on the contrary, there is often a close and mutually reinforcing nexus between them (Pearson 2001; Pogge 2002 [2008]; Wenar 2016; Sharman 2017). Consider the endemic corruption and large-scale human rights abuse that have taken place in authoritarian regimes, such as that of Mobutu in Zaire, Suharto in Indonesia and Marcos in the Philippines (Sharman 2017). And there is increasing empirical evidence of an admittedly sometimes complex, but sometimes not so complex, causal connection between corruption and the infringement of both negative rights (such as the right not to be tortured, suffer arbitrary loss of one’s freedom, or have one’s property stolen) and positive rights, e.g., subsistence rights (such as the right to a sufficient supply of clean water to enable life and health); there is evidence, that is, of a causal relation between corruption and poverty. Consider corrupt authoritarian leaders in developing countries who sell the country’s natural resources cheaply and retain the profits for themselves and their families and supporters (Pogge 2002 [2008]: Chapter 6; Wenar 2016). As Wenar has forcefully argued (Wenar 2016), in the first place this is theft of the property (natural resources) of the people of the countries in question (e.g., Equatorial Guinea) by their own rulers (e.g., Obiang) and, therefore, western countries and others who import these resources are buying stolen goods; and, in the second place, this theft maintains these human rights-violating rulers in power and ensures that their populations continue to suffer in conditions of abject poverty, disease etc.

Thus far, examples of different types of corrupt action have been presented, and corrupt actions have been distinguished from some other types of immoral action. However, the class of corrupt actions has not been adequately demarcated within the more general class of immoral actions. To do so, a definition of corrupt actions is needed.

An initial distinction here is between single one-off actions of corruption and a pattern of corrupt actions. The despoiling of the moral character of a role occupant, or the undermining of institutional processes and purposes, would typically require a pattern of actions—and not merely a single one-off action. So a single free hamburger provided to a police officer on one occasion usually does not corrupt, and is not therefore an act of corruption. Nevertheless, a series of such gifts to a number of police officers might corrupt. They might corrupt, for example, if the hamburger joint in question ended up with (in effect) exclusive, round the clock police protection, and if the owner intended that this be the case.

Note here the pivotal role of habits (Langford & Tupper 1994). We have just seen that the corruption of persons and institutions typically requires a pattern of corrupt actions. More specifically, corrupt actions are typically habitual. Yet, as noted by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics , one’s habits are in large part constitutive of one’s moral character; habits make the man (and the woman). The coward is someone who habitually takes flight in the face of danger; by contrast, the courageous person has a habit of standing his or her ground. Accordingly, morally bad habits —including corrupt actions—are extremely corrosive of moral character, and therefore of institutional roles and ultimately institutions. Naturally, so-called systemic corruption would typically involve not simply the habitual performance of a corrupt action by a single individual but the habitual performance of a corrupt action by many individuals in an institution or, conceivably, an entire society or polity. Moreover, this pattern of individuals engaged in the performance of habitual corrupt actions might have a self-sustaining structure that gives rise to a collective action problem, if the pattern is to be broken. Consider widespread bribery in relation to competitive tenders for government contracts. Bribes are paid by competing companies in order to try influence the outcome of the tender process. Any firm that chooses not to pay a bribe is not given serious consideration. Thus, not to engage in corruption is to seriously disadvantage one’s company. Even those who do not want to engage in bribery do so. This is a collective action problem (Olson 1965).

Notwithstanding the habitual nature of most corrupt actions there are some cases in which a single, one-off action would be sufficient to corrupt an instance of an institutional process. Consider a specific tender. Suppose that one bribe is offered and accepted, and the tendering process is thereby undermined. Suppose that this is the first and only time that the person offering the bribe and the person receiving the bribe are involved in bribery. Is this one-off bribe an instance of corruption? Surely it is, since it corrupted that particular instance of a tendering process.

Ontologically speaking, there are different kinds of entities that can be corrupted. These include human beings, words of a language, artefacts, such as computer discs, and so on. However, our concern in this entry is with the corruption of institutions since this is the main focus of the philosophical and, for that matter, the non-philosophical, literature. Of course, institutions are comprised in large part of institutional roles occupied by human beings. So our focus on institutional corruption brings with it a focus on the corruption of individual human beings. (I refer to the corruption of individual human beings as personal corruption.) However in the case of institutional corruption, the focus on the corruption of human beings (personal corruption) is on human beings qua institutional actors (and on those who interact with institutional role occupants qua institutional role occupants)(Miller 2017: 65).

The upshot of this is that there are three sets of distinctions in play here. Firstly, there is the distinction between institutional corruption and non-institutional corruption—the latter being the corruption of entities other than institutions, e.g., corruption of artefacts. Secondly, there is the distinction between personal and non-personal corruption—the former being the corruption of human beings as opposed to, for instance, institutional processes. Thirdly, with respect to personal corruption, there is the distinction between the corruption of persons qua institutional actors and non-institutional personal corruption. Non-institutional personal corruption is corruption of persons outside institutional settings. Personal corruption pertains to the moral character of persons, and consists in the despoiling of their moral character. If an action has a corrupting effect on a person’s character, it will typically be corrosive of one or more of a person’s virtues. These virtues might be virtues that attach to the person qua human being, e.g., the virtues of compassion and fairness in one’s dealings with other human beings. Corrosion of these virtues amounts to non-institutional personal corruption. Alternatively—or in some cases, additionally—these virtues might attach to persons qua occupants of specific institutional roles, e.g., impartiality in a judge or objectivity in a journalist. Corrosion of these virtues amounts to institutional personal corruption, i.e., corruption of a person qua institutional role occupant.

In order to provide an adequate account of institutional corruption we need a serviceable notion of an institution: the thing corrupted. For our purposes here it is assumed that an institution is an organization or structure of organizations that reproduces itself (e.g., by training and recruitment processes) and is comprised of a structure of institutional roles defined in terms of tasks (Harré 1979; Giddens 1984; Miller 2010). Accordingly, the class of institutions is quite diverse and includes political institutions, (e.g., legislatures), market-based institutions, (e.g., corporations), institutions of learning, (e.g., universities), security agencies, (e.g., police and military organizations), and so on. Importantly, as we noted above, the various different types of, and even motives for, institutional corruption vary greatly from one kind of institution to another.

Note that in theorizing institutional corruption the distinction between an entire society or polity, on the one hand, and its constituent institutions, on the other, needs to be kept in mind. A theory of democracy, for instance, might be a theory not only of democratic government in the narrow sense of the legislature and senior members of the executive, but also of the public administration as a whole, the judiciary, the security agencies (police and military), civil society and so on. Obviously, a theory of the corruption of democratic political institutions (in the narrow sense of the legislature and the senior members of the executive) might not be generalizable to other sorts of institution within a democracy, e.g., to security agencies or market-based institutions. Moreover, fundamental differences regarding the specific form that a democracy ought to take, e.g., between those of a republican persuasion (Pettit 1997; Sandel 2012) and libertarians (Nozick 1974; Friedman 1970), might morph into disputes about what counts as institutional corruption. For instance, on one view market-based institutions exist to serve the common good, while on another they exist only to serve the individual self-interest of the participants in them. Thus on the latter, but not the former, view market intervention by the government in the service of the common good might be regarded as a species of corruption. Further, a theory of the corruption of democracy, and certainly of the corruption of one species of democracy such as liberal democracy, is not necessarily adequate for the understanding of the corruption of many of institutions within a democracy and, in particular, those institutions, such as military and police institutions, hierarchical bureaucracies and market-based institutions, which are not inherently democratic either in structure or purpose, notwithstanding that they exist within the framework of a democratic political system, are shaped in various ways by that framework and, conversely, might be necessary for the maintenance of that framework.

2. Institutional Corruption

2.1 general features of institutional corruption.

Our concern here is only with institutional corruption. Nevertheless, it is plausible that corruption in general, including institutional corruption frequently, if not typically, involves the despoiling of the moral character of persons and in particular, in the case of institutional corruption, the despoiling of the moral character of institutional role occupants qua institutional role occupants. To this extent institutional corruption involves personal corruption and, thereby, connects institutional corruption to moral character. If the moral character of particular institutional role occupants, (e.g., police detectives), consists in large part of their possession of certain virtues definitive of the role in question (e.g., honesty, independence of mind, impartiality) then institutional corruption will frequently involve the displacement of those virtues in these role occupants by corresponding vices, (e.g., dishonesty, weak mindedness, bias); that is, institutional corruption will frequently involve institutional personal corruption.

As noted above, the relationship between institutional corruption and personal corruption is something that has been emphasized historically, e.g., by Plato, Aristotle and Machiavelli. However, some recent theorists of structural corruption have tended to downplay this relationship. Lessig’s notion of dependence corruption (Lessig 2011), in particular, evidently decouples structural corruption from (institutional) personal corruption (see section 2.3.3 below).

Personal corruption, i.e., the state of having been corrupt ed , is not the same thing as performing a corrupt action, i.e., being a corrupt or . Typically, corruptors are themselves corrupted, but this is not necessarily the case. Consider, for example, a parent who pays a one-off bribe to an immigration official in order to be reunited with her child. The parent is a corruptor by virtue of performing a corrupt action, but she is not necessarily corrupted by her, let us assume, morally justifiable action.

Does personal corruption imply moral responsibility for one’s corrupt character? This issue is important in its own right but it also has implications for our understanding of structural corruption. Certainly, many, if not most, of those who are corrupted are morally responsible for being so. After all, they do or should know what it is to be corrupt and they could have avoided becoming corrupt. Consider, for instance, kleptocrats, such as Mobuto and Marcos, who have looted billions of dollars from the public purse (Sharman 2017), or senior members of multi-national corporations who have been engaged in ongoing massive bribery in China and elsewhere (Pei 2016). These kleptocrats and corporate leaders are not only corruptors, they are themselves corrupt; moreover, they are morally responsible for being in their state of corruption.

However, there appear to be exceptions to the claim that personal corruption necessarily or always brings with it moral responsibility for one’s corrupt character, e.g., adolescents who have been raised in criminal families and, as a result, participate in the corrupt enterprises of these families. These individuals perform actions which are an expression of their corrupt characters and which also have a corrupting effect.

What of the moral responsibility of corruptors for their corrupt actions? It is plausible that many, if not most, corruptors are morally responsible for their corrupt actions (e.g., the legions of those rightly convicted of corruption in criminal courts—and therefore, presumably, morally responsible for their actions—in jurisdictions around the world), but there appear to be exceptions, e.g., those who are coerced into offering bribes.

One school of thought in the theory of social institutions that might well reject the view that corruptors are necessarily or even typically morally responsible (or, therefore, blameworthy) for their corrupt actions is structuralism (Lévi-Strauss 1962 [1966]) and especially structural Marxism (Althusser 1971). According to the latter view institutional structure and, in particular, economic class-based relations largely determine institutional structures and cultures, and regularities in the actions of institutional actors. On this anti-individualist conception neither institutional corrosion nor institutional corruption—supposing the two notions can be distinguished (see below)—are ultimately to be understood by recourse to the actions of morally responsible individual human agents. Strong forms of structuralism are inconsistent with most contemporary philosophical accounts of institutional corruption, not the least because these accounts typically assume that institutions have an inherently normative—rather than merely ideological—dimension. However there are echoes of weaker forms of structuralism in some of these accounts when it comes to the issue of the moral responsibility of human persons for institutional corruption. One influential contemporary theorist of corruption who apparently does not accept the view that corruptors are necessarily or always morally responsible (or, therefore, blameworthy) for their corrupt actions is Lessig (Lessig 2011) (see section 2.3.3 below).

The upshot of our discussion of (institutional) personal corruption and moral responsibility is as follows. We now have, at least notionally, a fourfold distinction in relation to corruptors: (1) corruptors who are morally responsible for their corrupt action and blameworthy; (2) corruptors who are morally responsible for their corrupt action but not blameworthy; (3) corruptors who are not morally responsible for having a corrupt character, but whose actions: (a) are expressive of their corrupt character, and; (b) have a corrupting effect; (4) corruptors who do not have a corrupt character and are neither morally responsible nor blameworthy for their corrupt actions, yet whose actions have a corrupting effect, e.g., by virtue of some form of structural dependency for which individual human persons are not morally responsible.

Naturally, in the case of institutional corruption typically greater institutional damage is being done than simply the despoiling of the moral character of the institutional role occupants. Specifically, institutional processes are being undermined, and/or institutional purposes subverted. A further point is that the undermining of institutional purposes or processes typically requires the actions of multiple agents; the single action of a single agent is typically not sufficient. The multiple actions of the multiple agents in question could be a joint action(s) or they could be individual actions taken in aggregate. A joint action is one in which two or more agents perform a contributory individual action in the service of a common or collective end (Miller 2010: Chapter 1) or, according to some theorists, joint intention (Bratman 2016: Chapter 1). For instance, motivated by financial gain, a group of traders within the banking sector might cooperate with one another in order to manipulate a financial benchmark rate, such as LIBOR (London Interbank Borrowing Rate) (Wheatley 2012).

However, arguably, the undermining of institutional processes and/or purposes is not a sufficient condition for institutional corruption. Acts of institutional damage that are not performed by a corruptor and also do not corrupt persons might be thought to be better characterized as acts of institutional corrosion . Consider, for example, funding decisions that gradually reduce public monies allocated to the court system in some large jurisdiction. As a consequence, magistrates might be progressively less well trained and there might be fewer and fewer of them to deal with the gradually increasing workload of cases. This may well lead to a diminution over decades in the quality of the adjudications of these magistrates, and so the judicial processes are to an extent undermined. However, given the size of the jurisdiction and the incremental nature of these changes, neither the magistrates, nor anyone else, might be aware of this process of judicial corrosion, or even able to become aware of it (given heavy workloads, absence of statistical information, etc.). At any rate, if we assume that neither the judges nor anyone else can do anything to address the problem then, while there has clearly been judicial corrosion, arguably there has not been judicial corruption. Why is such corrosion not also corruption?

For institutional corrosion to constitute corruption, it might be claimed (Miller 2017: Chapter 3), the institutional damage done needs to be avoidable; indeed, it might also be claimed that the relevant agents must be capable of being held morally responsible for the damage, at least in the generality of cases. So if the magistrates in our example were to become aware of the diminution in the quality of their adjudications, could cause additional resources to be provided and yet chose to do nothing, then arguably the process of corrosion might have become a process of corruption.

An important question that arises here is whether or not institutional corruption is relative to a teleological or purpose-driven conception of institutions and, relatedly, whether the purposes in question are to be understood normatively. Arguably, the institutional purposes of universities include the acquisition of new knowledge and its transmission to students; moreover, arguably, knowledge acquisition is a human good since it enables (indirectly), for instance, health needs to be met. However, it has been suggested that the purposes of political institutions, in particular, are too vague or contested to be definitive of them (Ceva & Ferretti 2017; Warren 2004). One response to this is to claim that governments are in large part meta-institutions with the responsibility to ensure that society’s other institutions realize their distinctive institutional purposes. On this view, an important purpose of governments is provided, in effect, by the purposes of other fundamental institutions. For instance, an important purpose of governments might be to ensure market-based institutions operate in a free, fair, efficient and effective manner (Miller 2017: 14.1).

Naturally, there are many different kinds of entities which might causally undermine institutions, including other collective entities. However, collectivist accounts of institutions go beyond the ascription of causal responsibility and, in some cases, ascribe moral responsibility. Firstly, such collectivist accounts of institutions ascribe intentions, beliefs and so on to organizations and other collective entities per se. Secondly, this ascription of mindedness to collective entities leaves the way open to ascribe moral agency to these entities (French 1979; List & Pettit 2011). On such collectivist accounts corruptors include collective entities; indeed, corruptors who are morally responsible for their corrupt actions. Thus Lockheed Corporation, on this view, was a moral agent (or, at least, an immoral agent) which corrupted the Japanese government (a second moral agent) by way of bribery. Other theorists, typically referred to as individualists, reject minded collective entities (Ludwig 2017; Miller 2010). Accordingly to individualists, only human agents are possessed of minds and moral agency. [ 4 ] Thus collective entities, such as organizations, do not have minds and are not per se moral agents. Accordingly, it is only human agents who culpably perform actions that undermine legitimate institutional processes or purposes.

An important related issue that arises at this point pertains to the human agents who perform acts of corruption. Are they necessarily institutional actors? It might be thought that this was not the case. Supposing a criminal bribes a public official in order to get a permit to own a gun. The criminal is not an institutional actor and yet he has performed an act of institutional corruption. However, in this example the public official has accepted the bribe and she is an institutional actor. So the example does not show that institutional corruption does not necessarily involve the participation of an institutional actor. What if the criminal offered the bribe but it was not accepted? While this may well be a crime and is certainly an attempt at institutional corruption, arguably, it is not an actual instance of an act of institutional corruption but rather a failed attempt. Moreover, it is presumably not an instance of institutional corruption because the institutional actor approached refused to participate in the attempted corrupt action. Let us pursue this issue further.

As we saw in section 1 , corruption, even if it involves the abuse of public office, is not necessarily pursued for private gain. However, according to many definitions of corruption institutional corruption necessarily involves abuse of public office. Moreover, our example of an attempted bribe to secure a gun permit involves a public official. However, we have canvassed arguments in section 1 that contra this view acts of corruption might be actions performed by persons who do not hold public office, e.g., price-fixing by market actors, a witness who gives false testimony in a law court. At this point in the argument we need to invoke a distinction between persons who hold a public office and persons who have an institutional role. CEOs of corporations do not hold public office but they do have an institutional role. Hence a CEO who embezzles his company’s money is engaged in corruption. Again, citizens are not necessarily holders of public offices, but they do have an institutional role qua citizens, e.g., as voters. Hence a voter who breaks into the electoral office and stuffs the ballot boxes with falsified voting papers in order to ensure the election of her favored candidate is engaged in corruption, notwithstanding the fact that she does not hold public office.

The causal theory of institutional corruption (Miller 2017) presupposes a normative teleological conception of institutions according to which institutions are defined not only as organizations or systems of organizations with a purpose(s), but organizations or systems of organizations the purpose(s) of which is a human good. The goods in question are either intrinsic or instrumental goods. For instance, universities are held to have as their purpose the discovery and transmission of knowledge, where knowledge is at the very least an instrumental good. (For criticisms see Thompson 2018 and Ceva & Ferretti 2021.)

If a serviceable definition of the concept of a corrupt action is to be found—and specifically, one that does not collapse into the more general notion of an immoral action—then attention needs to be focused on the moral effects that some actions have on persons and institutions. An action is corrupt only if it corrupts something or someone—so corruption is not only a moral concept, but also a causal or quasi-causal concept. That is, an action is corrupt by virtue of having a corrupting effect on a person’s moral character or on an institutional process or purpose. If an action has a corrupting effect on an institution, undermining institutional processes or purposes, then typically—but not necessarily—it has a corrupting effect also on persons qua role occupants in the affected institutions.

Accordingly, an action is corrupt only if it has the effect of undermining an institutional process or of subverting an institutional purpose or of despoiling the character of some role occupant qua role occupant. In light of the possibility that some acts of corruption have negligible effects, such as a small one-off bribe paid for a minor service, this defining feature needs to be qualified so as to include acts that are of a type or kind that tends to undermine institutional processes, purposes or persons ( qua institutional role occupants)—as well as individual or token acts that actually have the untoward effects in question. Thus qualified, the causal character of corruption provides the second main feature of the causal theory of institutional corruption, the first feature being the normative teleological conception of institutions. I note accounts predicated on these two assumptions have ancient origins, notably in Aristotle (Hindess 2001).

In keeping with the causal account, an infringement of a specific law or institutional rule does not in and of itself constitute an act of institutional corruption. In order to do so, any such infringement needs to have an institutionally undermining effect , or be of a kind that has a tendency to cause such an effect, e.g., to defeat the institutional purpose of the rule, to subvert the institutional process governed by the rule, or to contribute to the despoiling of the moral character of a role occupant qua role occupant. In short, we need to distinguish between the offence considered in itself and the institutional effect of committing that offence. Considered in itself the offence of, say, lying is an infringement of a law, rule, and/or a moral principle. However, the offence is only an act of institutional corruption if it has some institutionally undermining effect, or is of a kind that has such a tendency, e.g., it is performed in a courtroom setting and thereby subverts the judicial process.

A third feature of the causal theory of institutional corruption pertains to the agents who cause the corruption. As noted in section 2.1.3 , there are many different kinds of entities which might causally undermine institutions, including other collective entities. However, it is an assumption of the causal theory of corruption that only human agents are possessed of minds and moral agency. Accordingly, on the causal theory it is only human agents who culpably perform actions that undermine legitimate institutional processes or purposes.

A fourth and final feature of the causal theory also pertains to the agents who cause corruption. It is a further assumption of the causal theory that the human agents who perform acts of corruption (the corruptors) and/or the human agents who are corrupted (the corrupted) are necessarily institutional actors (see discussion above in section 2.1.3 ). More precisely, acts of institutional corruption necessarily involve a corruptor who performs the corrupt action qua occupant of an institutional role and/or someone who is corrupted qua occupant of an institutional role .

In light of the above discussion the following normative theory of corruption suggests itself: the causal theory of institutional corruption (Miller 2017: Chapter 3).

An act x (whether a single or joint action) performed by an agent (or set of agents) A is an act of institutional corruption if and only if:

  • x has an effect, or is an instance of a kind of act that has a tendency to have an effect, of undermining, or contributing to the undermining of, some institutional process and/or purpose (understood as a collective good) of some institution, I , and/or an effect of contributing to the despoiling of the moral character of some role occupant of I , agent (or set of agents) B , qua role occupant of I ;
  • A is a role occupant of I who used the opportunities afforded by their role to perform x , and in so doing A intended or foresaw the untoward effects in question, or should have foreseen them;
  • B could have avoided the untoward effects, if B had chosen to do so. [ 5 ]

Note that (2) (a) tells us that A is a corruptor and is, therefore, either (straightforwardly) morally responsible for the corrupt action, or A is not morally responsible for A ’s corrupt character and the corrupt action is an expression of A ’s corrupt character.

Notice also that the causal theory being cast in general terms, i.e., the undermining of institutional purposes, processes and/or persons ( qua institutional role occupants), can accommodate a diversity of corruption in a wide range of institutions in different social, political and economic settings, past and present, and accommodate also a wide range of mechanisms or structures of corruption, including structural relations of dependency, collective action problems and so on.

A controversial feature of the causal account is that organizations that are entirely morally and legally illegitimate, such as criminal organizations, (e.g., the mafia), are not able to be corrupted (Lessig 2013b). For on the causal account the condition of corruption exists only relative to an uncorrupted condition, which is the condition of being a morally legitimate institution or sub-element thereof. Consider the uncorrupted judicial process. It consists of the presentation of objective evidence that has been gathered lawfully, of testimony in court being presented truthfully, of the rights of the accused being respected, and so on. This otherwise morally legitimate judicial process may be corrupted, if one or more of its constitutive actions are not performed in accordance with the process as it ought to be. Thus to present fabricated evidence, to lie under oath, and so on, are all corrupt actions. In relation to moral character, consider an honest accountant who begins to “doctor the books” under the twin pressures of a corrupt senior management and a desire to maintain a lifestyle that is only possible if he is funded by the very high salary he receives for doctoring the books. By engaging in such a practice he risks the erosion of his moral character; he is undermining his disposition to act honestly.

2.3 Theories of Political Corruption

Let us term theories of corruption which focus on the undermining of institutional procedures or processes, as opposed to institutional purposes, proceduralist theories of institutional corruption. Mark Warren has elaborated a proceduralist theory of the corruption of democracies, in particular; a theory which he terms “duplicitous exclusion” (Warren 2006). (Relatedly and more recently, Ceva & Ferretti speak of bending public rules in the service of “surreptitious agendas” as definitive of corruption (Ceva & Ferretti 2017: 6), although in a recent work they have shifted to a notion of corruption in terms of lack of accountability (Ceva & Ferretti 2018; Ceva & Ferretti 2021). See discussion below in 2.3.4.)

Democratic political institutions are characterized by equality (in some sense) with respect to these processes. Warren offers a particular account of democratic equality and derives his notion of corruption of democratic political institutions from this. According to Warren, democracies involve a norm of equal inclusion such that

every individual potentially affected by a collective decision should have an opportunity to affect the decision proportional to his or her stake in the outcome. (Warren 2004: 333)

Corruption of democracies occurs under two conditions: (1) this norm is violated and; (2) violators claim to be complying with the norm (Warren 2004: 337). Warren contrasts his theory of duplicitous exclusion with what he terms “office-based” accounts (Warren 2004:329–32).The latter might be serviceable for administrative agencies and roles but is, according to Warren, inadequate for democratic representatives attempting to “define the public interest” (Warren 2006: 10) and relying essentially on the political process, rather than pre-existing agreement on specific ends or purposes, to do so. This latter point is made in one way of another by other theorists of modern representative democracies, such as Thompson (2013) and Ceva & Ferretti (2017: 5), and is an objection to teleological accounts (such as the causal account— section 2.2 above).

Warren’s other necessary condition for the corruption of institutions, namely duplicity, resonates with the emphasis in the contemporary anti-corruption literature and, for that matter, in much public policy on transparency; transparency can reveal duplicity and thereby thwart corruptors. Moreover, the duplicity condition—and the related surreptitious agenda condition of Ceva & Ferretti—is reminiscent of Plato’s ring of Gyges (Plato Gorgias ); corruption is something done under a cloak of secrecy and typically involves deception to try to ensure the cloak is not removed. Unquestionably, corruption often flourishes under conditions of secrecy. Moreover, corruptors frequently seek to deceive by presenting themselves a committed to the standards that they are (secretly) violating. But contra Warren—and, for that matter, Ceva & Ferretti—corruption does not necessarily or always need to be hidden in order to flourish. Indeed, in polities and institutions suffering from the most serious and widespread forms of corruption at the hands of the very powerful, there is often little or no need for secrecy or deception in relation to the pursuit of corrupt practices; corruption is out in the open. Consider Colombia during the period of the drug lord, Pablo Escobar’s, “reign”; the period of the so-called “narcocracy”. His avowed and well-advertised policy was “silver or lead”, meaning that politicians, judges, journalists and so on either accepted a bribe or risked being killed (Bowden 2012). Against this it might be suggested that at least corruption in democracies always involves hiding one’s corrupt practices. Unfortunately, this seems not to be the case either. As Plato pointed out long ago in The Republic , democracies can suffer a serious problem of corruption among the citizenry and when this happens all manner of corrupt practices on the part of leaders and others will not only be visible, they will be tolerated, and even celebrated.

Warren’s theory is evidently not generalizable to many other institutions, namely, those that are not centrally governed by democratic norms and, in particular, by his norm of equal inclusion. Consider, for instance, military institutions. Most important decisions made by military personal in wartime—as opposed to those made by their political masters, such as whether to go to war in the first place—are made in the context of a hierarchical structure; they are not collective decisions, if the notion of a collective decision is to be understood on a democratic model of decision-making, e.g., representative democracy. Moreover, with respect to, for instance, the decision to retreat or stand and fight a combatant does not and cannot reasonably expect to have “an opportunity to affect the decision proportional to her stake in the outcome”. The combatant’s personal stake might be very high; his life is at risk if he stands and fights and, therefore, he might prefer to retreat. However, military necessity in a just war might dictate that he and his comrades stand and fight and, therefore, they are ordered to do so by their superiors back at headquarters and, as virtuous combatants, they obey. I note that Machiavelli contrasts combatants possessed of the martial virtues with corruptible mercenaries who only fight for money and who desert when their lives are threatened (Machiavelli The Prince : Chapter 12).

Thompson’s groundbreaking and influential theory of institutional corruption takes as its starting point a distinction between what Thompson refers to as individual corruption and institutional corruption. When an official accepts a bribe in return for providing a service to the briber, this is individual corruption since the official is accepting a personal benefit or gain in exchange for promoting private interests (Thompson 2013: 6). Moreover, the following two conditions evidently obtain: (i) the official intends to provide the service (or, at least, intends to give the impression that he will provide the service) to the bribee; (ii) the official and the bribee intentionally create the link between the bribe and the service, i.e., it is a quid quo pro . By contrast, institutional corruption involves political benefits or gains, e.g., campaign contributions (that do not go into the political candidates’ own pockets but are actually spent on the campaigns) by public officials under conditions that tend to promote private interests (Thompson 2013: 6). The reference to a tendency entails that there is some kind of causal regularity in the link between acceptance of the political benefits and promotion of the private interests (including greater access to politicians than is available to others (Thompson 2018)). However, the officials in question do not intend that there be such a link between the political benefits they accept and their promotion of the private interests of the provider of the political benefits. Rather

the fact that an official acts under conditions that tend to create improper influence is sufficient to establish corruption, whatever the official’s motive. (Thompson 2013: 13)

I note that in the case of institutional corruption and, presumably, individual corruption (in so far as it involves the bribery of public or private officials) the actions in question must undermine some institutional process or purpose (and/or perhaps institutional role occupant qua role occupant). Thus Thompson says of institutional corruption:

It is not corrupt if the practice promotes (or at least does not damage) political competition, citizenship representation, or other core processes of the institution. But it is corrupt if it is of a type that tends to undermine such processes and thereby frustrate the primary purposes of the institution. (Thompson 2013: 7)

While Thompson has provided an important analysis of an important species of institutional corruption, his additional claim that officials who accept personal benefits in exchange for promoting private interests, i.e., a common form of bribery, is not a species of institutional corruption is open to question (and a point of difference with the causal theory). As mentioned in section 1 , this species of bribery of institutional actors utilizing their position—whether that position be one in the public sector or in the private sector—can be systemic and, therefore, extremely damaging to institutions. Consider the endemic bribery of police in India with its attendant undermining of the provision of impartial (Kurer 2005; Rothstein & Varraich 2017), obligatory (Kolstad 2012) and effective police services, not to mention of public trust in the police. Some police stations in part of India are little more than unlawful “tax” collection or, better, extortion agencies; local business people have to pay the local police if they are to guarantee effective police protection, truck drivers have to pay bribes to the police at transport checkpoints, if they are to transit expeditiously through congested areas, speeding tickets are avoided by those who pay bribes, and so on. Moreover, endemic bribery of this kind is endemic in many police forces and other public sector agencies throughout so-called developing countries, even if it is no longer present in most developed countries.

Thompson invokes the distinction between systemic and episodic services provided by a public official in support of his distinction between individual and institutional corruption. By “systemic” Thompson means that the service provided by the official

is provided through a persistent pattern of relationships, rather than in episodic or one-time interactions. (The particular relationships do not themselves have to be ongoing: a recurrent set of one-time interactions by the same politician with different recipients could create a similar pattern.) (Thompson 2013: 11)

However, as our above example of bribery of police in India makes clear, Thompson’s individual corruption can be, and often is, systemic in precisely this sense. In more recent work Thompson has drawn attention to mixed cases involving, for instance, both a personal and a political gain—the political gain not necessarily being a motive—and suggested that if the dominant gain is political rather than personal then it is institutional corruption or perhaps a mix of individual and institutional corruption (Thompson 2018). Fair enough. However, this does not remove the objection that systemic bribery (for instance) involving only personal gain (both as a motive and an outcome) are, nevertheless, cases of institutional corruption.

Thompson uses the case of Charles Keating to outline his theory (Thompson 1995 and 2013). Keating was a property developer who made generous contributions to the election campaigns of various U.S. politicians, notably five senators, and then at a couple of meetings called on a number of these to do him a favor in return. Specifically, Keating wanted the senators to get a regulatory authority to refrain from seizing the assets of a subsidiary of a company owned by Keating. The chair of the regulatory authority was replaced. However, two years later the assets of the company in question were seized and authorities filed a civil racketeering and fraud suit against Keating accusing him of diverting funds from the company to his family and to political campaigns. Thompson argues that the Keating case involved: (1) the provision or, at least, the appearance of the provision of an improper service on the part of legislators (the senators) to a constituent (Keating), i.e., interfering with the role of a regulator on his behalf; (2) a political gain in the form of campaign contributions (from Keating to the senators), and; (3) a link or, at least, the appearance of a link between (1) and (2), i.e., the tendency under these conditions for the service to be performed because of the political gain.

Accordingly, the case study involves at least the appearance of corrupt activity on the part of the senators. Moreover, Thompson claims that such an appearance might be sufficient for institutional corruption in that damage has been done to a political institution by virtue of a diminution in public trust in that institution. Thus the appearance of a conflict of interest undermines public trust which in turn damages the institution. The appearance of a conflict of interest arises when legislators use their office to provide a questionable “service” to a person upon whom they are, or have been, heavily reliant for campaign contributions. Evidently, on Thompson’s account of institutional (as opposed to individual) corruption it is not necessary that the legislators in these kinds of circumstance ought to know that their actions might well have the appearance of a conflict of interest, ought to know that they might have a resulting damaging effect, and ought to know, therefore, that they ought not to have performed those actions. Certainly, the senators in the Keating case ought to have known that they ought not to perform these actions. However, the more general point is that it is not clear that it would be a case of corruption, if it were not the case that the legislators in question ought to have known that they ought not to perform the institutionally damaging actions in question. On the causal account ( section 2.2 above), if legislators or other officials perform institutionally damaging actions that they could not reasonably be expected to know would be institutionally damaging then they have not engaged in corruption but rather incidental institutional damage (and perhaps corrosion if the actions are ongoing).

As outlined above, Thompson has made a detailed application of his theory to political institutions and, especially to campaign financing in the U.S.. However, he views the theory as generalizable to institutions other than political ones. It is generalizable, he argues, in so far as “public purposes” can be replaced by “institutional purposes” and “democratic process” with “legitimate institutional procedures” (Thompson 2013: 5). Certainly, if the theory is to be generalizable then it is necessary that these replacements be made. The question is whether making these replacements is sufficient. Moreover, the particular species of institutional corruption that he has identified and analyzed might exist in other institutions but do so alongside a wide range of other species to which his analysis does not apply—including, but not restricted to, what he refers to as individual corruption. Thompson has recently identified some other forms of institutional corruption to which he claims his theory applies (Thompson 2018). For instance, the close relationship that might obtain between corporations and their auditing firms. The salient such relationships are those consisting of auditing firms undertaking profitable financial consultancy work for the very corporations which they are auditing; hence the potential for the independent auditing process to be compromised. These relationships certainly have the potential for corruption. However, they do not appear to be paradigms of institutional corruption in Thompson’s sense since, arguably, undertaking such consultancy work is not prima facie an integral function of auditing firms qua auditors in the manner in which, for instance, securing campaign finance is integral to political parties competing in an election (to mention Thompson’s paradigmatic example of institutional corruption).

Newhouse has attempted to generalize Thompson’ theory, but in doing so also narrows it. Newhouse argues that Thompson’s theory is best understood in terms of breach of organizational fiduciary duties (Newhouse 2014). An important underlying reason for this, says Newhouse, is that Thompson’s (and, for that matter, Lessig’s) account of institutional corruption presuppose that institutions have an “obligatory purpose” (Newhouse 2014: 555) Fiduciary duties are, of course, obligatory. Moreover, they are widespread in both the public and private sector; hence the theory would be generalized. On the other hand, there are many institutional actors who do not have fiduciary duties. Thus if Newhouse is correct in thinking that Thompson’s theory of institutional corruption provides a model for breach of organizational fiduciary duty and only for breach of organizational fiduciary duty, the ambition to generalize Thompson’s theory will remain substantially unrealized.

Lawrence Lessig has argued that the U.S. democratic political process and, indeed, Congress itself, is institutionally corrupt and that the corruption in question is a species of what he calls “dependency corruption” (Lessig 2011 and 2013a). Lessig argues that although U.S. citizens as a whole vote in the election of, say, the U.S. President, nevertheless, the outcome is not wholly dependent on these citizens as it should be in a democracy or, at least, as is required by the U.S. Constitution. For the outcome is importantly dependent on a small group of “Funders” who bankroll particular candidates and without whose funding no candidate could hope to win office. Accordingly, there are really two elections. In the first election only the Funders get to “vote” since only they have sufficient funds to support a political candidate. Once these candidate have been “elected” then there is a second election, a general election, in which all the citizens get to vote. However, they can only vote on the list of candidates “pre-selected” by the Funders. Lessig’s account of the U.S. election is complicated, but not vitiated, by the existence of a minority of candidates, such as Bernie Sanders, who rely on funding consisting of small amounts of money from a very large number of Funders. It is further complicated but not necessarily vitiated by the rise of demagogues such as Donald Trump who, as mentioned above, can utilise social media and computational propaganda to have an electoral influence much greater than otherwise might have been the case (Woolley and Howard 2019).

On Lessig’s view there are two dependencies in play, namely, the dependency of the outcome of the election on the citizenry and the dependency of this outcome on the Funders. However, these two dependencies are inconsistent. Therefore, the question that now arises is which dependency is legitimate. Clearly, the dependency on the citizenry as a whole is legitimate since this is what the Constitution clearly intended. Since these funders are not representative of the U.S. citizenry the dependency on the Funders is illegitimate and a corruption of the democratic process in the U.S..

Lessig states that his notion of dependency corruption cuts across Thompson’s notions of individual and institutional corruption (Lessig 2013a: 14). Regarding the relation to Thompson’s notion of institutional corruption: On the one hand, dependence corruption involves a tendency, as does Thompson’s notion of institutional corruption (see above section 2.3.2 ). On the other hand, on Thompson’s theory, a politician, or set of politicians, can receive campaign contributions from Funders and further their private interests without being dependent on them. So in this respect Thompson’s notion of institutional corruption is wider than Lessig’s notion of dependence corruption. Regarding the relation to Thompson’s notion of individual corruption: A politician, or set of politicians, may come to depend on personal benefits from Funders. This is dependence corruption but on Thompson’s theory it is presumably individual corruption. (Although, perhaps, it might not be individual corruption in Thompson’s sense, if it involves a regularity and hence tendency).

Lessig offers a plausible analysis of the corruption of the U.S. electoral system by the Funders. Two related questions now arise. Is Lessig’s theory of dependence corruption correct? Is the notion of dependence corruption generalizable to institutions other than political institutions and, if so, to what extent?

The extent to which Lessig’s notion of dependence corruption is generalizable is ultimately an empirical question; it is a matter of seeking to apply it widely and waiting on the outcome (see, for instance, Light’s analysis of corruption in the pharmaceutical industry (Light, Lexchin, & Darrow 2013)). However, as mentioned above in the comparison of Lessig’s account with that of Thompson, Lessig does not see his dependence account as entirely generalizable.

Unlike the causal account of corruption (see section 2.2 above), Lessig’s notion of institutional corruption commits him only to normatively neutral institutional purposes (Lessig 2014; Lessig 2013b: 14) rather than to morally good or otherwise valuable institutional purposes. Accordingly, by Lessig’s lights, to say of a university that it has as a fundamental purpose to educate (to some objectively acceptable, minimum standard) is merely to say that this is a de facto fundamental purpose. Therefore, being market-based it could change its order of priorities; i.e., it would be perfectly entitled to prioritize profit over educational standards, just as, for instance, a retail store is perfectly entitled to prioritize profit over its standards of service to its customers.

According to Lessig, dependence corruption does not necessarily involve corrupt persons. As we have seen, Lessig’s favored example of dependence corruption is the dependency of the outcome of U.S. elections on a small group of large funders of those campaigning for political office rather than on the American people. Lessig suggests that those who engage in dependence corruption could be “good souls” (Lessig 2011: 17). Here we need to keep in mind distinctions between being evil and being corrupt, and between being corrupt and being morally responsible for one’s corruption. A corrupt person is not necessarily an evil person. After all, as we have seen, a corrupt person might only be corrupt qua institutional actor. Thus a corrupt police officer might be a good father and husband. Moreover, corruption admits of degrees. So a corrupt police officer might be a so-called grass-eater rather than a so-called meat-eater; their corrupt character might only manifest itself in relatively minor forms of corruption, e.g., minor bribe-taking, rather than in major forms of corruption, e.g., on-selling large quantities of heroin seized from drug dealers.

What of moral responsibility and corruption? Consider Lessig’s own favored example of dependence corruption. Surely, moral responsibility for corruption of the U.S. electoral system can be assigned to U.S. legislators, in particular, as well as the Funders who finance campaigns in the expectation (presumably) of favorable legislation if their candidates are elected. Lessig distinguishes between

responsibility for changing individual behavior within the system and responsibility for changing the system itself. (Lessig 2013a: 15)

According to Lessig

the sin of a Congressman within such a system is not that she raises campaign money. It is that she doesn’t work to change the corruption that this dependence upon a small set of funders produced. (Lessig 2013a: 15)

So apparently direct participation in the corruption of the electoral system by legislators and (?) Funders is not a sin. Lessig’s claim here might be that the corruptors of the U.S. electoral system are not engaged in sinful acts because they are not morally responsible for this wrongdoing. This claim is open to question. The actions of the legislators and Funders (and, for that matter, the lobbyists) that are constitutive of dependence corruption (offering and receiving (directly and indirectly) campaign funds) are avoidable and the legislators and Funders are, or ought to be, aware of the institutional damage being done by their combined actions. Moreover, in suggesting that the legislators have a moral responsibility to change the system, Lessig, in effect, concedes as much. How could they have a moral responsibility to change the system if they were not aware of it and their role in it?

What might be influencing Lessig at this point is the degree of the moral responsibility, specifically, full and partial responsibility. It is the combined effect of the many individual actions of a large number of legislators (and Funders and lobbyists) that does the institutional damage. Therefore, each only makes a small causal contribution and each, therefore, only has a small share in the moral responsibility for the outcome. Moreover, in relation to changing the system, there is a need for joint action; it is a joint moral responsibility involving shared partial individual responsibility. Thus legislators could, and know they could, jointly act to enact campaign finance reform to address the problem of dependency by, for example, restricting campaign contributions. Accordingly, the moral responsibility in play is a species of collective responsibility; specifically, joint moral responsibility (Miller 2010: Chapter 4).

Ceva & Ferretti understand political corruption widely to include not only the corruption of politicians but of public officials in general, including police officers, members of the professions, such as doctors and teachers, and others in the public sector. They define political corruption in terms of two individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions: “There must be a public official who (1) acts in her institutional capacity as an officeholder (office condition) (2) for the pursuit of an agenda whose rationale may not be vindicated as coherent with the terms of the mandate of her power of office (mandate condition)” (Ceva & Ferretti 2021: 19). The first condition, namely that political corruption involves a public official who acts in her institutional capacity, is familiar (see above). What of condition (2), the mandate condition?

The mandate condition concerns the motive or reason guiding the office holder’s action; the action is performed for the pursuit of an agenda with a rationale. So the officeholder’s action considered in itself might or might not be an exercise of a constitutive institutional right or duty of the office in question. But what is this rationale that would render the action corrupt? The rationale in question is one that “may not be vindicated as coherent with the terms of the mandate of her power of office”. The key notion here is that of coherence with the mandate of the powers of office. Here the powers of office are presumably simply the institutional rights and duties constitutive of an office, e.g., the right of legislators to vote on legislation, the duty not to take bribes. So, in summary, corruption involves the performance of an action(s) the motivating reason for which does not cohere with the mandate authorizing an office holder’s rights and duties qua office holder.

Ceva & Ferretti further argue that the relations between organizational roles generate a deontic dimension. For instance, they say: “Office accountability governs the institutional relations between office holders. As participants in these relations, officeholders are established with the authority to require that one another ‘gives an account’ of their actions” (Ceva & Ferretti 2021: 25). They provide the example of a physician: “By following this course of action, the physician is also in the position of justifying her conduct to her colleagues with reference to the terms of her power mandate, thus fulfilling office accountability. By her action, the physician is accountable not only to the other doctors…but also to the hospital staff” (Ceva & Ferretti 2021:26).

Ceva & Ferretti also address the question, What is wrong with corruption? In doing so they offer a distinctive theory. According to them political corruption is inherently wrong (as opposed to wrong by virtue of its consequences) because it is “a specific form of interactive injustice consisting in a violation of the duty of office accountability” (Ceva & Ferretti 2021: 122). Thus, it turns out that political corruption is inherently wrong because it is unjust. More specifically, political corruption involves an action by an institutional member which is unjust to his colleagues since each member owes it to every other member to do his duty.

A question might arise at this point in relation to the scope of the notion of an institution that Ceva & Ferretti’s employ in their account of political corruption (understood as corruption of public institutions). For instance, are those who are entitled to vote in a democracy themselves institutional role occupants of the institution of government? Are patients in a public hospital themselves role occupants of the hospital or students in a public school role occupants of the school? Ceva & Ferretti deploy an account of a public institution according to which the answer to these questions is in each case in the negative. For on their account of the corruption of public institutions there must be an officeholder possessed of a mandate who engages in corruption. But citizens, hospital patients and school students are not office holders with mandates. Indeed, citizens are the source of the mandate as, arguably (supposing there is a mandate), are patients and if not students, at least their parents (on the students’ behalf). One untoward consequence of this view is that evidently citizens, patients and students cannot themselves directly engage in acts of corruption (understood as corruption of public institutions) or, at least, if they can their actions would fall outside Ceva & Ferretti’s theory of institutional corruption.

At any rate, to return to the question of the wrongness of corruption, we saw above that on Ceva & Ferretti’s view this consists in corruption being a form of interactive injustice. Accordingly, interactive justice goes hand in glove with office accountability. On this view a teacher who fails students who do not provide her with sexual favors, and gives high marks to those who do, is performing corrupt actions by virtue of her unjust treatment of her teaching colleagues. Ceva & Ferretti argue that the normative source (relevant to the inherent wrongness of corrupt actions) of the principle of impartiality in the practice of the assessment by teachers of their students’ work lies in the role-based relations that the teacher has with her fellow teachers (and other school staff) (Ceva & Ferretti 2021: 98). So this teacher’s action is not corrupt by virtue of the injustice done to the students (although Ceva & Ferretti agree that it would be unfair to the students), but rather by virtue of the injustice done to the teacher’s colleagues. Contrary to Ceva & Ferretti it could reasonably be claimed that the primary form of institutional corruption involved here lies in the corruption of the teacher-student relationship (and its harmful consequences). More generally, Ceva & Ferretti’s theory of political corruption evidently privileges relationships between office holders at the expense of those whom they serve.

As we saw earlier, in the paradigm cases corrupt actions are a species of morally wrong, habitual, actions. What of the motive for corrupt actions? We saw above that there are many motives for corrupt actions, including desires for wealth, status, and power. However, there is apparently at least one motive that we might think ought not to be associated with corruption, namely, acting for the sake of the good. Here we need to be careful. For sometimes actions that are done for the sake of the good are, nevertheless, morally wrong actions. Indeed, some actions that are done out of a desire to achieve the good are corrupt actions, namely, acts of so-called noble cause corruption.

This is not the place to provide a detailed treatment of the phenomenon of noble cause corruption (Kleinig 2002; Miller 2016: Chapter 3). Rather let us simply note that even in cases of noble cause corruption—contra what the person who performs the action thinks—it may well be the case that the corrupt action morally ought not to be performed; or at least the corrupt action is pro tanto morally wrong, even if it is morally permissible all things considered. Accordingly, the person who performs it may well be deceiving him or herself, or be simply mistaken when they judge that the action morally ought to be performed. So their motive, i.e., to act for the sake of what is right, has a moral deficiency. They are only acting for the sake of what they believe is morally right, but in fact it is not morally right; their belief is a false belief. So we can conclude that corrupt actions are habitual actions that are at the very least pro tanto morally wrong and quite possibly morally wrong all things considered, and therefore in all probability not motivated by the true belief that they are morally right.

Here there are more complex excuses and justifications available for what might first appear to be an act of noble cause corruption. Perhaps a police officer did not know that some form of evidence was not admissible. The police officer’s false belief that an action is right (putting forward the evidence in a court of law) was rationally dependent on some false non-moral belief (that the evidence was admissible); and the police officer came to hold that non-moral belief as a result of a rational process (he was informed, or at least misinformed, that the evidence was admissible by a senior officer). This would incline us to say that the putative act of noble cause corruption was not really an act of corruption—although it might serve to undermine a morally legitimate institutional process—and therefore not an act of noble cause corruption. This intuition is consistent with the causal account of corruption in particular. The police officer in question did perform an action that undermined a legitimate criminal justice process. However, his action was not corrupt because he is not a corruptor. He did not intend to undermine the process, he did not foresee that the process would be undermined, and (let us assume) he could not reasonably have been expected to foresee that it would be undermined. Nor is his action the expression of a corrupt character.

Earlier, it was suggested that acts of noble cause corruption are pro tanto morally wrong and that this is typically contra what the actor believes. However, it is conceivable that some acts of noble cause corruption are morally justified all things considered. Perhaps the act of noble cause corruption while wrong in itself , nevertheless, was morally justified from an all things considered standpoint. If so, we might conclude that the action was not an act of corruption (and therefore not an act of noble cause corruption). Alternatively, we might conclude that it was an act of corruption, but one of those few acts of corruption that was justified in the circumstances. Perhaps both options are possibilities.

Suppose an undercover police officer offers a “bribe” to a corrupt judge for the purpose, supposedly, of getting the judge to pass a lenient sentence on a known mafia crime boss. The police officer is actually engaged in a so-called “sting” operation as part of an anti-corruption strategy. The judge accepts the bribe and is duly convicted of a criminal offence and jailed. (Let us also assume that the judge is already so corrupt that he will not be further corrupted by being offered the bribe.) The police officer offers the bribe for the purpose of achieving a moral good, i.e., convicting a corrupt official. However, we are disinclined to call this a case of corruption. Presumably the reason for this is that in this context the “bribe” does not have a corrupting effect; in particular, it does not succeed in undermining the judicial process of sentencing the crime boss. So this is a case in which a prima facie act of noble cause corruption turns out not be an act of corruption, and therefore not an act of noble cause corruption. A less straightforward case is the one where the action does have a corrupting effect. Consider two possibilities: (i) The sting is continued for a while (to catch other corrupt judges) and paid for (by bribes) verdicts are temporarily enforced during the sting; (ii) The process of considering and accepting the money offered by the disguised police officer further despoils the judge’s character but has no further effect on court proceedings (because the judge is arrested within minutes). In both cases, arguably, the officer conducting the sting operations committed an act of corruption.

What of morally justified acts of noble cause corruption. Suppose someone bribes an immigration official in order to ensure that his friend—who is ineligible to enter Australia—can in fact enter Australia, and thereby have access to life-saving hospital treatment. This act of bribery is evidently an act of institutional corruption; a legitimate institutional process has been subverted. However, the person acted for the sake of doing what he believed to be morally right; his action was an instance of noble cause corruption. Moreover, from an all things considered standpoint—and in particular, in the light of the strength of the moral obligations owed to close friends when their lives are at risk—his action may well be morally justified. Accordingly, his act of corruption may well not have a corrupting effect on himself. Plausibly, this explains any tendency we might have not to describe his action as an action of corruption. But from the fact that the person was not corrupted it does not follow that the act did not corrupt. Moreover, it does not even follow that some person or other was not corrupted. Clearly, in our example, the immigration official was corrupted and, therefore, the action was pro tanto morally wrong, even if the action was morally right all things considered.

In this section the following propositions have been advanced: (a) the phenomenon of noble cause corruption is a species of corruption, and it is seen to be so by the lights of the causal account of corruption in particular; (b) conceivably, some acts of noble cause corruption are morally justified all things considered; (c) instances of structural corruption favored by Lessig and/or Thompson are potentially cases of noble cause corruption, but this is not necessarily the case.

Thus far our concern has been with theorizing institutional corruption. Indeed, most of the philosophical work undertaken to date has consisted in such theorizing. However, there are some salient exceptions to this. For instance, Pogge has suggested undermining the international borrowing privileges of authoritarian governments who have removed democratic governments (Pogge 2002 [2008]: Chapter 10); Wenar (2016) argues for the enforcement of property rights (popular resource sovereignty) in relation to the resources curse; Lessig (Lessig 2011) has elaborated a raft of specific measures to reform the system of campaign contributions in the U.S.; Alexandra and Miller (2010) have outlined ways to utilize reputational devices in some sectors in which reputational loss hurts the “bottom line” (see also Brennan & Pettit 2005 for an account of the theoretical underpinnings of such practical reforms).

However, at a more general level there is an apparent need on the part of philosophers to conceptualize the notion of an anti-corruption system or, more broadly, an integrity system for institutions (Klitgaard 1988; Pope 1997; Anechiarico & Jacobs 1998; Klitgaard et al. 2000; Preston & Sampford 2002; Baker 2005; Miller 2017). An integrity system is an institutional arrangement the purpose of which is to promote ethical attitudes and behavior and, crucially, to prevent or, at least, reduce institutional corruption. For instance, an integrity system for a police organization might consist of a set of laws and regulations, an internal affairs department comprised of corruption investigators, an external oversight body, professional reporting mechanisms, an enforceable code of ethics, a complaints and discipline process, and so on. The contribution of philosophers to integrity systems has been threefold. Firstly, they have offered synoptic or “birds-eye” views of the architecture of such systems and in so doing determined whether they are fit for normative institutional purpose. Naturally, this work presupposes theories of the normative institutional purposes of the institutions in question (Lessig 2011; Thompson 1995). Secondly, they have addressed a variety of ethical issues that have arisen in the design and implementation of integrity systems and their various institutional components. Consider, for instance, the range of ethical issues that arise in relation to anti-corruption systems for police organizations, e.g., entrapment, privacy/surveillance (Miller 2016). Thirdly, they have identified the underlying causal and/or rational basis of the corruption and, in light of this, designed appropriate anti-corruption measures. (Pogge 2002 [2008]: Chapter 6; Lessig 2011); van den Hoven, Miller, & Pogge 2017). An important set of structural problems facilitating corruption are collective action problems, e.g., regulatory arbitrage in the global financial system and tax havens (Obermayer & Obermaier 2016; Rothstein & Varraich 2017). One kind of solution proposed is that of an enforceable cooperative scheme at the international level (Eatwell & Taylor 2000).

Integrity systems can be thought of as being either predominantly reactive or predominantly preventive, albeit the distinction is somewhat artificial since there is always a need for both reactive elements, e.g., investigations of corrupt actions, and preventive elements, e.g., ethics training and transparency mechanisms. Reactive systems are fundamentally linear. They frame laws and regulation that set out a series of offences, wait for transgressions, investigate, adjudicate and take punitive measures. In many areas, including institutional corruption, resources are limited and, thus, ethically informed decisions have to be made in relation to the prioritization of corrupt activity to be investigated and to what extent. This ethical problem is to be distinguished from the problem of under-resourcing motivated by a desire to hamstring anti-corruption initiatives. Moreover, both problems are to be distinguished from the debate between those who favor increased laws and regulations to combat, for instance, financial corruption, and those who argue for a decrease in such laws and regulations since they unnecessarily increase the cost of doing business.

Preventive institutional mechanisms for combating corruption can be divided into four categories. Mechanisms designed to reduce the motivation to engage in corruption, e.g., ethics education programs; mechanisms to reduce the capacity of those motivated to engage in corruption, e.g., legislation to downsize oligopolies to prevent cartels (Rose-Ackerman 1999), exploitation of the lack of trust between corruptors (Lambsdorff 2007), democratization and the separation of powers (“power corrupts” (Acton 1887 [1948: 364]) to reign in powerful, corrupt governments (Johnston 2014); mechanisms to eliminate or reduce the opportunity to engage in corruption, e.g., conflict of interest provisions; mechanisms to expose corrupt behavior, e.g., oversight bodies, media organizations (Pope 1997; Spence et al. 2011).

It is self-evident that there is need for both reactive and preventive elements if an integrity system is to be adequate. This point obtains whether or not the integrity system in question pertains to a single organization, an industry, an occupational group, or an entire society. However, the reactive and preventive elements need to cohere in an overall holistic integrity system (Miller 2017). A further point often overlooked is that if an integrity system is to be effective it presupposes a framework of accepted social norms in the sense of socially accepted moral principles. Social norms provide the standards which determine what counts as corruption. Moreover, in so doing they determine whether or not such behavior will be tolerated or not. Revealing corruption has very little effect if the wider community to whom the corruption is revealed are tolerant or otherwise accepting of it.

Corruption is a highly diverse phenomenon, including bribery, nepotism, false testimony, cheating, abuse of authority and so on. Moreover, corruption takes different forms across the spectrum of institutions giving rise to political corruption, financial corruption, police corruption, academic corruption and so on. The causal theory of corruption is a sustained attempt to provide an account which accommodates this diversity. In doing so it emphasizes the causal as well as the normative dimension of institutional corruption. The most influential contemporary philosophical theories of political corruption are those of Dennis Thompson and Lawrence Lessig. Moreover, Lessig’s notion of dependence corruptions looks to be generalizable to a degree to institutions other than political institutions. Likewise the mechanism that lies at the heart of Thompson’s theory may be generalizable to a degree to institutions other than political institutions. However, as they stand, neither of these theories provides a general or comprehensive theory of institutional corruption (and Lessig’s theory, at least, is not intended to do so). The wide diversity of corrupt actions implies that there may well need to be a correspondingly wide and diverse range of specific anti-corruption measures to combat corruption in its different forms, and indeed in its possibly very different contexts. Recent decades have seen the rise of whole systems of anti-corruptions mechanisms encased in what are referred to as integrity systems. Here we can distinguish reactive from preventive elements of an integrity or anti-corruption system and, arguably, an effective integrity system should integrate reactive and preventive elements in an overall holistic system.

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Economics of Corruption pp 1–12 Cite as

Corruption: An Introduction

  • Arvind K. Jain 4  

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Part of the Recent Economic Thought Series book series (RETH,volume 65)

Corruption has been part of our economic and political life since ancient times. Stories of corruption in most advanced to most underdeveloped economies abound. In the recent years, Italy and Japan were often in headlines with stories of corruption scandals involving top level politicians. In Canada, Cameron’s expose of misuse of power by a former prime minister seemed to have shocked no one, although his party was reduced to 2 seats, after having held the majority, in the parliament in the general elections following his departure (Cameron 1994). In the developing world, no one seems to be surprised by stories of corruption in countries like Haiti and Zaire; corruption now threatens to destabilize even relatively advanced democracies like India (Stackhouse 1994) and countries like China that have had a stable political system.

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Home > Books > Trade and Global Market

Corruption, Causes and Consequences

Submitted: 12 November 2017 Reviewed: 06 December 2017 Published: 21 February 2018

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.72953

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Corruption is a constant in the society and occurs in all civilizations; however, it has only been in the past 20 years that this phenomenon has begun being seriously explored. It has many different shapes as well as many various effects, both on the economy and the society at large. Among the most common causes of corruption are the political and economic environment, professional ethics and morality and, of course, habits, customs, tradition and demography. Its effects on the economy (and also on the wider society) are well researched, yet still not completely. Corruption thus inhibits economic growth and affects business operations, employment and investments. It also reduces tax revenue and the effectiveness of various financial assistance programs. The wider society is influenced by a high degree of corruption in terms of lowering of trust in the law and the rule of law, education and consequently the quality of life (access to infrastructure, health care). There also does not exist an unambiguous answer as to how to deal with corruption. Something that works in one country or in one region will not necessarily be successful in another. This chapter tries to answer at least a few questions about corruption and the causes for it, its consequences and how to deal with it successfully.

  • economic growth
  • rule of law

Author Information

Štefan šumah *.

  • FKPV Celje, Slovenia

*Address all correspondence to: [email protected]

1. Introduction

The word corruption is derived from the Latin word “corruptus,” which means “corrupted” and, in legal terms, the abuse of a trusted position in one of the branches of power (executive, legislative and judicial) or in political or other organizations with the intention of obtaining material benefit which is not legally justified for itself or for others.

Corruption was referred to as a great sin already in the Bible: “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twist the words of the innocent.” However, the history of corruption is in fact related to the beginning of the creation of law and the state and was already in the antiquity considered an evil, which negatively affects the public administration and the functioning of the political system. The earliest records of corruption date back to the thirteenth century BC, to the time of the Assyrian civilization. From the found plates, written in cuneiform, the archeologists managed to discern how and who accepted bribes. Under the Roman law, the criminal offense of corruption was defined as giving, receiving or claiming benefits in order to influence an official in connection with his work. Due to the prevalence of corruption in the country, this law was supplemented by a new law, which predicted compensation for damage in double value of the damage, and the loss of political rights for the perpetrator of the corruptive act. However, this did not help alleviate corruption, especially due to the fact that corruption was most practiced by the members of the Senate and senior state officials, both in Rome itself and in the remote Roman provinces. The early Christian faith condemned corruption, yet corruption later also developed greatly in ecclesiastical structures, and achieved its peak with the selling of indulgences in the Middle Ages, all until the condemnation of the latter (as well as of other immoral acts of the clergy, with the Pope at the head) by Martin Luther. Apart from the condemnation of corruption, the Reformation also led to a break with until then dominant Catholic culture and the emergence of Protestant ethics.

As a child (he was a hostage at the Ravenna court), Attila 1 noticed a high level of corruption among the state officials of the Western Roman Empire and how they appropriated the state money (as a consequence, there was less money in the Treasury and therefore the taxes increased). He thus decided that if he would ever to rule, he would do so fairly and by oppressing the corruption in his own country. The early feudalism was familiar with various laws that punished the bribing of courts also with death. Later, when the developed feudalism again turned to the Roman law, a number of laws (Dušan’s Code, Mirror of the Swabians) discussed the abuse of position. Then, in late Feudalism, countries became virtually helpless in the fight against corruption, as illustrated by the case of France, which in 1716 established a special court in which should rule in cases of abuse of royal finances; however, these abuses (embezzlement, extortion, bribery, scams, etc.) were so extensive that the court was abolished and a general amnesty introduced in 1717 made some forms of corruption quite a tradition. The corruption was also widespread during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, where the victim of the accusation could make amends with money, which made the corruption, especially among the inquisitors, extensive.

Throughout the history, many intellectuals dealt with corruption or theorized about it one way or another. Machiavelli 2 had a low opinion on republics, considering them even more corrupt than other regimes, and according to him, corruption leads to moral degradation, bad education and bad faith. On the other hand, however, the great philosopher, diplomat and lawyer Sir Francis Bacon 3 was known both for receiving bribes and taking them. When he reached the highest judicial position in England, he was caught in as many as 28 cases of accepting a bribe and defended himself before the parliament by saying that he usually accepted a bribe from both parties involved and that the dirty money therefore did not affect his decisions. The parliament did not accept these arguments and sent him to the jail where he spent only a few days as he was able to bribe the judge.

Thus, although the corruption has been occurring in society ever since, it has only been given more attention in the recent period—the researches on the phenomenon and its negative impacts have become more common after 1995, when countries and international institutions began to be aware of this problem. The attitude of the public toward corruption was, until then, neutral. In 1998, Kaufmann and Gray [ 1 ] found that:

Bribery is widespread, especially in the developing and transition countries; there are, however, significant differences between and within regions.

Bribery increases transaction costs and creates insecurity in the economy.

Bribery usually leads to ineffective economic results, in the long term impedes foreign and domestic investments, reallocates talents due to income and distorts sectorial priorities and technology choices (for example, it creates incentives for contracting major defense projects or unnecessary infrastructure projects, but does not encourage investments in rural specialist health clinics or in preventive health care). This pushes companies into the “underground” (outside the formal sector), weakens the state’s ability to increase revenue and leads to ever-increasing tax rates (as too little tax is taken), which is levied on less and less taxpayers, consequently diminishing the state’s ability to provide enough public goods, including the rule of law.

Bribery is unfair, as it imposes a regressive tax, which heavily burdens in particular commercial and service activities performed by small businesses.

Corruption destroys the legitimacy of the state.

Many other researchers and institutions (the World Bank Institute—WBI, the European Commission, the United Nations, the EBRD) have investigated corruption and its impact on macroeconomic and microeconomic indicators through various forms of corruption, as well as its connection with local customs and habits, and how it affects the everyday lives of people. Most studies are therefore mainly the analyses of the effects of corruption on various economic indicators, such as GDP growth, investments, employment, tax revenues and foreign investments [ 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ], or the study of various forms of corruption in relation to politics and the economic environment [ 6 ], the research of its social condition and various manifestations [ 7 , 8 ]. Dobovšek [ 9 ] agrees with the negative effects, i.e. high economic, political and social costs, and adds that corruption is not a weakness of people but of institutions (supervisory and other), as they should be the ones to obstruct the greed and temptation of individuals within them.

2. Causes of corruption

Although corruption differs from country to country, it is possible to identify some of the key common driving forces that generate it. What is common to all countries, which are among the most corrupt, has been identified by Svensson [ 10 ]; all of them are developing countries or countries in transition,

with rare exceptions, low-income countries,

most countries have a closed economy,

the influence of religion is visible (Protestant countries have far the lowest level of corruption),

low media freedom and

a relatively low level of education.

Regardless of the above, corruption cannot be assessed unambiguously, since there is never only one phenomenon that is responsible for the occurrence and the development of it; corruption always arises from an array of several, interrelated factors, which can differ considerably from one another. Among the most commonly mentioned factors that influence the development of corruption are: political and economic environment, professional ethics and legislation, as well as purely ethnological factors, such as customs, habits and traditions.

2.1. Political and economic environment

The phenomenon of corruption is strongly influenced by the political and economic environment. The more is the economic activity in the country regulated and limited, the higher the authority and the power of officials in decision making and the greater the possibility of corruption, since individuals are willing to pay or offer payment in order to avoid restrictions. A great potential for corruption is especially there where the officials are under the regulation given the opportunity to decide on the basis of discretion.

The level of corruption is also affected by the monetary policy. Goel and Nelson [ 11 ] in their research found a strong link between monetary policy and corruptive activity in the States. The States that have a well-regulated financial sector, not a lot of informal economy or black market are also less corrupt than those where the opposite is true. They also find that there is less corruption in the countries with higher economic and political freedom.

Dimant [ 12 ] puts it well in his claim that the level of efficiency of public administration determines the extent to which corruption can find fertile soil and sprout. Such efficiency is determined by the quality of the regulations and permits, since ineffective and unclear regulations help to increase the level of corruption in at least two different ways:

The artificially created monopoly of power that enables civil servants to obtain bribes is based on their superior position and embedded in the system.

On the other hand, however, ineffective and unclear regulations cause inhibition and therefore encourage natural persons to pay bribes in order to speed up the bureaucratic procedure.

Corruption is also strongly influenced by the low salaries of public administration employees (state officials), who are therefore trying to improve their financial position by receiving bribes, and consequently, the socio-economic situation of the government officials also affects the phenomenon of corruption. This is demonstrated also by Allen et al. [ 13 ] in their study where they find that corruption arises because agencies, institutions and the government can no longer control corruption effectively due to underpaid officials, which is a problem especially in the developing countries, where they do not have the sufficient tax revenue to properly reward the local officials. However, low wages are not the only cause of corruption; the poor state of the public administration, which is a consequence of political “overcrowding” 4 of officials, due to which loyalty usually prevails over professional standards, also strongly affects the corruption. As an important factor influencing corruption, some authors also indicate satisfaction with the work done by officials—the more they are dissatisfied with their work or place of work, the higher the degree of corruption, which is confirmed by Sardžoska and Tang [ 14 ] in their studies. The mentioned authors find that the private sector has higher ethical values, in particular those that affect satisfaction with work, than the public sector and is therefore less unethical (especially regarding thefts and corruption). Indirectly, Svenson [ 10 ] also affirms this and states that in principle, the salary level of civil servants affects the receipt of a bribe (the higher it is, the smaller the chance that the person will act corruptly). However, he continues on that a higher salary also strengthens the negotiating power of the official, which leads to higher bribes and he also states that, on the basis of existing research, it is very difficult to determine whether a higher salary causes less corruption, which means that the level of salary is not a decisive factor, but merely one of many.

The economy is unfortunately largely dependent on politics and often reflects the rule of law; various options for eliminating competition are exploited, and bribery is just one of the possible weapons in the struggle to gain a job. At the same time is the mentality of the economy sometimes: “The cost of a bribe is only a substantial business cost, an integral part of the contract,” or “Even if we stop the bribery, our rivals will not, so we must bribe in order to remain competitive, “or” bribery and misleading behaviour are not really crimes, they are just part of the old business practice. They are part of the game and everyone does it.” On the other hand is the point sometimes simply the “lubricating” of the bureaucratic wheel by the private sector to do certain things faster or easier.

The political influence of corruption is also manifested through the proverb: examples are attractive! If the top of the politics (government, parties and leading politicians) is corrupt, then corruption shows at all levels, and this evil at the same time spreads among the ordinary population, as nobody trusts the institutions or the rule of law. Johnston [ 15 ] thus points out useful thinking in terms of two types of equilibrium—the balance between the openness and the autonomy of the institutions and elites it leads and the balance between political and economic power and opportunities for cooperation. Ideally, the institutions should be open to influences and feedback from different sources, yet at the same time sufficiently independent to effectively carry out their work. Where the openness and independence of the institutions are in balance, the officials are accessible, but not excessively exposed to private influences; if they can make authoritative decisions, while not using their power to arbitrate, the corruption is relatively low. But where the official power is poorly institutionalized, too exposed to private influence, and the officials’ independence is reflected in excessive exploitation of their power—they can do as they please—the possibility for extreme corruption is again high.

2.2. Professional ethics and legislation

Lack of professional ethics and deficient laws regulating corruption as a criminal offense, and the prosecution and sanctioning of it are also an important cause for the emergence and spread of corruption. A great influence comes also from the ineffective sanctioning of corruption, which only increases the possibility of continuing the corruptive actions of those involved, creating at the same time a strong likelihood that others will join in the corruption due to this inefficient sanctioning.

The sole lack of professional ethics is a particular issue, as the administration requires different amounts of time to develop or change its ethics and professional standards, which is well known in transition countries (in some, ethics and professional standards changed overnight and approached the equivalents in the developed democracies, and in some, they remained the same as in socialism). It is precisely in the transition countries that the “softer” acts of corruption are often considered to be acceptable and justifiable. Therefore, due to lack of professional ethics in some countries that otherwise manage illegal corruption well, there is nevertheless a widespread form of legal corruption.

Corruption also generates a lack of transparency and a lack of control by supervisory institutions. Therefore, where there is insufficient legal basis or sufficient political will to control, which enables a non-transparent functioning of both politics and the economy, corruption flourishes. Corruption is also affected by the extensive, non-transparent or incomplete legislation, where laws can be interpreted in different ways (for the benefit of the one who pays).

2.3. Habits, customs, tradition and demography

Different countries have different attitudes to corruption. In Europe alone, we can find two extremes; from completely corruption intolerant North to the warm South, where corruption is an almost normal, socially acceptable phenomenon. Or the difference between countries with a democratic past, which traditionally prosecute corruption, and former socialist countries, where the corruption in the state apparatus was a part of folklore tradition. Then, there are also different customs; in some cases, a “thank you” in the form of a gift for a service (for which this person has already been paid with a salary) is an expression of courtesy, and elsewhere it is considered corruption. Everything is only a matter of ethics and morality; however, they can be very different in different areas and different countries.

Some forms of corruption also relate to an informal form of social security, where the family or the immediate community takes care of its members. Such forms of informal social security prevail in less developed countries, where there is no legal regulation of formal social security and in the countries of Southern Europe where the influence of the broader family (patriarchate 5 ) is still very strong, like for example in Italy, Greece, Albania, Bosnia, etc. These countries are known for nepotism, cronyism and patronage, since the family as well as the wider community provide social security. The family or community takes care of their members, who, in return, must be loyal and in a way also repay the benefits they receive from it. The same is true of faith. While the southern, predominantly Catholic, very hierarchically organized part of Europe, encourages the cult of the family (also joint and several community) and several liability, the northern, mainly Protestant part, emphasizes individualism and individual responsibility (which means less forms of corruption). The corruption also prospers better in countries where Islam and Orthodoxy are the main religion. The influence of the dominant religion in the country is thus important.

The influence of majority Protestantism has been tested several times and has proven to be an important factor for the low level of corruption in a country. However, the relationship between Protestantism and good governance is probably rooted more in history than in today’s practice. Today, there are many nominally Protestant countries that are de facto secular, while also many non-Protestant countries fight effectively against corruption. Thus, the influence of Protestantism appears to emerge from its egalitarian ethos, which could indirectly function as a support to the general orientation toward ethical universalism, literacy and the promotion of individualism. Its role is therefore important, as it at certain stages of the development explains why the first countries that were well managed were predominantly Protestant. This does not mean that other religious traditions are incompatible with good governance, but only that they have not succeeded in compiling this particular array of factors at the right moment [ 16 ].

Similarly, the research by North et al. [ 17 ] showed that, according to the authors, the least corrupt countries or those countries where the rule of law is the strongest were predominantly Protestant in 1900 and those who are most corrupt were predominantly Orthodox in the same year. The results of their research have shown that there is a link between religion and corruption on one hand, and respect for the rule of law on the other, but not that the link is causative. The questions therefore arise: Why do some religions respect the rule of law more than others and control corruption? Do the characteristics of a particular religion themselves lead to the results? Are there any differences in religious doctrines, practices or cultures that lead to such results? Are there other links that are not rooted in the religious culture, but are related to religious affiliation?

A study titled Perception of corruption by authors Melgar et al. [ 18 ] tried to find out which groups of people are more likely to pay for corruption. They found that those who think that there is a lot of corruption also perceive it so and are consequently more willing to pay for it (as they think or expect the society to function that way). By using a wide and very heterogeneous set of data and econometrics, it has been shown that the social status and personal characteristics also play an important role in the shaping of corruption perception at the micro level. While divorced women, unemployed persons, persons working in the private sector or the self-employed are considered to be in positive correlation with the perception of corruption (corruption is perceived more and they are more willing to pay bribes), the opposite applies to married persons, full-time employees, people who frequently attend religious ceremonies and people with at least secondary education (they perceive less corruption and are also unwilling to pay). According to the classification of countries, they find that it can be proved that all African and Asian countries are in the upper half of the table, and the same applies to the former socialist countries and most of the East Asian countries. People living in these countries perceive more corruption than others. On the contrary, most European countries and some of the former English colonies show lower perceptions than the average (there are also exceptions) and rank in the lower half, the same as half of the richest countries. They also added that the geographical classification of countries has been strongly correlated with the corruption perception index (CPI), which shows that individual characteristics and social conditions are specific factors that influence the perception of corruption. However, they have also found that better economic results reduce the perception of corruption, while the macroeconomic instability and income inequalities have precisely the opposite effect. With Mahič [ 19 ], we also found a similar influence on the perception of corruption; in the economic crisis (high unemployment and low purchasing power), the perception of corruption is rising.

A very important factor that affects corruption is also demographics. A number of studies have shown that patriarchal society is more prone to corruption. This is confirmed by several researches that actually explore to what extent are men women corrupt. Several earlier, especially econometric contributions to the debate on who is more corrupt, men or women, argued that there is a link between a higher representation of women in government and lower levels of corruption. An influential study of 150 countries in Europe, Africa and Asia by the World Bank [ 20 ] confirmed this and concluded that women are more reliable and less prone to corruption. The subsequent findings were later reinforced by further research. Rivas [ 21 ] also affirms this in his research and notes that, according to the results of the survey, the conclusion could be that women are less corrupt than men and that the increase in the number of women on the labor market and in politics would help fight corruption. Lee and Guven [ 22 ] in the survey: Engaging in corruption—the influence of cultural values and the contagion effects at the micro-level also raised the question of whether men are more corrupt than women. The findings of the research support the thesis that women are less susceptible to corruption than men, especially in cultures that require men to be ambitious, competitive and materially successful, as these factors significantly contribute to unethical behavior. This was surprisingly well shown also in practice [ 23 ] when, due to gender equality, the Peruvian government a decade ago decided to involve more women in the police units. When the 2,500 female police officers were joined as traffic police officers, something unexpected happened; bribery was drastically reduced, and people welcomed the female police officers on the streets.

3. The impact of corruption on the economy

In 1997, Tanzi and Davoodi [ 2 ] conducted a systematic study of the impact of corruption on public finances. Several important findings came to light:

Corruption increases the volume of public investments (at the expense of private investments), as there are many options that allow for public expenditure manipulation and are carried out by high-level officials so as to get bribes (which means that more general government expenditures or a large budget offer more opportunities for corruption).

Corruption redirects the composition of public expenditure from the expenditure necessary for basic functioning and maintenance to expenditure on new equipment.

Corruption tends to pull away the composition of public expenditure from the necessary fixed assets for health and education, as there is less chance of getting commissions than from other, perhaps unnecessary projects.

Corruption reduces the effectiveness of public investments and the infrastructure of a country.

Corruption can reduce tax revenues by compromising the ability of the state administration to collect taxes and fees, although the net effect depends on how the nominal tax and other regulatory burdens were selected by the officials, exposed to corruption.

The influence of corruption on the economy was studied by the same authors [ 3 ] through several factors:

Through the impact of corruption on businesses : The impact of corruption on a business is largely depend on the size of the company. Large companies are better protected in an environment that is prone to corruption, they avoid taxes more easily and their size protects them from petty corruption, while they are often also politically protected, which is why the survival of small (especially start-up companies) and middle-sized companies, regardless of their importance for the growth of the economy and the development, is much more difficult than the survival of large companies.

Through the impact of corruption on investments : Corruption affects (a) total investments, (b) the size and form of investments by foreign direct investors, (c) the size of public investments and (d) the quality of investment decisions and investment projects.

Through the influence of corruption on the allocation of talents : Indirectly, corruption has a negative impact on economic growth through the allocation of talents, since gifted and prospective students are driven, due to the influence of the environment and the situation in the country, for example, to study law rather than engineering, which would add value to the country.

Through the impact of corruption on public spending : Corruption has a negative impact on public spending and has an especially strong impact on education and health. There are also indications of the correlation between corruption and military expenditure, which means that high level of corruption reduces economic growth due to high military expenditure.

Through the impact of corruption on taxes : Because of corruption, less taxes are levied than would otherwise be, as some of the taxes end up in the pockets of corrupt tax officials. There are also frequent tax relieves in the corrupt countries, selective taxes and various progressive taxes; in short, there is much less money than the country could have, and so corruption, through the country’s financial deficit, also affects the economic growth; and conclude the findings on the negative impact (both indirect and direct) of corruption on economic growth.

Smarzynska and Wei [ 5 ] came to similar conclusions regarding the effects of corruption on the size and composition of investments. Corrupt countries are less attractive for investors, and if they do opt for an investment, due to non-transparent bureaucracy, they often enter the market with a joint venture, as they usually understand or control matters of the home country better. The local partner can also help foreign companies with the acquisition of local licenses and permits or can otherwise negotiate with the bureaucratic labyrinths at lower costs. Generally inclined (as investors) to the joint venture in the corrupt countries are especially the US investors; however, even investors from those European countries, which are among the highest ranked on the CPI, quickly adapt to local conditions.

Corruption for various reasons also affects the following:

Employment, because the job does not go to the most suitable or qualified person, but the one who is ready to pay for it or in any other way return the favor.

Also affects total investments [ 24 ].

The size and composition of foreign investments and the size of public investments.

The effectiveness of investment decisions and projects. In the presence of corruption, the investments are smaller, as entrepreneurs are aware that they will have to bribe the officials or even give them a profit share for a successful implementation of a business. Due to these increased costs, the entrepreneurs are not interested in investing.

Wei [ 25 ] even made a projection which predicted that in the case of reduction in corruption in Bangladesh to the level of corruption in Singapore, the growth rate of GDP per capita would increase by 1.8% per year between 1960 and 1985 (assuming that the actual average annual growth rate was 4% per year), and the average per capita income could have been more than 50% higher, whereas the Philippines could, if its level of corruption was reduced to that of Singapore (if everything remained unchanged), have raised their investments in relation to GDP by as much as 6.6%, which means a significant increase in the investments. At the same time, he notes that in order to reduce the corruption to the level of Singapore in the countries that he compared (India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Colombia, Mexico and Ghana), the State should raise the salaries of officials by 400—900%. He therefore asks himself whether this would even be possible. However, he notes that in the event of a large increase in salaries, a new form of corruption would likely arise when everyone would be prepared to pay a bribe for a well-paid official job.

Corruption often reduces the effectiveness of various financial assistance programs (both state and international), as money is “lost somewhere along the way” and does not reach those that need it or for whom it is intended, as the financial benefits, deriving from corruption, are not taxable because they are hidden. The state is thus also losing part of the income from the taxes due to corruption, while the public spending, resulting from corruption (or narrow private interests) leads to negative effects on the budget.

The European Commission in its report found that corruption is costing the European economy about 120 billion a year, and according to the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malstotröm, the corruption in Europe is most present in public procurement, financing of political parties and health care [ 26 ].

The United Nations estimate that the cost of corruption in Afghanistan amounted to about $ 3.9 billion in 2012. According to Transparency International, the former leader of Indonesia, Suharto, embezzled between $ 15 and $ 35 billion, whereas the embezzlements of Mobutu in Zaire, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Abacha in Nigeria are estimated to amount to $ 5 billion [ 27 ]. However, the World Bank survey shows that $ 1 billion in bribes, both in rich and developing countries, is paid annually [ 28 ], which means that even the developed countries are not immune to corruption (but in a different form) and that the political corruption is especially present in large infrastructure projects. Bađun [ 29 ] on the example of Croatia gives conclusions, which are valid for all post-communist countries.

Impact on enterprises: A survey conducted by the EBRD and the World Bank shows that bribes paid in smaller companies account for 5% of their annual profits and in medium-sized companies 4% of their annual profits. However, both are, compared to large companies, where bribes comprise less than 3%, in a much worse position, which shows how bribes are causing problems or are putting these smaller companies into a subordinate position compared to the large ones, which in turn leads to the collapse of these.

Also interesting is the study of the Shadow Economy in Highly Developed OECD Countries where Schneider and Buehn [ 30 ] also find the link between the low quality of institutions that are the holders of the rule of law (or degree of corruption) and the shadow economy, and therefore, the weaker the “law” is, the higher the degree of corruption and of shadow economy. In the study Corruption and the Shadow Economy [ 31 ], the same authors explore the relationship between the degree of corruption and the emergence of the shadow economy, and their findings are that the high level of shadow economy and the high degree of corruption are strongly linked to one another. One of the hypotheses in this survey (which has been confirmed) is also: the higher the degree of corruption, the lower the economic development measured by GDP per capita. The authors detected a positive correlation; corruption thus affects the economic development.

However, the extended practice of finding annuity outside the logic of the market and competition can therefore lead to a (neo) liberal conclusion that the root of the existence of corruption is in the very existence of the state—especially in excessive, selective and deforming state interventions and subsidies that create fertile soil for the development of corruption. The truth is that the devastating combination consists of widespread state intervention and subsidies in the simultaneous absence of a strong institutional framework and detailed rules of the game, including the control of public finances and effective anti-trust legislation and legal practices. On the other hand, however, there is no clear evidence that private monopolies are more effective and less corrupt than the public ones and that privatization, especially long-lasting, gradual and non-transparent one (so-called gradualism), reduces positive developmental and social effects, including the reduction of corruption [ 32 ]. Yet market deregulation, legal and judicial reform and transparent management of public procurement would significantly reduce corruption in many developing countries (as well as in transition countries), at which point the government should play an important role in the shaping of the anti-corruption policy. There should be a strong strengthening of the public procurement institution. The law is admittedly strict about the public procurement, but one of the main reasons for public procurement problems is the lack of a skilled workforce, and public procurement is thus still the breeding ground of corruption. There also exists a proverb “poverty is a curse,” which applies largely to all developing countries, as these are the countries that are most affected by poverty. Poverty destroys all ethical and moral values.

One of the important aspects of the damage to the global economy is also the failure to respect copyright and intellectual property. The more corrupt countries are also inclined to lower respect for the aforementioned, and the economic damage amounts to billions of dollars. Cavazos-Cepeda et al. [ 33 ] found that reforms, legal, fiscal and intellectual incentives to respect copyright and intellectual property patents encourage the society to make itself more innovative and economically more effective; however, they underline the importance of human capital and investment in people as one of the most important factors for reducing the level of corruption in the country.

There are also theories that corruption can act as the lubricant of the economic wheel and at least in some cases has a positive impact on the economic growth. The empirical analysis done by Dreher and Gassebner [ 34 ] on a sample of 43 countries between 2003 and 2005 shows that corruption is even useful, but with some reservations. In particular, they investigated the short-term effects of corruption and found, for example, that in countries where corruption is widespread, more new entrepreneurs enter the market (corruption in the public sector is expected to promote private entrepreneurial activity). They are, however, not necessarily to succeed, as there is a high likelihood that they will go bankrupt due to the rigid regulations that block the activity and because of which bribes are needed. They do acknowledge, on the other hand, that most authors who have been doing research for a longer period of time admit the harmfulness of corruption both for society and the economy. Something similar show the data for some Asian countries, where, unlike their findings (short-term benefit), the high degree of corruption coincides with the long-term economic growth.

Svendson [ 10 ] also notes that, in light of the theoretical literature and various research studies, notwithstanding that these show the negative impact of corruption on the economic growth, but this cannot be said for sure, since there are difficulties in measuring corruption, and at the same time, the question arises whether the econometric models that were made are good enough to capture all the important variables. He also states that corruption appears in many forms and that there is no reason to assume that all types of corruption are equally harmful to the economic growth.

Recent empirical researches also attest to that; while many countries have suffered, as a characteristic consequence of corruption, the decline in economic growth, other countries have had economic growth (in some cases a very positive one) despite corruption. The latter is also to be expected, since corruption has many manifestations and it would be surprising if all types of corrupt practices had the same effect on economic performance. Analyses show that one of the reasons for this is the extent to which the perpetrators of corrupt practices—in this case the bureaucrats—coordinate their behavior. In the absence of an organized corruption network, each bureaucrat collects bribes for himself, while ignoring the negative impact of others’ demands for them. In the presence of such a network, the collective bureaucracy reduces the total value of the bribe, which results in lower bribe payments and higher innovation, and the economic growth is consequently higher in the latter case than in the former case. The interesting question is not so much why is the degree of corruption in poor countries higher than in the rich ones, but rather why the nature of corruption differs between countries. The extent to which corruption is organized is just one aspect of this, but there are other aspects. For example, it is common practice in some countries to pay ex post (as a share of profit, for example) instead of ex ante (in advance, as a bribe) to officials or politicians, so it is assumed that the effects on the economy will be different. The precise reason why corruption should take on one form and not the other is an important issue which has been largely ignored and which could have to do with cultural, social and political reasons, as well as economic circumstances [ 35 ].

In the fight against corruption, a remarkable role was also played by the debt crisis. The die Welt newspaper [ 36 ] mentions the study of the Hertie School of Governance, which shows that Italy, Spain and Portugal have made great strides in the fight against bribery and corruption of their civil servants due to lack of money, which enabled a significantly more transparent and “pure” practice for the award of public procurement. The crisis is supposed to dry up monetary resources and thus reduce the chances of corruption. Also, the crisis has changed the perception of the society, and bad business practices, which were acceptable before the crisis, are acceptable no longer. However, the fight against corruption is often similar to the fight against windmills. The case of India shows how corruption is changing, getting new dimensions, not only in scope, but also in methods. Just as the population in India is growing, so is corruption, and there are always new ways how to cheat both the state and the society. The perception of corruption is increasing year after year. Despite all the anti-corruption moves and anti-corruption initiatives, people do not hesitate to offer or accept a bribe. The bribers are becoming innovative, they adapt to the situation and the innovation of companies in paying bribes and hiding them is also visible. However, just as elsewhere in the world, the negative effects of corruption are the same; it reduces foreign direct and domestic investments, increases inequality and poverty, raises the number of freeloaders (renters, free-riders) in the economy, distorts and exploits public investments and reduces public revenues.

4. Discussion

Corruption is, in fact, a multidirectional process. On one hand, the provider benefits, on the other the recipient, and both are aware of the deed that remains hidden. The third link in the chain is everyone else, the victims. Although not every act of corruption is yet a criminal offense, it is, however, unethical and detrimental to the economic and political development of a society. Usually, there are persons involved with political, economic and decision-making power, and as the philosopher Karl Popper wrote in his book, The Open Society and its Enemies , that the greatest problem is not the question of who should give orders, but how to control the one who gives them. How to organize the political and social institutions in order to prevent the weak and incompetent rulers from doing too much harm? However, as there is no general and unmistakable way of preventing the tyranny or corruptions of the heavyweights, the price of freedom is eternal alertness [ 37 ]. Greediness, ambition, rapacity and immorality have been known to the human society ever since the emergence of civilization and use every tool available to them: kinship, common past, school contacts, common interests, friendship and, of course, political as well as religious ties.

In a study by Šumah et al. [ 38 ], we did an analysis of countries, taking into account their ranking on the Corruption Perception Index published every year by Transparency International, and identified the main factors affecting the level of corruption in a particular group of countries, or rather, we tried to find similarities and differences between individual groups of countries in terms of what affects the level of corruption in these groups. We have established a basic model of three factors (risk, benefit and consciousness) that was created on the basis of the merger of several known, scientifically proven factors that cause or reduce corruption or affect its level in the individual country. According to this degree of corruption, we have identified five groups, classified the countries and analyzed their common characteristics. The findings were as follows:

Corruption is linked to the level of GDP (the higher the GDP, the lower the rate of corruption).

Corruption is related to the level of education (the higher the average level of education, the lower the level of corruption).

Corruption is strongly linked to the geographical location. The highest level is in Asia (mainly in Central Asia), Africa (North and Central Africa) and South America (according to the Transparency International map).

Corruption is strongly linked to the country’s prevailing religion.

Corruption is linked to freedom in the country (personal freedom, freedom of speech, economic freedom, etc.), with respect to the rule of law in a country and inefficiency of public administration, which is often also locally limited or is inherently corrupt.

The lower the country is ranked, the more dominant is the patriarchal society.

Many researchers are still involved in corruption. The findings show that there is a link between corruption and its negative effects, but from most of the studies it is not possible to determine what the cause is and what the consequence. Whether is the level of corruption lower due to high GDP, or is it vice versa, cannot be directly identified, since the corruption depends on economic indicators, while at the same time affecting them [ 39 ]. It is also very difficult to claim that the average low level of education is due to corruption or, conversely, that corruption is a result of low education. Similarly goes for the rule of law and (in)efficiency of public administration. This interdependence will surely continue to be the subject of numerous researches in the future, for the only way to be successful in the fight against corruption is if we know the causes and begin to eliminate them.

Nevertheless, there remains something that needs to be emphasized. Almost all of the studies ignore the fact that the top of the most corrupt countries consists of countries with one of the various forms of armed conflict (civil war, intertribal conflicts, inter-religious wars or some other form of aggression), which means that peace in the country is a prerequisite for a successful fight against corruption. The least corrupt countries are countries that have a lasting peace on their territory (most since the Second World War or even longer), which is confirmed by the above fact. Peace is therefore one of the prerequisites for a successful fight against corruption.

The answer to the question of how to deal with corruption is not unambiguous; some countries have achieved great success in dealing with it in a relatively short time (Singapore, Estonia and Georgia) and some have been struggling for a long time (the most famous example is Italy). The first condition is in any case to ensure freedom (personal freedom, economic freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, etc.) and democracy, and then education and awareness of people. However, at this point, it is not about introducing the Western type democracy, as our culture knows it, for it has often proven that, especially with the help of the army, more harm than benefit was caused. It is necessary to start using good practices of countries that are similar to each other (religion, habits, tradition, ethics and morality) and that have common history.

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  • Attila (406–453) was the great ruler of the Huns, who, as the first, united all the Huns and conquered a considerable part of Europe and Asia. He is also known as the Whip of God.
  • The Renaissance political theorist (1469–1527) who was for more than a decade engaged in diplomatic and state affairs in Florence. Modern political philosophy and political science consider him the founder of the realistic approach to the theory of politics.
  • An English philosopher, writer, judge and politician (1561–1626). He rejected Aristotle’s view and philosophy and sought to gain the reputation of the experimental science.
  • Overcrowding in this context implies replenishment of posts in public administration with members of one party.
  • Patriarchate is a social arrangement in which all authority is held by male representatives of the families that make up the community. The right to name, social and political status, as well as the possession and authority over family members is automatically transferred from the father to the firstborn or to the nearest male relative.

© 2018 The Author(s). Licensee IntechOpen. This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Continue reading from the same book

Published: 03 October 2018

By Oguzhan Ozcelebi



By Maumita Choudhury


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What Is Corruption?

Understanding corruption.

  • Real-World Example
  • Corruption FAQs

The Bottom Line

  • Financial Crime & Fraud
  • Definitions A - L

Corruption: Its Meaning, Type, and Real-World Example

James Chen, CMT is an expert trader, investment adviser, and global market strategist.

corruption essay wikipedia

Thomas J Catalano is a CFP and Registered Investment Adviser with the state of South Carolina, where he launched his own financial advisory firm in 2018. Thomas' experience gives him expertise in a variety of areas including investments, retirement, insurance, and financial planning.

corruption essay wikipedia

Investopedia / Julie Bang

Corruption is dishonest behavior by those in positions of power. Those who abuse their power may be individuals or they may belong to organizations, such as businesses or governments. Corruption can entail a variety of actions, including giving or accepting bribes or inappropriate gifts, double-dealing, and defrauding investors. Corrupt behavior is often the result of government intervention in the economy but it can be prevented with certain checks and balances. One example of corruption in the world of finance would be an investment manager who is actually running a Ponzi scheme .

Key Takeaways

  • Corruption is dishonest behavior by those in positions of power, such as business managers or government officials.
  • Corruption can come in the form of bribery, double-dealing, and defrauding investors.
  • The consequences of corruption can be social and financial but it has a major impact on those who are financially vulnerable.
  • Government intervention in the economy is a root cause of corruption.
  • Preventing corruption includes the reinforcement of best business practices, education in the form of mandatory anti-money laundering courses, and increased accountability.

Corruption is any behavior that leads to the benefit of an entity in power at the expense of others. As such, it's considered to be an abuse of power. Corruption occurs when someone in a position of power uses their authority to influence decisions or conducts any other dishonest or fraudulent behavior like giving or accepting bribes or inappropriate gifts, double-dealing, under-the-table transactions, manipulating elections, diverting funds, laundering money , and defrauding investors.

There are many situations in which someone can be considered corrupt. Keep in mind that corruption can involve any entity, whether that's an individual, company, or government. For instance:

  • A politician may be deemed corrupt for taking money to sway a vote on a key issue.
  • A corporation may be deemed corrupt for trying to influence the market by cooking their books .
  • A government may be deemed corrupt by offering a higher degree of resources and incentives, such as tax breaks and health care, to the wealthy rather than to those who are financially vulnerable.

The act of corruption has financial and social consequences for everyone. But it does have a disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable. Corruption may further limit their access to the education, health care, and legal services they need. And they may end up paying more in bribes, as they are often targeted because they may be less likely to report corruption.

Damage from corruption is multi-fold. When reported, it can lead to unflattering media attention. It can also attack the foundations of democracy, dampen (economic) growth and development, skew laws and regulations, create red tape and bureaucratic hurdles, and stunt investment to name a few. This leads to damage to the offending party's reputation and an erosion of trust. That's because people can lose faith in the people and organizations in question.

A comprehensive public relations campaign is often required to limit reputational damage and restore trust. This requires valuable resources, such as time and money, which may result in other critical areas of the organization being deprived. As a result, inefficiencies that lead to financial losses can occur.

Causes of Corruption

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) cites several key factors that contribute to corruption. These include government intervention in the economy, the liberalization of policies, and the deregulation and privatization of certain industries. This can pop up in several different areas, including:

  • Lowering wages for civil servants compared to those in the private sector. Certain employees may resort to taking bribes in order to compensate for the difference in wages.
  • Price controls . Corruption thrives when governments intervene by putting these in place to keep prices lower for certain goods and services.
  • Eliminating foreign competition through trade restrictions, tariffs, and trade barriers , thereby opening up the possibility of a semi-monopoly by domestic players. The latter are more likely to resort to corrupt behavior to keep restrictions in place for foreign companies to keep their place in the market.
  • Corporations and groups may receive government grants and subsidies when they aren't the intended recipients.

Put simply, the wider the spread of government regulation, the more discretion lawmakers have at applying the rules. When this happens, it opens the door for dishonest behavior, including taking bribes.

Corruption Prevention

Corruption can increase criminal activity and organized crime in the community when left unchecked. But there are a number of steps that can help to manage it. The following is a list of possible steps that can be taken to prevent corruption.

  • Education: A strong educational focus must reinforce best business practices and alert managers and employees where to look for corruption. This can be achieved by introducing mandatory education such as anti-money laundering (AML) courses. Senior executives and managers must set a strong culture of honesty and integrity by leading by example.
  • Environment: A robust control environment reduces the risk of corruption as do thorough background checks before hiring or promoting employees.
  • Accountability: When there are mechanisms in place, there's a likelihood of reinforcing a culture that fosters strong ethical behavior while holding those to account who violate the norms.
  • Regulation: Setting up codes of conduct and ethics can help avoid situations that can create conflicts of interest . This is common in areas like the financial industry, where chartered financial analysts and other financial professionals must adhere to these rules or be penalized.
  • Reporting: Corruption can further be reduced by making it easy to report, whether by managers, employees, suppliers, and customers. It's also important to ensure that those reporting are able to do so safely and securely.

There must also be clear penalties in place to dissuade people and organizations from engaging in corrupt behavior. This can include financial penalties and even legal action—prosecution and perhaps jail time.

Real-World Example of Corruption

There are many examples of corruption in the real world. They may include individuals or organizations, whether that entails corporations or governments. Many often go undetected because the behavior is well hidden or because it goes undetected. The following are just two examples of documented corruption.

Major Banks

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) fined five major global banks in 2015 on various corruption charges.

Citi, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, and The Royal Bank of Scotland agreed to plead guilty to rigging the foreign exchange market. According to the SEC, the banks "manipulate(d) the price of U.S. dollars and euros exchanged in the foreign currency exchange (FX) spot market." The four institutions paid criminal fines of more than $2.5 billion.

UBS also plead guilty to separate charges of manipulating benchmark interest rates, including the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). This charge resulted in a fine of $203 million.

In 2016, the SEC ordered software company PTC to pay a combined $28 million in fines for attempting to bribe Chinese officials by providing approximately $1.5 million in recreational travel through two PTC China-based subsidiaries . PTC struck a delicate public relations (PR) effort to restore its reputation as the case became increasingly public.

What Does Corruption Mean?

Corruption is any dishonest or fraudulent behavior wherein someone uses their position of power to benefit themselves at the expense of others. The entity can be an individual, corporation, or government. This can come in the form of giving or taking bribes, double-dealing, and defrauding investors among other actions. Government intervention is often the root cause of corruption but it can be prevented by putting certain checks and balances in place. It has social and financial implications but disproportionately affects the most financially vulnerable.

What Does Government Corruption Look Like?

Government corruption occurs when a ruling party takes on a more invasive and pervasive role. Forms of government corruption include nepotism, bribery, lobbying, embezzlement, and cronyism. For instance, a government official may use their power and influence to grant family members high-ranking positions. In other cases, officials may try to sway election results or harm opponents to hold onto power.

How Do You Stop Corruption?

Putting in checks and balances is important to stop corruption. This includes educating the public, creating a robust environment, putting accounting mechanisms in place, implementing regulations, and opening up avenues to reporting and ensuring the safety of those who make these reports. It's also important to enforce penalties for charges of corruption, including fines and prosecution.

Corruption is a form of dishonest behavior that has a big impact on everyone. It occurs when an entrusted entity abuses its position of power for its own benefit. Corruption can come in many forms including bribes, double-dealing, and fraud by individuals, businesses, and governments. Corruption has a big impact on people's social and financial well-being. As such, it can threaten the foundations of democracy, leading people to lose trust in their leaders.

The World Bank. " Combating Corruption ."

International Monetary Fund. " Why Worry About Corruption? "

U.S. Department of Justice. " Five Major Banks Agree to Parent-Level Guilty Pleas ."

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. " SEC: Tech Company Bribed Chinese Officials ."

corruption essay wikipedia

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Lessons From the Most Corrupt Judge in U.S. History

Martin T. Manton and His Lawyer Arriving for Trial

W e tend to think of our judges as black-robed monastics cloistered in their temples of justice, hermetically sealed off from worldly temptations. History teaches us this is not always so. Long before recent news reports about current U.S. Supreme Court Justices accepting gifts from private parties, a sordid and shocking case of judicial corruption–the worst in our nation’s history–unspooled in a downtown courtroom in Depression-era Manhattan. Though largely forgotten today, it serves as an enduring reminder that judges, too, are human.

Martin T. Manton was not just any judge. From 1918 to 1939, Manton served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, based in New York City. Even more so than today, New York then was the beating heart of the country’s commercial, financial, cultural, religious, and political life. This meant that the Second Circuit decided a disproportionate share of the country’s most consequential lawsuits. And it earned Manton, the court’s senior judge beginning in 1927, the informal title of “the tenth-ranking judge in the United States,” below only the nine Justices of the Supreme Court. A Columbia law graduate and the recipient of honorary degrees from five other universities, Manton came within a whisker of being appointed to the Supreme Court himself.

As if his day job weren’t enough, the prodigiously energetic jurist engaged in an impressive array of extrajudicial activities. Knighted by the Pope in 1924, he ranked as one of the top Catholic laymen in the United States. He was a leading proponent of international peace organizations such as the World Court. Unusually active for a judge in partisan politics, he is said to have played a key role in the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that led to Franklin Roosevelt’s first presidential nomination at the 1932 Democratic convention. On top of all this, he managed a small business empire out of his chambers, with extensive real estate holdings and interests in a variety of operating companies.

Less visibly, Manton operated a side business with a more unwholesome objective: cashing in on his status and power as a judge.

In literally dozens of cases, Manton solicited payments and “loans” (many never repaid) from litigants, or the lawyers representing them, in cases in the Second Circuit.  Invariably, he would then write the decision for the court finding in favor of the party that fattened his bank account.  In all, Manton raked in some $17 million (in today’s dollars) from his schemes.  His prosecutor fittingly dubbed him a “merchant of justice,” who systematically abused his judicial office for private gain on a scale unmatched by any federal judge before or since.

All sorts of legal controversies proved grist for Manton’s corruption mill: high-stakes patent infringement battles between business rivals, internecine corporate disputes between stockholders and corporate officers, a constitutional challenge mounted by railroad interests to New York’s longstanding nickel subway fare, federal criminal prosecutions. Manton deployed a network of fixers, bagmen, and front men who helped to identify sources of bribes, negotiate the terms, and conceal the proceeds inside a maze of opaque financial arrangements. He even enlisted the help of another federal judge to deliver promised judicial benefits in some cases.

Sometimes the bribe money was paid in cash, which Manton stuck in a safe he kept in his chambers in the federal courthouse. Sometimes the benefits flowed to Manton’s family members, as when an insurance broker hired by receivers appointed by Manton agreed to funnel kickbacks to the judge’s sister and niece. On one occasion a litigant financed the cost of a transatlantic voyage for Manton’s summer vacation.

Manton’s machinations in some ways merely reflected the Tammany Hall credo of “honest graft,” in George Washington Plunkitt’s famous phrase: the idea that public servants were expected and entitled to profit off their positions. In such a culture, there was no shortage of private actors willing to feed the judge’s greed, even at the highest echelons of the business and legal elite. Among the many litigants who stuffed Manton’s pockets were the nation’s largest cigarette manufacturer, its second largest maker of electric razors, the head of the Warner Brothers movie studio, and the biggest baby chick hatchery on the East Coast. Prominent Wall Street lawyers orchestrated, facilitated, or closed their eyes to these illicit payments, including a Columbia law school classmate of Manton who was disbarred for his actions, and Thomas Chadbourne, founder of the venerable Chadbourne Parke law firm and one of the most influential lawyers of the era.

Read More: Sachems And Sinners, An Informal History of Tammany Hall

Even more disturbingly, Manton’s confederates included the underworld forces who, in tandem with the Tammany Hall political machine, ruled much of New York in the 1930s. As revealed in previously undisclosed FBI files, Manton fraternized with racketeers and accepted large loans and gifts from such unsavory sources. Compelling evidence shows that the two most notorious gangsters of the era, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter and Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro, arranged a payoff to Manton to secure their release on bail – whereupon they promptly began assassinating the witnesses against them. “He’s the only federal judge left in New York we can use to get people out of jail,” Tammany Hall boss and underworld ally Jimmy Hines reportedly said of Manton.

Today the risk of “another Manton” has been lessened by stringent financial disclosure requirements and ethical standards governing federal judges (though those standards are not binding on Supreme Court Justices). But criminal laws and canons of judicial ethics existed in Manton’s day too, and he nearly escaped accountability. Reports of his corruptibility had made their way to the FBI years earlier and were dutifully passed on by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to senior officials in FDR’s Justice Department, where they inexplicably languished. It took an enterprising reporter for the anti-Tammany New York World-Telegram to bring Manton’s misdeeds to light, aided by Manhattan District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey, who publicly released the findings of a probe by his office into Manton’s activities. At that point the Justice Department had no choice but to open its own investigation. In June 1939, after a trial in the very federal courthouse where he had once reigned supreme, a jury found Manton guilty. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

To the end, Manton insisted he’d done nothing wrong, because he would have ruled the same way regardless of the lucre bestowed by litigants. The appeals court that upheld his conviction emphatically disagreed, declaring that “judicial action, whether just or unjust, is not for sale” and warning that if Manton’s argument were sustained, “the event will mark the first step toward the abandonment of that imperative requisite of even-handed justice”: that “the judge must be perfectly and completely independent.” Words worth heeding in any era.

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Corruption: A Very Short Introduction

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Corruption: A Very Short Introduction

1 (page 1) p. 1 What is corruption?

  • Published: April 2015
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Traditionally, corruption refers to moral impurity, but the concept of corruption has changed over time and varies across cultures and different jurisdictions working with varying legislation. ‘What is corruption?’ explains that a significant problem in combating corruption is that analysts cannot agree on what it is. The world’s leading anti-corruption international non-governmental organization, Transparency International (TI), has used two definitions in recent years: ‘the abuse of public office for private gain’ and ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’. But ‘public office’ and ‘private gain’ can be defined in different ways. There are numerous classifications of corruption used by analysts, but for most situations, the narrow definition used by TI and the World Bank is adequate.

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Essay on Corruption, Its Causes, and Effects

Causes of corruption: essay introduction, causes of corruption, effects of corruption, conclusion: what are the causes and effects of corruption.


Transparency International defines corruption as an act that abuses the entrusted power for private gain. This means that it violates the rights of individuals that have bestowed power, authority, and legitimacy. Corruption varies in degree and nature depending on the level of its occurrence, people involved, and circumstances that motivate individuals to be corrupt. Modernization has transformed corruption, and people adopt new and complicated ways of concealing their fraudulent activities. This paper presents the causes and effects of corruption in the public and private sector.

Politics is an effective way of ensuring power and resources are shared equally among all individuals from different backgrounds within a specified jurisdiction. However, people have used political activities and offices to advance their gains and neglect the need to be accountable and responsible to the public. The emergence of political elites has created room for corruption to flourish in public and private offices because people no longer respect the need to develop national programs that will benefit citizens. They have diverted the resources of the public to achieve their gains without considering the impacts of their actions on other citizens. Politics has allowed corrupt officers to win elections and take powerful positions in government. Therefore, citizens continue to suffer because their interests are not addressed by those they expected would alleviate their problems.

Also, the existence of artificial scarcity of resources has pushed people to look for cheap ways of getting what they need. For instance, the scarcity of employment and investment opportunities has led to stiff competition for the limited available resources. Therefore, people use unorthodox ways to persuade those in charge of approving projects to allow them to continue with their investment projects. People with malevolent intentions continue to destroy the economy of their nations as they create false impressions of the scarcity of resources. The existence of unhealthy competitions among businesses forces some of them to use unethical ways to persuade their clients to buy their products. Government officials in charge of quality standards are usually bribed to cover the activities of such investors, and this promotes corruption in businesses. This violates the rights of citizens to access quality products and services.

Thirdly, the ethical qualities of people in authority have decreased, and their value system deteriorated due to lack of strong moral teachings and responsibilities. People no longer have respect for the old ideals of moral and honest service delivery procedures, and society has become a haven for individuals that disregard human dignity. It is necessary to explain that modernity has clouded the need to respect the positions and individuals placed to serve others. People have little respect for morals that guide service delivery and ensure others benefit from their services. Therefore, corruption has been fuelled by poor moral values and lack of respect for human life.

The present generation is full of corrupt activities because people fail to condemn them. There are no strong civil societies to rebuke and oppose corrupt leaders, and this promotes the flourishing of this behavior in generations. The American public forum is dominated by debates on gay marriages, foreign policies, and inflated health bills, but nobody seems to pay attention to the escalating cases of corruption in the public and private sectors. The younger generations do not see the need to fight corruption because their predecessors support and cultivate it through modern systems and activities.

Lastly, widespread poverty and illiteracy have contributed to endemic corruption in modern societies. There are efforts to educate people, especially the rural folks, to ensure they know their rights and freedoms to reduce corruption in their societies. However, these efforts seem to bear no fruits because poverty drives them to seek cheap and quick ways of accessing their needs. Also, poverty makes people desperate, and thus, they do anything that will ensure they have food on their tables. Therefore, corruption flourishes in most societies because people do not know their rights and those that do have limited resources to access them.

Corruption violates the rights and freedoms of individuals to get basic services from public and private offices. This means that this practice compromises the quality of services offered by employees in the public and private sectors and puts the lives of citizens at risk. Corrupt officials do not offer equal services to clients because they treat some with more interests than others. This violates the provisions of equality and the rights for justice in various issues. This makes public institutions and offices to become illegitimate because of misusing their democratic power for private gains.

Also, corruption hinders the effective development of political systems in a country. This vice promotes patronage that is serious threats to democratic processes. Most corrupt nations experience civil disobedience and political instability that hamper development projects. The introduction of multi-party democratic systems is usually hampered by the corruption that compromises the legitimacy of political parties and individuals. Civil disobedience and lack of trust in political institutions propel individuals to protest and demand the removal of their leaders from power.

Moreover, this vice stalls development projects and subjects citizens to abject poverty because of a lack of transparency and accountability in public offices. Corruption enables few individuals that have money to have their way and get what they want while those that do not have been forced to look for other alternatives. Poverty and unemployment are common occurrences in societies that condone corruption, and they cannot develop because of poor management systems. The need to offer quality services like improving infrastructure, medical facilities, schools, and social amenities is compromised by the lack of transparent processes of awarding tenders and distributing resources in a society.

Lastly, this vice discourages unity and cooperation in society because some individuals think they are more important than others. Unequal distribution of national resources and restricted access to public services lead to frustration and apathy among citizens, and this weakens the fabric that binds members of the society. This leads to social inequality and the emergence of class differences that violate the dignity and rights of individuals. Uncontrolled corruption widens the gap between the rich and poor, and this results in a weak civil society.

Corruption is caused by man-made factors like capitalism, lack of transparency and accountability, nepotism, tribalism, poverty, weak social and political structures, and poverty. This vice lowers the pace of national development, weakens societies, and increases poverty. Therefore, people should work hard to ensure they fight corruption by educating their members on the importance of transparent practices. Also, government systems should be programmed to detect and eliminate this vice, and those found promoting it should face harsh penalties.

Johnston, M., Syndromes of Corruption: Wealth, Power, and Democracy. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Turvey, B., Forensic Fraud: Evaluating Law Enforcement and Forensic Science Cultures in the Context of Examiner Misconduct . Massachussetts: Academic Press, 2013.

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Essay on Corruption: 100 Words, 200 Words

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essay on corruption

Corruption is an act of bribery that involves taking gifts and favours in exchange for some gain in terms of services and acceptance. In easy words, corruption means the misuse of power and any positions for personal and financial gain. Whether it’s a public official accepting bribes, a company engaging in fraudulent practices, or a student cheating on an exam, corruption takes various forms. This blog sheds light on the term corruption and the effects of corruption and lists down essay on corruption in 100 and 200 words. 

This Blog Includes:

Effects on corruption, essay on corruption in 100 words, essay on corruption in 200 words.

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Here are some effects of corruption on individuals and society:

  • When people in power are corrupt, people lose trust in them. People start doubting their decisions and intentions for everyone. People can also revolt against them and take any action.
  • Corruption can make life unfair. Instead of the most deserving person getting a job or a chance, it might go to someone who paid a bribe. 
  • Corruption slows down a country’s progress. Money that should be used to build roads, and schools and also the living conditions get worse. This means the country doesn’t become better and people’s lives stay hard.
  • Corruption can block opportunities for many people. If anyone needs a job, education or any healthcare facility and is not able to afford to pay bribes, their opportunities get lost.

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Corruption is when people misuse power for their gain. It’s like cheating the system. Corruption hurts a lot of people. Corruption makes people lose interest and trust in leaders. 

Money meant for schools, hospitals, and roads gets stolen. Jobs might go to those who pay bribes, not the deserving. This may seem unfair to a lot of people. 

Corruption slows down progress and makes life tough. We must stop corruption by being honest and also taking a stand against it. When we fight corruption, we make our world a better place for everyone.

Corruption is a big problem that hurts everyone. It happens when people in power misuse their authority for personal gain. To a lot of people, it may seem unfair. 

The first cause can be that corruption breaks trust. People start doubting if their leaders are working for them personally or for themselves. It also makes them feel upset and also feel disappointed.

Second, corruption wastes money. Money that should help schools, hospitals, and roads ends up in the wrong hands. It means that people who do not get the things that they need for their betterment of life.

Corruption also creates unfairness. People who deserve opportunities might not get them if they can’t pay bribes. It also makes the life of people tough and lose a lot of opportunities. It can also impact the progress of the country and weaken the strong pillars of the country.

To fight corruption, the candidates need to be honest and take steps to stand against it. People can demand transparency and fairness in the country to make the issue sustainable. With the contribution of people, they can create a world where people in power are working for everyone not just for themselves. 

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Some of the adverse effects of corruption in today’s society are lost trust, lost opportunities, and slows down the country’s progress.

The negative emotions related to corruption are anxiety, anger and disappointment.

To write a short essay on corruption, make sure to include the effects of corruption and all the aspects of the term.

Hence, we hope that this blog has assisted you in comprehending what an essay on Corruption must include. If you are struggling with your career choices and need expert guidance, our Leverage Edu mentors are here to guide you at any point of your academic and professional journey thus ensuring that you take informed steps towards your dream career.

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Essay on Corruption for Students and Children

500+ words essay on corruption.

Essay on Corruption – Corruption refers to a form of criminal activity or dishonesty. It refers to an evil act by an individual or a group. Most noteworthy, this act compromises the rights and privileges of others. Furthermore, Corruption primarily includes activities like bribery or embezzlement. However, Corruption can take place in many ways. Most probably, people in positions of authority are susceptible to Corruption. Corruption certainly reflects greedy and selfish behavior.

Essay on Corruption

Methods of Corruption

First of all, Bribery is the most common method of Corruption. Bribery involves the improper use of favours and gifts in exchange for personal gain. Furthermore, the types of favours are diverse. Above all, the favours include money, gifts, company shares, sexual favours, employment , entertainment, and political benefits. Also, personal gain can be – giving preferential treatment and overlooking crime.

Embezzlement refers to the act of withholding assets for the purpose of theft. Furthermore, it takes place by one or more individuals who were entrusted with these assets. Above all, embezzlement is a type of financial fraud.

The graft is a global form of Corruption. Most noteworthy, it refers to the illegal use of a politician’s authority for personal gain. Furthermore, a popular way for the graft is misdirecting public funds for the benefit of politicians .

Extortion is another major method of Corruption. It means to obtain property, money or services illegally. Above all, this obtainment takes place by coercing individuals or organizations. Hence, Extortion is quite similar to blackmail.

Favouritism and nepotism is quite an old form of Corruption still in usage. This refers to a person favouring one’s own relatives and friends to jobs. This is certainly a very unfair practice. This is because many deserving candidates fail to get jobs.

Abuse of discretion is another method of Corruption. Here, a person misuses one’s power and authority. An example can be a judge unjustly dismissing a criminal’s case.

Finally, influence peddling is the last method here. This refers to illegally using one’s influence with the government or other authorized individuals. Furthermore, it takes place in order to obtain preferential treatment or favour.

Get the huge list of more than 500 Essay Topics and Ideas

Ways of Stopping Corruption

One important way of preventing Corruption is to give a better salary in a government job. Many government employees receive pretty low salaries. Therefore, they resort to bribery to meet their expenses. So, government employees should receive higher salaries. Consequently, high salaries would reduce their motivation and resolve to engage in bribery.

corruption essay wikipedia

Tough laws are very important for stopping Corruption. Above all, strict punishments need to be meted out to guilty individuals. Furthermore, there should be an efficient and quick implementation of strict laws.

Applying cameras in workplaces is an excellent way to prevent corruption. Above all, many individuals would refrain from indulging in Corruption due to fear of being caught. Furthermore, these individuals would have otherwise engaged in Corruption.

The government must make sure to keep inflation low. Due to the rise in prices, many people feel their incomes to be too low. Consequently, this increases Corruption among the masses. Businessmen raise prices to sell their stock of goods at higher prices. Furthermore, the politician supports them due to the benefits they receive.

To sum it up, Corruption is a great evil of society. This evil should be quickly eliminated from society. Corruption is the poison that has penetrated the minds of many individuals these days. Hopefully, with consistent political and social efforts, we can get rid of Corruption.

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Poll Ranks Biden as 14th-Best President, With Trump Last

President Biden may owe his place in the top third to his predecessor: Mr. Biden’s signature accomplishment, according to the historians, was evicting Donald J. Trump from the Oval Office.

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President Biden standing at the top of the steps leading to Air Force One.

By Peter Baker

Peter Baker has covered the past five presidents, ranked seventh, 12th, 14th, 32nd and 45th in the survey.

President Biden has not had a lot of fun perusing polls lately. He has a lower approval rating than every president going back to Dwight D. Eisenhower at this stage of their tenures, and he trails former President Donald J. Trump in a fall rematch. But Mr. Biden can take solace from one survey in which he is way out in front of Mr. Trump.

A new poll of historians coming out on Presidents’ Day weekend ranks Mr. Biden as the 14th-best president in American history, just ahead of Woodrow Wilson, Ronald Reagan and Ulysses S. Grant. While that may not get Mr. Biden a spot on Mount Rushmore, it certainly puts him well ahead of Mr. Trump, who places dead last as the worst president ever.

Indeed, Mr. Biden may owe his place in the top third in part to Mr. Trump. Although he has claims to a historical legacy by managing the end of the Covid pandemic; rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure; and leading an international coalition against Russian aggression, Mr. Biden’s signature accomplishment, according to the historians, was evicting Mr. Trump from the Oval Office.

“Biden’s most important achievements may be that he rescued the presidency from Trump, resumed a more traditional style of presidential leadership and is gearing up to keep the office out of his predecessor’s hands this fall,” wrote Justin Vaughn and Brandon Rottinghaus, the college professors who conducted the survey and announced the results in The Los Angeles Times .

Mr. Trump might not care much what a bunch of academics think, but for what it’s worth he fares badly even among the self-identified Republican historians. Finishing 45th overall, Mr. Trump trails even the mid-19th-century failures who blundered the country into a civil war or botched its aftermath like James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce and Andrew Johnson.

Judging modern-day presidents, of course, is a hazardous exercise, one shaped by the politics of the moment and not necessarily reflective of how history will look a century from now. Even long-ago presidents can move up or down such polls depending on the changing cultural mores of the times the surveys are conducted.

For instance, Barack Obama, finishing at No. 7 this year, is up nine places since 2015, as is Grant, now ranked 17th. On the other hand, Andrew Jackson has fallen 12 places to 21st while Wilson (15th) and Reagan (16th) have each fallen five places.

At least some of that may owe to the increasing contemporary focus on racial justice. Mr. Obama, of course, was the nation’s first Black president, and Grant’s war against the Ku Klux Klan has come to balance out the corruption of his administration. But more attention today has focused on Jackson’s brutal campaigns against Native Americans and his “Trail of Tears” forced removal of Indigenous communities, and Wilson’s racist views and resegregation of parts of the federal government.

As usual, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson top the list, and historians generally share similar views of many presidents regardless of their own personal ideology or partisan affiliation. But some modern presidents generate more splits among the historians along party lines.

Among Republican scholars, for instance, Reagan finishes fifth, George H.W. Bush 11th, Mr. Obama 15th and Mr. Biden 30th, while among Democratic historians, Reagan is 18th, Mr. Bush 19th, Mr. Obama sixth and Mr. Biden 13th. Other than Grant and Mr. Biden, the biggest disparity is over George W. Bush, who is ranked 19th among Republicans and 33rd among Democrats.

Intriguingly, one modern president who generates little partisan difference is Bill Clinton. In fact, Republicans rank him slightly higher, at 10th, than Democrats do, at 12th, perhaps reflecting some #MeToo era rethinking and liberal unease over his centrist politics.

The survey, conducted by Mr. Vaughn, an associate professor of political science at Coastal Carolina University, and Mr. Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston, was based on 154 responses from scholars across the country.

Peter Baker is the chief White House correspondent for The Times. He has covered the last five presidents and sometimes writes analytical pieces that place presidents and their administrations in a larger context and historical framework. More about Peter Baker

Our Coverage of the 2024 Presidential Election

News and Analysis

At the influential Conservative Political Action Conference, which is currently underway in Washington, the question is not which Republican will face off against President Biden in November, but rather who will join former President Donald Trump atop the ticket as his running mate .

Speaking at a Christian media convention in Nashville, Trump claimed that a “radical left, corrupt political class” was persecuting Christians and framed the election as a battle against a “wicked” system .

Anger within the Democratic Party over Biden’s support for Israel in the war in Gaza has been building for months. Michigan’s upcoming primary will put that discontent on the ballot for the first time .

Nikki Haley’s struggles to gain traction ahead of South Carolina’s Republican primary stem in part from a demographic fact : Nearly 10% of the state’s voters were not there when she left the governor’s mansion in 2017, and many of the newcomers have an affection for Trump. How did the state become Trump country ?

Fact-Checking Biden: During campaign and public events in recent weeks, Biden has made some misleading statements  about taxes, industry, jobs and more.

A Right-Wing Nerve Center:  The Conservative Partnership Institute has become a breeding ground for the next generation of Trump loyalists and an incubator for policies he might pursue. Its fast growth is raising questions .

 On Wall Street:  Investors are already thinking about how financial markets might respond to the outcome of a Biden-Trump rematch , and how they should trade to prepare for it.


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  1. Corruption

    Corruption is a form of dishonesty or a criminal offense which is undertaken by a person or an organization which is entrusted in a position of authority, in order to acquire illicit benefits or abuse power for one's personal gain.

  2. Corruption

    A text that is miscopied, or computer file or computer program which malfunctions or becomes infected with a computer virus, may be called "corrupt". It may also mean an abuse of power, usually for a personal benefit. Sometimes the term just means bribery . Related pages Corruption Perceptions Index Injustice Monopoly Plutocracy

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    Anti-corruption. Anti-corruption (or anticorruption) comprises activities that oppose or inhibit corruption. Just as corruption takes many forms, anti-corruption efforts vary in scope and in strategy. [1] A general distinction between preventive and reactive measures is sometimes drawn.

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  7. Corruption

    Corruption is a highly diverse phenomenon, including bribery, nepotism, false testimony, cheating, abuse of authority and so on. Moreover, corruption takes different forms across the spectrum of institutions giving rise to political corruption, financial corruption, police corruption, academic corruption and so on.

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    Corruption has been part of our economic and political life since ancient times. Stories of corruption in most advanced to most underdeveloped economies abound. In the recent years, Italy and Japan were often in headlines with stories of corruption scandals involving top level politicians.

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    We define corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Corruption erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and the environmental crisis.

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    Corruption is a constant in the society and occurs in all civilizations; however, it has only been in the past 20 years that this phenomenon has begun being seriously explored. It has many different shapes as well as many various effects, both on the economy and the society at large. Among the most common causes of corruption are the political and economic environment, professional ethics and ...

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    Corruption can thus encourage a brain drain, depriving society of the people best suited to run the country and its economy. This phenomenon, sometimes called human capital flight, has been a particularly acute problem for countries such as Iran. But conventional capital flight is also a corruption-related problem.

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    Corruption is dishonest behavior by those in positions of power, such as managers or government officials. Corruption can include giving or accepting bribes or inappropriate gifts, double dealing ...

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    corruption is a fundamental problem for all nations and all people - perhaps even one of the greatest challenges of the twenty-first century. A variety of perspectives and exercises are employed to build the confidence and capacity of students to engage with this fascinating and urgent area of inquiry, and

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  20. Essay on Corruption: 100 Words, 200 Words

    Essay On Corruption in 100 Words. Corruption is when people misuse power for their gain. It's like cheating the system. Corruption hurts a lot of people. Corruption makes people lose interest and trust in leaders. Money meant for schools, hospitals, and roads gets stolen. Jobs might go to those who pay bribes, not the deserving.

  21. Essay on Corruption for Students and Children

    Essay on Corruption - Corruption refers to a form of criminal activity or dishonesty. It refers to an evil act by an individual or a group. Most noteworthy, this act compromises the rights and privileges of others. Furthermore, Corruption primarily includes activities like bribery or embezzlement. However, Corruption can take place in many ways.

  22. Poll Ranks Biden as 14th-Best President, With Trump Last

    President Biden may owe his place in the top third to his predecessor: Mr. Biden's signature accomplishment, according to the historians, was evicting Donald J. Trump from the Oval Office.