31 Oct 2008
Corruption as Adaptation
Corruption is the private mutual agreement between two actors to violate public laws for mutual benefit. It is a forbidden misuse of public rights of people in office for personal gain. Corrupt actors value personal good (=gain) higher than public good (=adherence to rules and moral principles). Corruption enables terrorists and organized criminals to carry out illegal activities through undermining of public laws. Therefore it threatens safety and security in a society.
Obviously corruption is encouraged if the financial incentive and payoff of being corrupt is high, i.e. if the general income is low, the potential gain high, and the expected penalty low. It occurs most frequently in poor, developing states where the institutions are weak (the courts and the police are not working well), and the ethical standards are low.
Corruption is an adaptation of the officials to institutional weakness. If institutions are weak, their officials become weak too. Strict obedience and bureaucracy would be an adaptation to institutional strength in turn. If officials are very well paid, the incentive to adhere rules strictly is higher than the incentive to take part in corruption. Therefore one can say that corruption reflects deeper problems from national, political and social institutions.
Michael Johnston argues in his book Syndromes of Corruption (Cambridge University Press, 2006), that differences in these factors give rise to four major syndromes of corruption: Influence Markets, Elite Cartels, Oligarchs and Clans, and Official Moguls. Countries studied include the United States, Japan and Germany (Influence Markets); Italy, Korea and Botswana (Elite Cartels); Russia, the Philippines and Mexico (Oligarchs and Clans); and China, Kenya, and Indonesia (Offical Moguls).