Week 5: The endless debate: what defines corruption? A western-centric tale.


Dr. Pfeiffer’s lecture on pinning down corruption was a useful insight into both the DLP’s work and into how corruption must be looked at as moving beyond greed and self-interest.  Corruption in many ways can be equated to politics and the methodologies of it.  Literature and debate surrounding corruption, in the western ethnocentric view of it, has almost always focused on reforming government in order to restrict greed and self-interest from taking place, an almost unrealistic task in that day-to-day government functioning requires politics and maneuvering for it to function in the first place.  It can also be debated that in western society, corruption has simply taken another form, one where these day-to-day dealing have been legalized or legitimized in different ways.  Take lobbying for example.  In the United States it is perfectly legal to spend millions of dollars on lobbying firms in order to get your interests across.  It is also just as legal to spend billions on an election campaign with hardly any of it being traceable, and the current administration is only rolling back anti-corruption protections further.

Here’s a video on lobbying and the blurred lines between it and bribery:

This presentation further reinforced the concept that corruption should be perceived differently in this day and age.  Corruption should be seen as a symptom of a badly functioning system, and American democracy is arguably in a struggle to save itself from dysfunction and the consequences of ‘legalized corruption.’  I personally do believe that corruption is not necessarily a universal concept; corruption is defined through a society’s norms, and our western ideals should not necessarily be forced upon other societies with their own traditions and standards.  Arguably, certain societies function better with what we see as corruption in the western world, and things arguable get done just as efficiently in some.  Moving on from corruption as a relative concept, I will in principle support the basic concept of corruption being the abuse of public office for personal gain and that bribery is a major scourge.  There is a point where abusing your post in government or your position in power will harm others and will damage the ability for a government to properly govern.   It is impossible to say that corruption in politics can be wiped out; politics in its very essence is dealing and compromising through power and personal interests.

Major impediments to societal function, though, still remain and can be called corruption.  Ultimately, one needs to be flexible in what defined corruption, and certain practices are far more harmful than others.  As Dr. Pfeiffer’s presentation mentioned, measures of corruption are very shaky, in that perceptions are usually biased based on personal definitions of corruption and that corruption is only relative.  The presentation also mentioned that there is a rather universal belief that bribery is corruption, so even though it is generally relative across most countries, there are some things people agree upon.  My personal experience while travelling abroad have showed me that corruption is relative. I have been asked to pay bribes, yet always refused.  I encountered people who were far more open to paying them or even taking them.  But on the grand scale of things, a very rigid definition of corruption basically negates politics as a concept.

Transparency International’s main page on what defines corruption: What is Corruption?

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