The Cancer of Corruption – Part 1

Political corruption is commonly defined as “putting individual and private interests over the public good, while holding public office”.  Some would say political corruption was American as apple pie, but apple pie isn’t even American; it’s English, dating back to 1831. Meaning, the United States did not invent corruption, but much like apple pie, we have definitely perfected it. From the early days of Athenian democracy, the worlds first, to modern day Washington D.C., corruption is embedded in, and continues to plague all political systems and all generations. Corruption is ubiquitous and undermines the very laws and principals modern democracy is based upon. No society, system of government, or ethics code has successfully eradicated corruption, and there appears to be no end in sight.

While the United States generally ranks comparatively low in measures of political corruption (In 2104, Transparency International – Transparency International – rated America as the 17th “least” corrupt nation in the world, with Denmark at number one, New Zealand, second, and Sweden third, the U.K. 16, France 23, Cuba 65, Russia 136, with Somalia last at 180), we too continue to confront the high costs of modern day corruption. Corruption among government and political figures remains a big concern, both here in the United States and abroad.  Businesses and individuals with money and influence will always try to push their agendas by whatever means works, and those in positions of power to help them, will always set a high price.  Politics and corruption has become as synonymous as cookies and milk in the minds of many.

Political corruption happens when politicians abuse their power to extract and accumulate private enrichment in order to maintain their power. Example: Former Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich is serving a considerable prison sentence for demanding cash in exchange for an appointment to President Obama’s former U.S Senate seat. Corruption occurs at the highest levels of a political system, thus differentiating it from other forms of corruption such as business or bureaucratic corruption. Political corruption typically has a significant impact and violates the public’s trust. After doing some research, I’ve found that political corruption can occur in two forms. The first includes both extraction and accumulation, where politicians abuse their elected power to extract from the private sector, government revenues, and the general economy most often through embezzlement. The second form is when public money is extracted to preserve and extend power, typically in the form of patronage politics. This type includes a politically motivated distribution of financial and material inducements, benefits, advantages, and spoils granted to friends and supporters.

There is also a distinction difference between individual corruption and systemic corruption. Individual corruption typically occurs when a city official or politician is being paid off, or a state legislator sells their vote. This corruption leads to the “bad apple” syndrome, and typically sorts itself out over time. Systemic corruption encompasses a broader sphere that runs deeper than individual transgressions, where instead of bad apples; you have a bad system. Many would argue that corruption is the central ailment of democracy.  As history would suggest, Americans typically hold the government and its elected officials in low regard.  A recent 2014 Gallup Poll found, “54 percent of those surveyed rated members of Congress very low on honesty and ethical standards.  With respect to businesses, 60 percent of Americans believe corruption is widespread amongst corporate America, while only about 1 in 5 has trust in banks.”  The undermining of democratic equality might be considered an example of systemic corruption, as might, questionable campaign financing practices such as political action committees or super PAC’s.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think the U.S is overly corrupt compared to the rest of the world? Can we do more to curtail corruption?  


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