"No science is immune to the infection
of politics and the corruption of power."

Jacob Bronowski
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What is corruption?

Definition

The most common definition of corruption is misuse of office or power for personal gain. A wider definition is that corruption is abuse of trust. There are two possible approaches to defining corruption: based on laws or based on public opinion. The definition based on laws is guided by what corruption is considered to be in legislation, while the definition based on public opinion is guided by the wider opinion of the public as a whole. Corruption occurs in all three sectors: the private, the public and the third sector. A case where a store’s Purchase Manager gets a bribe from a manufacturer to display preference to that manufacturer’s products is corruption in the private sector, as the Purchase Manager abuses his position and causes harm to the company. Another example of corruption in the private sector is when an undertaking conducting supervision gets a favour for being biased in their supervision or for conducting no supervision at all.

Causes

If we knew exactly what phenomena are connected to corruption, its prevention would-be an easy job. Corruption is a systemic phenomenon so it is not correct to look for its causes solely in the shadowy side of human nature – egoism, jealousy, etc. If it were so, it would be enough to simply replace a egotistical official with an honest one, but it does not work that way. To prevent corruption, we need to work to reduce the opportunities facilitating corruption.

 

 

The figure’s author: Mari-Liis Sööt (based on J. W. Coleman’s theory of white-collar crime: (1987) Toward an Integrated Theory of White-Collar Crime. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 93, No 2: 406-439)

Impact Although there are scientists who see some benefit in corruption (e.g. that bribe hastens some slow bureaucratic processes), the general opinion is that corruption causes inequality and reproduces poverty through the authority’s distorted spending (instead of oiling the wheels, it presses them deeper in the sand). Corrupted politicians rather invest in and prioritise fields where corruptive gains can be higher. Corruption is also accompanied by political and economical instability. Corruption results in lower economic growth because a corruptive economic environment is not conductive of investments. The Economist compiled a drawing based on the Corruption Perceptions Index and the Human Development Index of 2011, indicating the connections between poverty and corruption: the lower the perceived corruption in the country, the higher the indicator of human development (accounting for health, education and the standard of living), and vice versa.

Graafik

Source: The Economist, Dec 2nd 2011, 16:59 by the Economist online