Why It’s So Difficult to Eradicate Corruption

Eradicate corruption

Whenever a new government or new party is elected, particularly in the Third World, a promise to eradicate corruption is always at the forefront.  But why do these promises almost never materialize?

The answer is more simple than it appears. Government doesn’t lead society; it REFLECTS society. If people in government are corrupt, it is because this corruption, this way of thinking and getting things done, is pervasive throughout the society.

So, at best, new parties and new governments make a big show of “attacking corruption” by arresting a few people.  What they are really doing, however, is just trying to scare everyone from pushing the boundaries of corruption, so that they don’t “get caught.”  All the while, even the new government officials continue with corrupt practices in their daily lives.  The people change, over and over, but the corrupt system never changes.

Why is this?

corruption

The problem starts with young children.  I see this every day as a teacher.

Young, impressionable children watch and notice the way their parents deal with the issues of life each day. In most third-world countries, when the child has a severe problem at school, instead of letting the child repeat the grade, the parents go in and “beg” or pay a bribe for their child to be promoted (because parents feel ashamed if their child is not promoted). When the child gets a bad grade or doesn’t do homework, parents do the same thing. Instead of children being taught that they will have the consequences of their actions, good or bad, they are taught that one can “get out of any consequence” by either paying a bribe, or knowing the right people. Is it any wonder that they grow up into corrupt adults?

Corruption will never be eliminated in government until it is first eliminated in society. Yet, speaking as a teacher, I don’t see this happening at all. Even five-year-olds are learning this corrupt behavior by watching their own parents.

I personally know of one case where a five-year-old told his teacher that if the teacher didn’t allow him to do as he pleased, “I will bring my father in and have you fired!”  (The result was that the foreign teacher told him, “Go right ahead!  Go get your father right now!  I’m waiting for him!”  The student didn’t know quite what to say after that, as he wasn’t expecting that response…..)

So where, exactly, does the endemic corruption in third-world nations come from?  It comes from the class system.  In order to have a meritocracy, and fair treatment for all, whether in the courts or in daily life, EVERYONE HAS TO BE EQUAL UNDER THE LAW.  In third-world countries, and even in many developed countries, this is unfortunately not the case.  Those who are born wealthy, or with titles, the right name, or connections can get away with crimes of any sort and no court will convict them.  This is truly what it means being “above the law.”

corruption 2

The ONLY way, therefore, for ordinary citizens to get justice, or even things done in everyday life, is through “knowing the right person (powerful people),” or paying a bribe.  In every class of society, those above exploit those below.  (This does not mean every individual in the society exploits others, but it is true as a general rule.) The rich exploit the middle and lower working classes.  Even lower-middle class people, if they have some economic success in their own lives, hire a maid and exploit her even worse than higher classes.  People on the lower end steal and cheat time-wise on their employers because they feel like they “deserve it.”  They feel this way because it is a passive-aggressive sort of class warfare.

Class warfare 2

The same dynamic plays out in companies where many bosses exploit their workers.  Since there is no justice in third-world countries, it is dangerous to resist directly, so they resist in a passive-aggressive manner, “forgetting” important things, showing up late, etc.   Their jobs are often protected by “work rules” which mean they can’t be fired for any of these sorts of infractions.

Not every boss is exploitative.  Unfortunately, when a foreign manager is working with these sorts of employees, their behavior is very confusing.  The manger expects a certain level of output, what is normal for himself, or in his own home country.  He gets only 1/3 of that and wonders what is wrong.  He tries every tactic to improve productivity, only to find workers getting worse and worse.  (He can’t fire them due to work rules.)  What’s wrong is those particular workers have the class-warfare mentality.

In third-world countries, because of the “class” system, no one will ever be equal under the law.  Even in countries with recent revolutions, such as in Arab Spring countries, the class system and class-warfare mentalities continue.  So I am not optimistic that they will be able to develop meritocracies.

Democracy (or democratic reform) means nothing without meritocracy.

–Lynne Diligent

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10 Responses to “Why It’s So Difficult to Eradicate Corruption”

  1. Judy Says:

    I think you are right that things won’t change until there is a free, fair, transparent and accessible legal system (interestingly questions have been raised in Canada recently that our legal system is becoming accessible only for the wealthy). However I disagree that corruption is inextricably linked to a class system. Despite what people may tell you, the class system is alive and well in many democratic (and less corrupt) countries.

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    • Lee Regal Says:

      Well said, Judy! it seems that more and more corruption is being
      exposed at many levels in the US. ( as well as around the world) Some of it despite our positive values-our recent chemist case in Massachusetts and the team’s consistent concerns about results that were too good. They were dismissed-as “jealousy” of a good worker. The class system is alive and thriving despite our espoused values. I agree with your point. The powerless, the poor and the victimized feel it the most in any country, and may be the most vehement ( revolution) or do the most to sink into it just to survive. But let us aspire to change corruption. Sorry to hear about the legal system in Canada becoming only accessible to the wealthy.

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  2. Srilalaitha Girija Says:

    u hit it rightly and its a stigma of society at large as people are afraid of people in power and for their self centered benefits and security of personal comfortable situations they would adopt these kind of easy and cheap way of getting things done and that becomes an expectation of a person who is in the power and the more he receives the attention of people more he is being encouraged to indulge in the corruption and use power to control others and terrify others instead of contributing to the organization and society

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  3. Patricia Shamseldin Says:

    After doing business for 22 years in Egypt as an importer and then 8 years living there full time when I retired, I have had many experiences with doing things “snake way”. First of all, we can get things done in USA by sheer work, but it does help to “know someone”. In Egypt, knowing someone is the prerequisite for getting anything done and also the lazy way, as it requires no work on your part just making a phone call to “someone” and there is always someone who knows someone to solve your problem. And because laziness contributes to this corruption, no one ever has a sense of accomplishment for doing a good job, which leads to a lack of self esteem. Of course, if a student can get a better grade by his parents paying off the teacher, he feels proud of this fact and not in the least ashamed – and so the circle of life continues.

    For employees of the government and also in private industry, the salaries are so low in Egypt – $100 to $200 a month, that they do not feel they should make any effort whatsoever and whatever they can get away with is OK! Again there is no sense of accomplishment – except the accomplishment of getting away with doing less.

    So, for all these Arab Spring countries, I have a word of warning. Do not think that democracy means the freedom to do anything you want. Democracy means laws are passed and enforced. This fact will require a generation or more to evolve in Egypt.

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  4. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn Discussion: (Franck R) • Good question…in third world countries (not so much in ‘Western’ democracies) the problem is closely linked with bad governance, scarcity of resources (including TIME & HR), ridiculously low incomes of civil servants and Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Ordinary people in those countries sometimes engage in it to get around all the artificial obstacles created by those above mentioned.
    In third world countries corruption is very often NOT the root-cause but the symptom of a variety of complicated & interlinked factors, AND it’s part of a vicious, self perpetuating cycle.

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  5. mike4ty4 Says:

    (REPOST NOT SURE IF THIS GOT THROUGH!)

    Yes … however I’d also argue that with regard to the attitudes under this kind of corruption, the west’s method for dealing with it has problems in the opposite direction: too *much* “rule of law”, not too little. And yes, I think there is such a thing.

    For example, with the school systems. You say the child needs to face “consequences” and not bribes, but the thing is, the kind of consequences we have in the west for failure are far, far too all-encompassing and long-lasting. Bad grades, a criminal record, and so forth can haunt you for your entire LIFE, and we need to trim that way back, I say or, at least, not “develop” it elsewhere – they need to be much more conditional and rescindable at least with time and improvement (not bribes or connections). Too many and too severe consequences creates an unhealthy attitude toward failure in its own way. No, you shouldn’t be able to pay your way out with a bribe, but also, you should be able to understand it’s okay to fail as long as you learn from that failure and do better, and what “consequences” you experience should reflect that, and your completion of schooling, should be allowed to come in its own ripe time and season, with no shame if it takes you longer or you fail the first time, so long as, again, you don’t resort to wrong method like bribery or cheating, and as long as you keep making progress. That’s the healthy attitude to failure and neither system truly encourages it, but for intriguingly opposite reasons. (Note this also disincentivizes wrongful method as well by removing the motivators for it. If they learn that there is no shame in progressing at their own rate as long as they are progressing consistently, then there is much less pressure, and thus less want to try to find a shortcut.)

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  6. mike4ty4 Says:

    Moreover, with specific regard to poor countries, it seems that you also can’t ask for more law when that resources are so scarce and thus you need wealth, development. Yet, corruption also creates poverty. The two are locked together. In a way, the worker at the bottom who rips off the wealthy, connected employer *DOES* “deserve” it because nobody deserves to be exploited in the way that the powerful do. The one with all the stuff, deserves it less. You have to also find, thus, a way to establish a more equitable distribution of *wealth*, not just a more equitable distribution of *law*.

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    • Lynne Diligent Says:

      Sadly, a few foreign teachers in a society cannot have a big impact. After being here for nearly 30 years, I’ve found that the surrounding society, parents, and peers are all much larger influences on students than are foreign teachers they might have one year or another. However, some lessons we have taught even in Kindergarten (such as not to smoke when you grow up), I hope have influenced at least some of my students. I am always SO dismayed when I hear one of my foreign students has taken up smoking after we talked about it a lot in my class when they were young.

      It’s the same thing with corruption. I hope we are teaching honesty, but youth are far more influenced by peers, and by the whole society. I hope at least when they become parents, they will become more interested in passing these lessons down to their own children, and that we will have influenced them in this way.

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  7. mike4ty4 Says:

    And back to the education – I’d want to double down and say that if you want to hit corruption there, specifically I’d say that the way to start it with the grades thing is to get teaching those kids, strum it in real early, as early as possible *that proper attitude to failure*. That should come FIRST. Educating the PARENTS, heck UNDERSTANDING WHY the parents would think it shameful, listening to and honestly seeing it through their eyes, and then making sure to address that REASON, too, might be another important step. Make sure the kid really can believe it. If you can get it to the point that the only shame is not a bad grade but in not doing anything about it and not exerting consistent effort, then the feeling of the need to bribe will evaporate. “Enforcement” should only be secondary, not primary. Shame is not an absolute with absolute triggers, it’s inherently something that tunes itself to expectations, morals, and norms from the surrounding society and internalized by the person. Hence it is very pliable, at least if you get them early. And that might very well percolate upwards from the new generation as you suggest.

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