I don’t like corruption. I am disappointed that I can’t trust the police to protect my rights. I dislike my government using my taxes to build private empires rather than public infrastructure. But on the other hand, I actually don’t mind paying a little something to get out of legal trouble. It’s nice when someone in my network uses their influence to get me a job I am not exactly qualified for. Truthfully, it’s not that I dislike corruption itself – I simply don’t like corruption when others use it to get ahead of me, and I suffer its negative consequences.
Corruption has maintained its deep influence because we actually value what it can do for us.
If we are on top, corruption becomes our tool to maintain that position. We use money, power, and favors to convince others to be on our team. “Getting things done” means a little bit of twisting arms and promising fortune to people who cooperate. When we are on the bottom, corruption becomes a source of advantage over our peers. In today’s competitive landscape, we feel forced to do anything we can to get ahead. And because society at large has not condemned petty bribery, influence peddling, and nepotism (only publicly condemned when rich political officials do it), such practices have become the norm for conducting day to day life.
Corruption has become an unspoken source of social capital used to springboard into a good situation or leverage out of a sticky one.
Its prevalence is difficult to estimate and its influence is even more difficult to undermine because it has become intricately tied to the daily operation of our educational, political, and business ecosystems.
But its prevalence has not sounded society’s alarm. We have not yet come to terms with how extensively destructive corruption can be. Today, we roll our eyes and knowingly sigh when we hear our neighbor talk about paying off the police. We shrug it away: “Well, that’s just how it is here.” But that shrug means that we believe there is no chance for change. We have come to expect corruption, and simply dream to one day be in control of those purse-strings ourselves. But if we truly want our public services to be fair, our police to be responsive, and our taxes to flow through proper channels, we need to stop shrugging away corruption and begin talking about corruption as the oppressive power brokering that it is.