No one doubts that corruption is a vast and damaging social cancer. In monetary terms, the costs are mind-boggling. Jacey Fortin of the IB Times asserts,
The world’s developing countries lost a total of $946.7 billion to corruption, trade mis-invoicing and tax evasion in 2011, according to the research. And to make matters worse, the amount that gets spirited away is growing larger with each passing year. Money lost to corruption in developing nations was 13.7 percent greater in 2011 than was lost the year before; illicit outflows totaled $832.4 billion in 2010. The total figures are staggering: between 2002 and 2011, developing countries lost about $5.9 trillion to illicit outflows.
There’s absolutely no reason to think that the situation has improved over the last 5 years. If anything, it is worse. A simple google search for “aid money lost to corruption 2015” will yield pages of well-substantiated and disheartening results: Uganda looses $300 million to corruption. Palestinians see no improvement in living standards, again, mostly due to corruption within the Palestinian Authority. The UN cannot even track $3.3 billion worth of money sent to fight the ebola virus. Pick a nation, problem or project and you are likely to find the money sent to help does as much for criminals as it does for victims.
Solomon truly nailed it when he wrote, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan. (Proverbs 29:2 – NIV)”
Corruption is not the result of need. If it was, then once the need was met, the corruption would naturally subside. But, it does not. In fact, history shows us that it often increases. Corruption is the result of one factor, and one alone: opportunity.
The good news is we, you and I, can stand up to corruption. We can fight it and we can win. The strategy is simple. When the opportunity to act corruptly comes your way, say no.
If we are honest with our selves we recognize that we face, almost daily, opportunities to benefit personally from the lack of oversight that accompanies most of our actions. We can steal songs, movies and tv shows from the internet. We can cheat our employer out of unworked minutes, even hours. We can nickel and dime our clients, borrow a friend’s username to access an online subscription or cut corners on any number of projects.
In monetary terms, the cost of these individual behaviors may seem like pittance. But when extrapolated to the national or corporate level the figures are no different than the sums siphoned by the dictators and CEO we publicly loathe. And in moral terms, there is no difference at all. We, like them, see an opportunity and we seize it.
However, if we will choose to be content, we can shift the culture from the ground up. If I don’t have the money to acquire a film legally, I content myself to be entertained by other means. If I deserve the speeding ticket, then I don’t call up my friend at the police department and ask for a special favor. If a restaurant employee gives me too much change, I let them know. I act on what I know to be true – in all cases, it would be better for me to go without than for my behavior to be commonly practiced.
If more and more people make similar decisions, then momentum builds against corruption. Over time, integrity at the grass roots level makes it harder and harder to justify corrupt behavior at higher levels. Corruption becomes easier to spot as an anomaly and easier to prosecute as a crime. Ultimately, right-acting citizens can effect more change than the plethora of laws, special panels, subcommittee hearings, or legislative actions that continually fail to stem the problem.
The “personal” approach to ending corruption will simultaneously help the economy by fostering one of the key elements of prosperous markets, a culture of trust. I don’t know about you, but when I see an acquaintance ask for a cup for water and then fill it up with soda, I’m certainly not more likely to have them replace my home air conditioner, act as my attorney or babysit my kids. Integrity builds trust between citizens. Trust supports the profitable exchange of goods, services and ideas. Everyone benefits from integrity.
So, corruption isn’t intractable. But to defeat it we have to hold ourselves to the same standard we hold our leaders to.