Corruption Is A Viral And Terminal Illness

Corruption is a viral and terminal illness that sweeps through societies. It infects those it touches, and begins the slow demise of their societies.

Corruption Is Viral

Corruption is a particularly viral meme. The metaphor of corruption-as-virus is widespread in academic analyses, but none of them really wrestle with the implications.

When people live in corrupt societies, they’re bound to deal with corruption. It comes with pretty much all interactions with government, but also affects things like the business landscape.

In a corrupt environment, corruption becomes a necessary survival tactic. This means that corruption is selected for in the population. People that are corrupt rise to the top and stay there, while people that don’t want to engage in corruption end up as losers.

Every interaction that is corrupt further entrenches corruption in both parties. A corrupt government official becomes more prone to corruption with every bribe. The citizen becomes more accepting of corruption as a reality every time he finds he needs to bribe someone to get things done.

Nobody Has Beat Corruption

There are no examples of a corrupt democratic society becoming a transparent society in the modern age. This is the reality, though no anti-corruption activist will easily admit it.

Transparency International, whose whole purpose is to fight corruption, struggled to find examples of successful anti-corruption efforts. The American Society of International Law claims Brazil is a “success story”, which is laughable. (Ask an actual Brazilian).

Really, the only modern examples of significant success in fighting corruption come from Hong Kong and Singapore. Both are tiny city-states, not real nations; and neither is democratic. We can’t draw many insights from efforts there to change large, democratic societies.

The bottom line is this: nobody has beat corruption. So what do you do?

Corruption Is A Terminal Illness

So we know:

  • Corruption spreads virally, with every corrupt interaction repeating the meme
  • Nobody has successfully beat back corruption

Corruption sure looks like a terminal illness. Worse, it’s a contagious one.

Corruption creates a permanent culture of defectors in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Every interaction with members of that culture deepens the corruption of the host, and sows the seeds of corruption in the newly exposed. The pool of human beings and institutions is sufficiently large, and consequences sufficiently serious, that non-corrupt strategies don’t have time to take hold.

No democratic nation, or large nation, has escaped this trap. But a civic society where the expectation is corruption is essentially dead.

The solution is quarantine. We have no mechanism to fight corruption, and interacting with the corrupt increases our own likelihood of being corrupt. Every interaction with corrupt people and corrupt societies introduces the danger of becoming corrupt oneself.

It’s not politically correct, but I’ve found little evidence against this view. Be warned.


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