21 May 2013

Corruption in theory and practice

Corruption is "the abuse of public office for private gain." That means that the salesman who gives discounts for sex or offers bribes to bureaucrats to get contracts is not corrupt. He is, respectively, a thief and an opportunist.

But corruption -- to me -- is not just about public officials taking money to do the wrong thing. I also include public officials who knowingly implement policies that match their beliefs (religious, racial, social, etc.) instead of policies that create the greatest benefit to society.* They are not getting a direct cash benefit as much as an indirect personal satisfaction at forcing others to their will.**

So we get to ask if the US Government's Minerals Management Service was corrupt in one (accepting sex and drugs from energy companies, including BP, before Deep Water Horizon) or both ways (also thinking that energy companies need more space to get 'er done). I already blamed Deepwater on the regulators, but now I have two reasons to.

How do you think of corruption?

* For example, IRS officials chasing Tea Partiers. (My solution to that abuse of power, btw, is to simplify the tax code so the IRS has no discretion.)

** For example:
Public officials have their own biases and motivations. Most officials try to do the right thing, but no one can deny that at some times and places, official judgments can be distorted by the pressures imposed by powerful interests. And even if they are well-motivated, officials are human and hardly immune to the kinds of behavioral biases that affect ordinary people.