It is challenging, and potentially dangerous, to say that there is a “root cause” of corruption–largely because corruption happens as a result of so many different factors which range for each situation in which corruption is present. An argument could be made for private personal gain being the root cause of corruption but private personal gain might just be more of a motivator to think about participating in corruption—not the direct cause of it. But we can at least look at the aftermath of corruption in many instances and see that private personal gain, whether it is wealth, power, etc., has been the motivator behind corruption. The problem with labeling private personal gain as the root cause of corruption is that, on some level, we are all capable of participating in corruption in order to seek out this private personal gain. However, not everybody chooses to achieve that gain through corruption—some people do it fairly (think politicians who really want to get elected but instead of buying votes—they just make themselves a more attractive candidate). It is difficult to say whether there is actually a root cause for corruption and I think I’d be fairly skeptical of any root that got thrown out as an answer.
That being said, I was intrigued by the authors pieces today in which they seemed to be making arguments that corruption occurs in some places/ times more than others as a result of either social norms, legal enforcement or both. I see the legal enforcement aspect of why corruption occurs in some places/ times being the most logical one. Looking at the data from the experiment with the UN parking tickets of people from different countries—it is clear that until legal enforcement was actually enforced after they received so many parking tickets—the corruption continued to occur. But once legal enforcement was enforced—corruption declined. And the main countries that abused this power of diplomatic immunity came from countries in which corruption was already largely present and the norm. I think this gives us insight into the places that corruption occurs—places in which there is no punishment for corruption. These are largely areas in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America which have a history of governments that do not run smoothly and are built already upon the cornerstones of corruption.
The problem, however, with saying that legal enforcement (or lack of) can be used to describe why corruption occurs in some places/times more than others is that, in a lot of these cases, the lack of legal enforcement that allows for corruption is the result of an already corrupted government. Thus, corruption has occurred before there was legal enforcement. And even in the United States in which there is a lot of legal enforcement for corruption and crime—it still happens. Corruption is a concept—and as such, it is difficult to define what it is and why it happens.
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