Endemic Corruption

Posted on June 14, 2012

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The politics of democratic nations is plagued by lobbying. Lobbying is a process where having money gets you heard by the people who take decisions, more than in any other place. The line between lobbying and outright corruption is blurry at best, as witnessed by high profile cases around the world that include corporations getting tax breaks for taking important people out to dinner and sending them on expensive holidays.

The problem is that there is a strong incentive to lobby in this way. It is a failure inherent in the system. Here’s an example, relating to my previous post on nuclear energy.

A company wants to build nuclear power plants. This is controversial – the public is against it. What are the options the company have?

They could try and create convincing arguments to change public opinion. This would involve explaining common misconceptions. It might even mean admitting that there are problems with the company’s technology and presenting solutions to them. But in the end public opinion is a fickle beast and media campaigns are expensive.

OR the company could spend the money lobbying directly with politicians and the civil service. The can make campaign donations, even buy politicians off illegally. Not many people get caught doing this, even in the cases where this happens it is always the politician who falls – the company may have to fire some mid-level guy but the corporation will survive.

So clearly it is nearly always going to be easier and cheaper for a corporation to lobby and corrupt its way to getting what it wants than creating valid arguments, even if there are perfectly good arguments in favor!

Only by resolving this can we address endemic corruption in our governments – we cannot expect corporations to act ethically when all their cost/benefit calculations tell them that lobbying and corruption is the most effective way to go. It’s like handing a child a bag a sweets and telling them not to eat any when you’re not looking!

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