Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Corruption is Antithetical to Trust and to Knowledge for Development

The World Bank "has identified corruption as the single greatest obstacle to economic and social development." Corruption, according to the Bank, "undermines development by distorting the rule of law and weakening the institutional foundation on which economic growth depends."

Sunday I posted some thoughts on Trust. They suggested that trustfulness was an developmentally useful trait. But in societies where corruption is rampant, trustfulness is a dangerous trait for the individual. The situation is like the prisoners' dilemma from game theory. Everyone will do better if everyone is trustful, but a few corrupt will prosper if they alone steal and take bribes while everyone else acts trustfully.

Transparency International says, according to its 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index
Corruption is rampant in 60 countries, and the public sector is plagued by bribery.

A recent chat reminded me that there is corruption, and there is corrupt corruption. A friend was complaining recently about officials (in another country) who accepted bribes, and then did not perform the tasks they were bribed to do! I also have been reading I Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves. He portrays an official who accepted bribes, but felt he was not corrupt. Seems the official accepted equal bribes from all sides in disputes, and returned the money to those against whom went the decisions, allowing himself to give unbiased advice on the matters to the king. In some cultures, there seems to be an agreement that small gratuities are legitimate to poorly paid officials to encourage them to expedite their work, but that the officials have well understood responsibilities in response to such gratuities. But even these cultures recognize situations in which corruption is not acceptable, even when the institutions are unable to control such corruption.

"Knowledge and understanding for development" is a slogan based on the belief that decisions should be based on vetted information, ideally from sources with strong knowledge verification processes. However, the deleterious effect of corruption on K&U4D should be obvious. When decision makers act corruptly, seeking to maximize benefits to themselves rather than to carry out the nominal functions of their positions, the availability of knowledge and understanding of the problems they are nominally seeking to resolve is unwanted, and indeed may be positively avoided. After all it is harder to take a bribe to act against the public interest when the public interest is clear and explicit in the evidence placed before that public.

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