Corruption and Confidence

Rules are meant to be followed?

When you know the rules well, you will inevitably discover situations that the rules don’t cover. The temptation, for someone known as a strong follower of the rules, is to then use their standing to use a loophole to advantage yourself.

This behaviour is apparent in the top echelons of business, politics and religion. Powerful people who attained their position by adhering to the rules, are eventually exposed for years of corruption while a CEO, Mayor or Bishop.

As described, respect for rules can, perhaps counter-intuitively, lead people to break them. More accurately, a person who knows the rules back-to-front can identify loopholes, which lowers the risk for corrupt activity that takes advantage of those loopholes.

Defining corruption

Transparency International has the following recommendation to defeat corruption

Corruption thrives where temptation meets permissiveness: where institutional checks on power are missing, where decision making is opaque, where civil society is disempowered. It is therefore important to establish control mechanisms and systemic hurdles to prevent people from abusing their power.

In other words, powerful leaders of institutions should not also be sole arbiters of the rules. There needs to separate bodies to decide what the rules are, from those who must follow and implement the rules.

This is the ethos of the separation of powers. Politicians make rules, while the pubic service implement them. Should loopholes be discovered, the judiciary decide how they are to interpreted or changed.

In an autocratic system, this rule making-implementation-reform process is centralised by a single institution. It is impossible for autocracy to avoid eventual corruption because powerful people learn where the loopholes lie. In time, they become more adventurous, and begin creating laws with loopholes as a deliberate feature.

Gamblers and rules

The Authority principle suggests that groups should be careful who becomes arbiter of the rules.

For example, a common ploy of card sharks is to ingratiate themselves into a social poker game. Over time, perhaps months, the shark obeys every rule, and even becomes known for occasional generosity in interpreting them. They also encourage the players to bet larger and larger amounts, but use their card skills to ensure losses are not too extreme.

Then, one day, with a huge pot of money at stake, the shark changes tactic, and cheats. They do so knowing that their position of authority will, at least in the short term, overcome any suspicions. Next day, they leave town carrying a large slice of their friend’s money.