The Nature of Corruption as a Problem

Corruption can undermine all the dimensions of governance:

  • The efficient working of the Economic Dimension of power relies upon the laws of supply and demand (3.3.2), but these are undermined if buyers demand a bribe before placing an order on a particular company or if some suppliers use extravagant hospitality to persuade customers to place orders.
  • Some government officials demand bribes before granting licences. Every aspect of political control can be an opportunity for corruption.  Corruption by employees of the State has the same economic impact as increasing the administration costs of government (3.2.3): it benefits those who take the money but it slows down the rest of the economy.
  • People will be reluctant to invest and start businesses in countries where corruption is widespread, so poor countries with high levels of corruption will remain poor.
  • When the Catholic Church allowed the practice of buying indulgences (the payment of money to reduce the length of time in Purgatory before going to Heaven) it was implying that God could be bribed. This undermined the Church’s authority, and Martin Luther’s indignation at the practice led directly to the Reformation, as described in the History.com article: Martin Luther and the 95 Theses.
  • People sometimes offer inducements to policemen and legal officials, to escape or reduce a punishment; they thereby undermine the governance provisions in the Legal Dimension.
  • People offer inducements to politicians in order to get favourable decisions. This is not against the law in some countries, but it distorts the balance of negotiations in the Political Dimension ( and should be considered as corruption wherever it happens.
  • Corrupt politicians can hide their ill-gotten wealth overseas, to prevent people from seeing how rich they are, to avoid criticism, and to make it available in case they have to leave the country. The Guardian article, What are the Panama Papers? A guide to history’s biggest data leak, revealed that twelve national rulers, including Russia’s President Putin, had overseas wealth.

Corruption can either be initiated by individuals who have power, or by individuals and organisations seeking to have that power used in their favour.  Once started, it quickly spreads.



This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3a book, © PatternsofPower.org, 2020.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/7251.htm