Sunday, March 26, 2006

Why Are Politicians So Corrupt?

Just my (Machiavellian) muse for the day:

No country is a perfect democracy, in the sense that those who are elected win based on the strength of their ideas and popular appeal of their policies. Getting a nomination and winning an election instead requires that you get the support of enough coalitions and interest groups that make up society, such as unions, government bureaucrats, the media, different social classes and their affiliated pressure groups, etc. A person who is likely to succeed in winning such broad support must possess two qualities:

1) Must be a shrewd networker
2) Must have a magnetic and charismatic personality

You do not need to be honest or have good moral values to win in politics. In fact, those who possess these two qualities may be more likely than the average person to want to bend the rules in their favor or otherwise act unethically. Following the rules is boring -- it's for wimps and people who don't have powerful friends. Additionally, those with extensive personal and professional networks have a much larger temptation to use their position of power to award friends and supporters.

The struggle against corruption need not be futile. But the often made claim, "politicians are corrupt because we, the people, vote corrupt people into office" doesn't tell us very much. Strong anti-corruption laws, an independent judiciary and prosecution service, and a law barring anyone convicted of a serious crime from holding public office go a long way toward cleaning up politics.

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