Amid the corruption scandals surrounding the Turkish government, Prime Minister Erdogan declared in an interview last month that his and his ministers’ actions should not be considered corrupt, as they have never stole from the state treasury. These words might be a feeble attempt to legitimize his own actions, yet Erdogan makes some sense from a “social scientific” point of view. The definition of corruption is indeed very hard to pin down. The most commonly used definition belongs to Joseph Nye:
“Corruption is behaviour which deviates from the formal duties of a public role because of private-regarding (personal, close family, private clique) pecuniary or status gains; or violates rules against the exercise of certain types of private-regarding influence.”
Seems pretty straightforward right? Not exactly.. “One does not condemn a Jew for bribing his way out of a concentration camp,” famously argues Susan Rose-Ackerman, one of the leading economists focusing on corruption. This criticism is based on the notion that public office centered definitions, such as Nye’s, fail to take into account the public opinion on the specific act. Even the most objective norm of corruption is in fact subjective to many other factors including the time period, culture and the mere state of the surroundings.
Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. We all heard this phrase. Have you ever considered if you’d be corruptible yourself? In the first laboratory experiment ever conducted on corruption research, two German Professors of Economics found that economics students are actually more corruptible than other students in the university! Their hypothesis was the fact that individual profit maximization is a core idea in what economics graduates are taught in their course rigorously. In another experiment, Fernanda Rivas concludes that even though there is not much difference on the probability of offering bribes between men and women, women tend to offer lesser amounts. After accepting a bribe, women in the role of the public official also tend to engage in a corrupt reciprocal action less frequently than men. Where you were born might also affect how susceptible to corruption you are. In a study done between University of Oxford students, Abigail Barr and Danila Serra found that undergrad students coming from countries with reportedly high corruption (based on the Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International), tend to be more inclined to engage in corruption during lab experiments. Not the grad students though! Spending more time in Britain (a less corrupt country by CPI standards) might have a positive effect against the corruptibility of students. So the question is: How corruptible are you?
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