February 08, 2015] In 2013, I made a trip to the country of Columbia to visit some of their senior military officers, police, and political leaders. The ones I spoke with were very professional but each complained about how political and judicial corruption had enormous costs and was a terrible burden for the average citizen. One insightful policeman asked me, “Are we corrupt?” Yet, are we corrupt is something leaders should also be asking ourselves in the United States.
He got me to thinking about what corruption means (can it be defined?) and about whether senior leaders in America are corrupt. It is hard to pin down a precise definition of corruption1 but most of us use the concept to mean that it is the illegitimate use of power to benefit a private interest. For example, if a policeman takes a bribe of $25 and doesn’t issue a speeding ticket, then that is a form of corruption. Normally we think of corruption on a more grand scale and its affect is most destructive to society. This is especially true when politicians and others who possess public power engage in it.
Perhaps I’m a bit optimistic – always seeing the glass half full – but while there is a slow increase in corruption among senior leaders it has not yet manifested itself to a point that it has become the de facto method in the U.S. of getting things accomplished. There is still time to crush it. When the military discovers corruption, it used to act swiftly. Today it still acts but the bureaucracy is frustratingly slow and leaders are reluctant to take punitive action.
In the U.S. political sphere I see it differently. In my limited experience, political corruption is not approved behavior but it is tolerated more and more. Additionally, it’s easier today to hide it through complex monetary schemes but many of our political leaders are involved in some form of financial corruption. Hardly a day goes by without a politician being caught with their hand in the cookie jar.
“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and then misapplying the wrong remedies.” – Groucho Marx
Groucho Marx was talking about government incompetence but he could have been just as well discussing government corruption. The fact that we are more tolerate of corruption or are slower to take action against it, means that corruption will continue to grow in the United States. This unfortunate trend of dishonest leaders will be costly to our citizens and they should demand action to stop it.
The slippery slope that the U.S. is on toward greater corruption can be stopped but it takes the most senior leaders of our country to stand up and make an honest commitment by taking a hard stand against corruption, else noting will be done.
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[Note] For more views on the corruption in Columbia: