Corruption essay example

essay on Corruption

Law, Politics and Sociology perspective on ‘Corruption’

The subject of corruption sparks intense debates and calls to action around the world realising its negative effects on governance, economic and social development there is an ongoing struggle to eliminate it. Some claim that corruption may be a natural aspect of any state or organisation. Given the fact corruption of legal, political and social institutions exist in every state it may certainly lead to a such an assumption. However, the scale and impact of corruption differ significantly among the states signifying that this detrimental practice is not universal or natural and can be reduced. It is still not essentially right to assume that corruption is a part of how a state is run but more an undesirable byproduct of the combination of various factors and poor governance. This paper argues that corruption is not a part of how a state is run but rather a negative byproduct of poor governance and contributing factors. 

The interest in corruption has increased greatly following growing realisation of numerous adverse effects it has on economic and social development globally (Myint, 2000). As a phenomenon corruption is not new and can be traced back thousands of years with numerous historical records showing how corrupted state officials used their position for personal benefits. While there are several definitions of corruption, they can be generalised along the lines of abuse or misuse of power and position by state officials in order to gain private benefits. Based on the scale corruption can be petty, grand, and political (Tanzi, 1998). Political corruption has the most dramatic effect on state and society through intentional manipulation of institutions and policies (Myint, 2000). Depending of various contributing factors rates and prevalence of corruption varies greatly from country to country. (Amundsen, 1999). However, there are certain correlations between such variables as the legal system, political order,  and social institutions and resulting scale of corruption practices. 

Corruption and Legal Systems

As a general rule corruption is believed to correlate with economic development with more strong and developed economies being less prone to it while economies in developing countries are at higher risk of corruption. Despite the obvious importance of economic development legal system and the rule of law have the direct impact on predisposition to corruption (Herzfeld and Weiss, 2003). If the legal system of a country is ineffective, it will be less successful in dealing with corruption. Lack of proper legal regulation and adequate persecution and punishment for political corruption allows political elites to see the prospect of increased income from corruption to be irresistible. Corrupted political elites will in their turn use state resources to manipulate and bend the legal system to their benefit escaping from legal responsibility. 

In developing countries where legal systems are casually lacking resources to combat corruption, it may be presumed that such state of affairs is becoming a part of how a state is functioning. In Russia for example, poor awareness of the law, numerous inconsistencies among the legal acts combined with ill-defined procedures result in an underdeveloped body of legislation where it is hard to establish the rule of law (Herzfeld and Weiss, 2003). Moreover, corruption is very likely to be present in the courts with bribery becoming more common practice when there is no effective legal deterrence (Amundsen, 1999). Thus, in countries with ineffective legal systems, a vicious circle of corruption easily takes place. 

The extent to which the rule of law can be established directly impacts the attractiveness of corruption and bribery for bureaucrats. If the probability of being detected and consequently punished is low and avoidable the risks of corruption will tend to be much higher (Herzfeld and Weiss, 2003). Additionally, it is essential that corrupt bureaucrat has to be caught or reported by a non-corrupted colleagues  (Levin and Satarov, 2000). In some cases, scholars claim that rule of law alongside moral costs for actors and risk of being detected could be endogenous and depend on the prevalence of corruption in the society. 

Worth mentioning that in some countries, for example in the USA certain legalised practices may be characterised as a model of legal corruption. Legal lobbying is often defined by scholars as institutionalised form of bribery that involves collusion between parties both from private and public sectors that gain and share benefits from enacting legal norms beneficial for privat actors. Legal forms of contribution to legislators in exchange of enactment of particular legal acts can be argued as a form of institutionalised corruption that has become the part of governance. Still, such practices are rare and in most cases criticised by the civil society.

However, though corruption is intertwined with the ineffectiveness of a legal system, it does not necessarily mean for it to be a casual part of a state governance. Rates of corruption in developed countries in general tend to be significantly lower that those in developing countries. Several studies have shown a positive correlation between comprehensive anti-corruption legislation and low rates of corruption both in politics and society (Herzfeld and Weiss, 2003). Furthermore, it has been argued among scholars that common law system is a better deterrent of corruption and contributes to better governance. Several large-scale studies that accounted for numerous variables have shown that Britain and its former colonies had lower rates of corruption (Herzfeld and Weiss, 2003). One of the main variables to be responsible for that is the common law system that is traditional to the UK and some of its former colonies and dominions (Herzfeld and Weiss, 2003). Nevertheless, in countries with French-styled civil law system corruption rates are not necessarily high if the rule of law is reinforced through institutions of civil society. Thus, corruption should not be easily labelled as a natural part of governance even if it becomes regulated or legalised. Rather it is a sign indicative of flaws or underdevelopment in a legal system that allows for it to take hold. 

Political Factors

Political corruption is without a doubt among the most challenging issues, especially for developing countries. As with the legal systems discussed above political traditions and institutes play a significant role in determining the risks of corruption as well as the ability to combat it effectivelly (Amundsen, 1999). Political or grand corruption involves state decision-makers who are entitled to enforce the laws but are corrupt themselves (Amundsen, 1999). While legal and bureaucratic corruption can be deterred through administrative actions, the debilitating effects of political corruption could not be countered by administrations actions alone requiring a more complex approach (Heidenheimer and Johnston, 2002). Though political corruption can be seen in every state, it is argued that some political systems are more likely to induce corruption among state officials than other. 

Current consensus regarding the prevalence of corruption in relation to political systems postulates that democracies are less prone to corruption that authoritarian political systems. Though as can be seen by numerous scandals in developed countries including the United Kingdom, corruption is not unique or restricted to authoritarian states it rarely reaches the systemic scale (Amundsen, 1999). Thus, democratic states are believed to have a better developed legal and political framework for combating and preventing corruption (Kolstad and Wiig, 2011). One may also argue that some of the most corrupted states are at least formal democracies and as such democracy should not be considered a safeguard in dealing with corruption (Kolstad and Wiig, 2011). While such remark is correct in general, it has to be noted that democracy is endogenous and is probably affected by some third variables that define the likelihood of corruption. 

Financing of political parties also is a major factor that can contribute to corruption is some states. Activities of political parties require significant amounts of money especially during the election campaigns (Amundsen, 1999). If public funding of election campaigns is not legally regulated or possible, pressure will build up to find money in the private sector. The controversies surrounding political donations can be seen on the example of the United States and the United Kingdom (Heidenheimer and Johnston, 2002). In the UK funding of political parties have often been the subject of numerous scandals indicating that even in the developed democracies corrupted practices among politicians can be present.

Constitution factors such as territory sovereignty and composition of executive power have also been observed to contribute differently to a prevalence of corruption (Gerring and Thacker, 2004). One of the studies has demonstrated that unitary states where national government execute its control with equal sovereignty over all of the territory and countries with parliamentary politics tend to have lower levels of corruption comparing to federal states  (Gerring and Thacker, 2004). Centralist model of governance is argued to perform better with regards to corruption rates due to fewer veto options and clearly defined political and institutional hierarchy (Gerring and Thacker, 2004). Once again it can be said that corruption is not equally universal and that states with political systems emphasising the role of parlamentarism and clear insititutional hierarchy tend to have lower rates of corruption.

Social Factors

From a sociological perspective, corruption may be seen as the result o various historical and cultural factors (Torsello, 2013). Nevertheless, it is obvious that states with strong civil societies and established human rights and liberties have lower rates of corruption in comparison to the states where civil societies are struggling to take hold. The role of civil society in generating the political will is perhaps the most important and noticeable. In countries where civil liberties are not endorsed on oficial level or even intentionally suppressed, political elites have a lower motivation to combat corruptio of fear of control and punishment. 

Countries in which civil society is involved in the review and implementation of norms and regulation that allow for better control over public funding, government officials accountability, in general, tend to have more efficient governance (Treisman, 2000). Going further it is possible to assume that states, where political elite is corrupt will, resist civil society from taking part in control over the public sector. Such countries as Finland, New Zealand and Denmark that have lowest corruption rates according to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) have strong civil societies that are constantly engaged in political, economical and legal discussions (Transparency International, 2016). 

Additionally, social traditions also contribute to the attitude toward corruption with nations where cultural and religious norms strongly stigmatise bribery government officials feel a greater fear of being exposed and punished (Treisman, 2000). For example, some scholars argue that Protestant cultures may be better suited to dealing with corruption due to higher tolerance toward challenges to authorities and more egalitarian upbringing in general (Torsello, 2013). It would be incorrect to say that corruption is a part of state functioning as it can bee seen that countries with developed civil societies are more effective at governance while having low rates of corruption. 


Corruption is a serious challenge and the one that is hard to overcome. However, saying that it is part of how a state is run would be incorrect. Countries with low rates of corruption are among the most developed regarding the economy and civil liberties and efficiency of legal and political systems. Corruption is perhaps an inevitable byproduct of ineffective governance and imperfection of the human nature. Nevertheless, it can be confronted and reduced through implementation of better legal regulations and control on behalf of the civil society. 


Amundsen, I. (1999). Political Corruption: An Introduction to the Issues. Chr. Michelsen Institute Development Studies and Human Rights. [online] Chr. Michelsen. Available at: [Accessed 8 Aug. 2016].

GERRING, J. and THACKER, S. (2004). Political Institutions and Corruption: The Role of Unitarism and Parliamentarism. British Journal of Political Science, 34(2), pp.295-330.

Heidenheimer, A. and Johnston, M. (2002). Political corruption. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers.

Herzfeld, T. and Weiss, C. (2003). Corruption and legal (in)effectiveness: an empirical investigation. European Journal of Political Economy, 19(3), pp.621-632.

International, T. (2016). Research – CPI – Overview. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Aug. 2016].

Kolstad, I. and Wiig, A. (2011). Does democracy reduce corruption?. Chr. Michelsen Institute.

Levin, M. and Satarov, G. (2000). Corruption and institutions in Russia. European Journal of Political Economy, 16(1), pp.113-132.

Myint, U. (2000). CORRUPTION: CAUSES, CONSEQUENCES AND CURES. Asia-Pacific Development Journal, 7(2).

Tanzi, V. (1998). Corruption Around the World: Causes, Consequences , Scope, and Cures. International Monetary Fund.

Torsello, D. (2013). The perception of corruption as social and institutional pressure: A comparative analysis of cultural biases. Human Affairs, 23(2).

Treisman, D. (2000). The Causes of Corruption: A Cross-National Study. Journal of Public Economics, 76(3).

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