How to End Corruption
by Benjamin Studebaker
It is often said that corruption is just a part of politics, that nothing can be done about it, because all people are vulnerable to corruption. Power, it’s said, corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. These notions are bandied about, but not, in my view, well-considered. It is not as if one day a perfectly wholesome individual gains political power and then, as if by some dark magic, corruption ensues. There are factors that bring corruption about, sources of it, if you will. If we were to target these sources, I venture to say that we could, if not end corruption, substantially reduce its incidence.
The original “power corrupts” quote is a bit more interesting than the popular aphorism it has become today. The whole line, originating from a letter by one Lord Acton in the 19th century, goes like this:
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.
The suggested line of argument is that because the powerful are almost always bad, badness comes from power. What I propose is a reversal of this formula. Badness does not come from power, power comes from badness–the bad people are the people most likely to get power in our political structures.
Political institutions encourage leaders with certain traits and characteristics. When these traits and characteristics are not conducive to good statecraft, bad, corrupt government ensues, slowly worsening the state of affairs with time. How do we encourage the right sort of people to become our leaders? There are several key elements that can, if improperly managed by the political structure, lead to a corrupt state:
- Indebted Leaders–to what do the leaders owe their power?
- Leader Homogeneity–to what extent is do the leaders have uniform opinions or interests?
- Deterrence–what sort of threats exist to the leader’s power? Do these threats deter good or bad behaviour?
I would like to discuss each in turn.
What do the leaders owe their power to? Invariably, in democratic politics, it’s two things–donors and voters. The monied and the many. Our goal in statecraft is impartial leaders, leaders who consider the interest of the society as a whole. Our leaders cannot do this when they owe their power to some of the people and not others. If I am elected with union money or by union voters, I cannot be impartial in political disputes involving the labour interest. I have been chosen by this particular faction; I represent their interest rather than the social interest. The same can conversely be said of leaders elected with the backing of business interests. The fact that often, it is a coalition of interest groups funding and voting only adds to the number of issues upon which our leaders will be biased. It is just as true of the left as of the right–whether backed by doves, trade unionists, and social reformers or backed by hawks, businessmen, and the church, the resultant leader is not an impartial adjudicator of right and wrong for the state, he is an agent of specific factions and serves their interest to the exclusion of others. Leaders chosen through this method are not only corrupt, they are designed to be corrupt by their supporters and backers. If you campaign for a candidate or give a candidate money, you are attempting to bias that candidate toward your point of view and away from whatever point of view said candidate might find independently through his own reason. In this way, democracy is from birth a corrupt system of government. Voting factions are pitted against each other, monied interests are pitted against each other, and the net is never a leader of all, but an advocate of the supporting coalition of subsets. To fix this problem, one would need to create a government in which power was owed to nothing but the competence and skill of the leader in statecraft and political reasoning. It is this that I seek to do with my sophiarchist solutions that empower the politically educated.
Why is leader similarity a problem? When the leaders all have similar views and interests, the system becomes closed to new thought. It becomes static and unadaptive, and that is the beginning of the end for good statecraft. It is for this reason that the one party states of China and the former Soviet Union are so thoroughly inadequate. When there is an official state doctrine of any sort, ideas and innovation begin to be restricted and the state becomes steadily more insular and squelching of liberties. The Communist Party in the Soviet Union became steadily more homogenised in outlook and unwilling to brook challenges, so bad ideas and bad policies were allowed to permeate the society, leading to economic inefficiency and the malaise that slowly choked the life out of that state in the seventies and eighties. How to we prevent homogeneity? We must draw our leaders from a group that is:
- Diverse in its opinions.
- Stubborn and unwilling to be swayed without much convincing.
- Believes in and appreciates the need for differences of opinion.
It is for this reason that I look to academia as a source of leaders for the good state. Attempting to make a political party out of academics is like herding cats and the resistance of academics to the sophiarchist idea in favour of other forms of government even when said form of government would give them power only provides further evidence of their suitability. That said, academics only remain this way because they are competitive with one another. If we were to put them in charge, we would need to ensure the preservation of this sense of competition. This could be done by having these academics vote for their leadership from among themselves, leaving the vast majority of them to criticise the government and sulk over having not been themselves chosen, ensuring continued bad faith and disagreement among their ranks.
At present, there are only two threats to our leaders once they are in power–failing to win re-election, and impeachment/forced resignation through scandal. These threats deter our leaders from behaving in ways that risk their re-election or chance their indictment. The latter is a good deterrent–we do not want our leaders doing illegal things, and so by creating a system whereby our leaders can be replaced for having done said things, we make our leaders less likely to behave that way. The former however is just another version of the “indebted leaders” problem. The only reason leaders need to fear re-election is because they must once again seek money and votes from specific factions, so this deterrent only serves to prevent independent, unbiased leadership. If I know that to win the next election I need the support of a given interest group, I will not enact any policies that might antagonise that interest group even though I believe said policies to be in the interest of the wider society. This is a form of corruption.
Relating this back to my academics’ state, while we cannot use a broad general election to deter my academics from enacting corrupt, bad policy (as I have excluded the rest of the populace from voting in order to prevent the leaders owing anything to various factions of them), I can use the other tactic–the threat of legal prosecution. Say for instance that we were to write up a legally binding contract for our leaders to sign in which the various behaviours we considered corrupt or harmful were explicitly forbidden. Say our leader could not have lawful authority without signing the contract, and that we had a system of judicial review for determining if it had been violated and for enforcing it in the event that it was. If the population as a whole cares very much about this contract and is greatly upset by violations of it, to the point at which it would consider such violations tantamount to a coup, an unlawful, totalitarian takeover of their society, I submit that such an arrangement could successfully deter bad behaviour without creating additional deterrents against free-thinking and independence.
If our leaders owed their power to nothing but the strength and soundness of their reasoning and ideas, were part of a diverse, disunited group with much room for ambition and jealousy, and had the breaking of well-considered laws to fear, they would surely be much less corrupt than they presently are, and since our goal is good statecraft without corruption, we are ethically obliged to pursue this system against the present one.