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A Theory of Corruption

A Theory of Corruption
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There is perhaps no greater problem that handicaps the flourishing of developing nations than that of corruption. Though corruption is associated with the original sin that marks the heart of every person, corruption is also a social scourge that debilitates the daily economic and legal transactions upon which all of us ultimately depend for our material survival. For many people, corruption is invisible, as it is often limited to specific sectors of the economy. For others, it is an omnipresent feature of their existence. In all cases, however, corruption is ultimately derived from the personal choices of individuals to violate the law that, as Saint Paul reminds us, is written on our hearts.

We must recognize that all societies, no matter how sound their moral and institutional cultures, are in some way marked by corrupt activities. The question is, what does the term corruption mean? By corruption, we do not necessarily mean crime per se. Tax evasion, for example, is a crime, but it is not corruption. However, bribing a tax-auditor is corruption because there is a voluntary transaction between the evader and the auditor with the intention of defrauding a third party (the government). Failure to stop at a red traffic light or to comply with the speed limit is a crime, but it is not corruption. Bribing a policeman to avoid the ticket is corruption.

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Acton Institute
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Osvaldo Schenone