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Why some countries are more corrupt than others

The map of political corruption is never stagnant, with countries becoming more and less corrupt all the time. Mariano Sigman, author of “The Secret Life of the Mind,” explains how this instability of political corruption seeps into the everyday actions of citizens. Following is a transcript of the video.

Mariano Sigman: Corruption is, in a way, contagious. Corruption corrupts.

If one would actually see the map of corruption, one would see some countries in which corruption is very prevalent, and some countries in which it’s not so prevalent; it’s actually very rare.

But this is political corruption. This is how, on the large-scale, different states have a predisposition to respect the norms, to respect the rules, or to not respect them. The question is is this global, political, societal corruption related to how people within these countries will undergo some minor forms of cheating in very simple, day-to-day things.

So when you live in a society in which, at the large scale, the political values are those of not respecting the norms, then there is a growing number of low-scale corruption within all the people that live within this country. Specifically now, in the world but particularly in the U.S., we are seeing a spike of mistrust. You can rapidly imagine of the Facebook scandal, of Trump and fake news, and many other examples by which people are lacking the trust in the institution. The map of corruption is not steady; it changes with time. Societies make big changes where they become more or less corrupt, and then one can ask what happens downstream from these changes?

Studies were conducted to measure corruption among groups of people worldwide.

Sigman: So the experiment goes like this: it’s again just throwing the dice, and person A will throw the dice, and then person B will throw another dice, and both of them will be paid only if the dice have the same value. But now the gain is not only himself or for herself but also for the other party. And this is another temptation for cheating, because I’m not cheating for myself; I’m also cheating for another person.

And so this notion of small solidarity actually increases enormously, to the point that, when this experiment is done like say with 200 people, the fraction of equal dice should be one-sixth of that, but almost 180 people are getting paid in this experiment. And one can see the amount of cheating and see whether this amount of cheating in a dice, in a single person that’s cheating for $US3, $US4, $US5, $US6 or $US7 actually correlates to the amount of corruption that this country has at the societal level.

The results we saw of the dice experiment show that long-term political corruption results in the propagation of minor forms of corruption in the people that live in these societies.

Now there is an episode of lack of trust, and it seems to be different ways that this could undergo. So in a way these sharp, spiking episodes seem like a bifurcation point, where societies do have an opportunity to think whether they want to continue on the way of mistrust or they want to react to it by understanding how important trust is to the construction of societies.

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