Sunday 8 February 2015


We know it's bad - but what is it?

That issue lies behind an excellent programme broadcast by C-SPAN. I watched it in bed this morning. It is available here. Long term readers of this blog - and my law students, will know why it is a subject that I take a deep interest in.

Lord Acton said "power tends to corrupt...." - sometimes that is dismissed, because he is taken to mean that all who exercise political power will be tempted (and presumably, many have fallen) to accept bribes. I contend that the corruption he was thinking of is a much wider concept. In essence, it recognises that as humans we easily persuade ourselves that what is in our own interest is actually in everyone else's interest. We trust - and listen to friends, more than judge fairly between competing arguments. We are very good at justifying to ourselves what onlookers may think is unacceptable. I saw the Westminster expenses scandal up close - honourable people, who never thought they were doing wrong, got embroiled in the scandal - and couldn't understand why their constituents were turning on them. They were blinded by 'group think'. The very narrow view of "corruption" is seen by the US Supreme Court - who can't seem to recognise how corrupting an influence the large sums of money now washing around US politics and elections are.

I thoroughly recommend setting aside 90 minutes to watch this programme. It raises some serious issues - and makes one think.

Some of the issues are addressed in a book "Ethics in Congress" - which discusses the difference between personal and institutional corruption.

Websites of the contributors to the programme include -

Zephyr Teachout - http://www.teachoutwu.com/
Janine Wedel - http://janinewedel.info/
Lawrence Lessig - http://www.lessig.org/about/