Hard to get away from
Corruption is a pervasive problem in human affairs.
Wikipedia tells us that corruption "as defined by the World Bank, is a form of dishonesty or a criminal offense which is undertaken by a person or an organization which is entrusted with a
position of authority, in order to acquire illicit benefits or abuse power for one's private gain. Corruption may involve many activities which include bribery and embezzlement, "
This definition refers mostly to government figures. Private people get involved when they do things like pay bribes to government figures.
Is this definition too narrow?
If we just use this part: "acquire illicit benefits or abuse power for one's private gain", then the definition get's much larger in scope.
It includes everyone from people cheating on taxes to farmers polluting waterways to companies lobbying to prevent environmental regulations.
Is that definition too broad?
I'm a long way from being in philosophy 101 where the clever move in a discussion was to insist on defining the terms. That has the effect of changing the topic of the discussion until the terms are satisfactorily defined which never happens. On the other hand, a dictionary is a very handy device. It serves as a way of verifying the meaning of a word. But as I later learned, it's a tool that is limited. For instance, with corruption it's not hard to interpret any behavior you dislike in terms of corruption: that is, interpret the behavior in a way that fits the definition.
I favor language that is more precise than that. I would distinguish between a corrupt official and a dishonest person who offers a bribe for instance. So the environmental inspector who takes a bribe to ignore pollution is corrupt. The polluter is guilty of two things; polluting and offering a bribe.
There are words whose meaning is very broad. For instance; the word "bad". All sorts of things are bad. Floods, theft, being punched in the nose . . . and all those bad things don't have much in common. It indicates that something is unpleasant or disagreeable somehow - but it's meaningless unless attached to another word like flood. The point here is that corruption is bad but not everything that is bad is corruption.
I'm interested in understanding the world I live in. I think I'm like everyone else and would like to make things better rather than worse. To make things better you actually need to get into the details. For instance, I'm interested in how the economy works. I'm very well aware of the many forces distorting the economy in bad ways It does not help to lump all of those forces into the term corruption because that doesn't tell us how to solve the cases we encounter. But more significant to me is that being distracted by corruption doesn't help me figure out how we can improve things.
I've looked at our culture and concluded that it is based on a huge bad - specifically, it has an incentive system based on tormenting unlucky people. It's not enough to say it's bad. You need to look at how the system works. Once you realize that it's the incentive system that's the problem then solutions start to emerge. That doesn't happen if it's all just based on corruption.
And also - we can study corruption itself. It's a kind of cheating and game theory talks about competition between cheaters and cooperators. Perhaps there are social pressures that can inhibit the cheaters rather than encourage them.
For instance consider the form of corruption called bribery. It's kind of normal in many places because officials are very badly paid. One solution is to just pay officials more money.
What do you think?