Are power and corruption good for society?

Power asymmetries and moral corruption are viewed negatively worldwide, but those are not such a bad thing for the society as they help maintain overall societal cooperation, researchers say.

Last Updated: Dec 15, 2010, 17:41 PM IST

Washington: Power asymmetries and moral
corruption are viewed negatively worldwide, but those are not
such a bad thing for the society as they help maintain overall
societal cooperation, researchers say.

Using game theory, Francisco Ubeda, an evolutionary
biology professor at the University of Tennessee in the US,
and Edgar Duenez of Harvard University looked at what causes
individuals in society to cooperate even though those in
charge display some level of corruption.

They developed a model that allows people who are
responsible for punishing non-cooperators (for example, law
enforcers and government officials) to fail to cooperate
themselves by acting in a corrupt manner.

They also considered the possibility that these law
enforcers, by virtue of their positions, are able to sidestep
punishment when they are caught failing to cooperate.

What they found is that the bulk of society cooperates
because there are law enforcers forcing them to stay in line.

People tend to cooperate because they do not want to get
punished, the researchers reported in the journal Evolution.

Even if the law enforcers consider themselves above the
law and behave in a corrupt way, overall societal cooperation
is maintained -- as long as there is a small amount of power
and corruption.

However, if the law enforcers have too much power and
corruption runs rampant, overall societal cooperation breaks
down, they explained.

Ubeda said: "Law enforcers often enjoy privileges that
allow them to avoid the full force of the law when they breach
it."

"Law enforcing results in the general public abiding by
the law. Thus law enforcers enjoy the benefits of a lawful
society and are compensated for their law enforcing by being
able to dodge the law," he said.

The researchers concluded that power and corruption
benefit society; without law enforcers, individuals have less
incentive to cooperate and without power and corruption, law
enforcers have less incentive to do their job.

The findings have far-reaching implications. In biology,
they may help explain corrupt behaviours in social insects. In
economics, the findings may aid in formulating policies by
providing insights on how to harness corruption to benefit
society, said the researchers.

In the field of psychology, the findings provide a
justification to the correlation between power and corruption
observed in humans, they added.

PTI