Reflections on the intersection of economics, history, politics, psychology and science

A follow up from The Changing Lily Pad, this podcast explores why corruption exists, where it comes from and why it appears that there is more corruption in people and organizations that are conservative.

There are many types of corruption, both the “active” kind where some person or entity abuses its position of power for personal gain, usually financial or political, as well as the more “passive” kind that promotes or sustains a system that benefits one personally.

Corruption is both very tempting to humans and very hard to manage on a societal level, and it can certainly take place anywhere by anyone of any political (or other) persuasion. It is often linked to an abuse of power, hence the saying “power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

This is where the link to conservatism comes in. Conservatism, but it’s nature, is trying to hold on to the status quo, however in a world where change is inevitable, such conservatism is a difficult (and often losing) position. So, how do you hold back an unstoppable force? You need an immovable object. To at least attempt to stop or slow down change, the conservtive position must both (a) deny that the change is inevitable, and (b) build a power structure to coordinate the efforts of a lot of people to make the denial self-fulfilling. This combination creates a “bubble of misinformation” that exploits fear and promotes objectively disprovable “alternative facts.” This fear of change creates mistrust, eschews logical dialog, and ignores or distorts otherwise irrefutable data.

Although all sides of the political spectrum build power bases to serve their ends (and hence are susceptible to corruption), the level of power required by conservatives is so much greater than that required by progressives. This doesn’t always align with organizations that we consider politically conservative. For example, labor unions often act quite conservatively – eschewing progress – in their efforts to promote stability and predictability for their members. But political conservatism does appear to be a common thread in corruptive behavior, both on an institutional scale (e.g. Fox News) or on a personal level (the level of mendacity and corruption on the right side of the political aisle dwarfs the level on the left side). 

Of course, Donald Trump is the poster child for such corruption, as unlike most others, his corruption was mostly out in the open, and he actively and transparently leveraged other conservative centers of power (like Fox News) to serve his personal interests. His autocrat-curious behavior leads us right to the current, and very extreme example, of Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine. Putin, like many demagogues and autocrats before him, survives only because he is corrupt, obviously to the detriment of almost all around him.

Key Terms Used

Conservatism, Prisoner’s Dilemma, Progressivism, Whataboutism

Related Resources

The Inherent Corruption of Conservatism