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Sample Argumentative Essay: Is It Possible to Completely Overcome Corruption?
Corruption is deemed one of the major reasons many countries, particularly developing nations, struggle to prosper. Corruption is, indeed, a global phenomenon. Despite its prominence, however, political theorists have had difficulty establishing a definition of corruption. There is much contention about the practice’s subjectivity since some actions may be deemed corrupt by some but not by others. Nevertheless, the general consensus is that corruption is a form of illicit activity by an individual or group entrusted with authority that abuses that power for their personal gain (“What is Corruption?,” n.d.). Corruption has made progress slow and painful, as institutions meant to encourage progress became paralyzed by these practices.
For many nations, corruption seems to be deeply entrenched in their systems and culture. Numerous politicians have promised to break the cycle of corruption in their respective countries only to engage in worse corrupt practices. Countless activists and organizations have also attempted but are either overpowered or killed. The efforts to overcome corruption seem to be endlessly ongoing, and it does not seem to be making much progress. This raised the question of whether it is possible to completely overcome corruption. Some idealists believe that it is possible to completely eradicate corruption, however, the author of this essay disagrees. The author argues that corruption cannot be completely overcome because it is a byproduct of the nature of humans and society, however, it can be controlled and minimized. The succeeding argumentative essay presents four arguments supporting the thesis that corruption cannot be entirely eradicated in society. Counter-arguments, namely those supporting the opinion that it is possible to eradicate corruption will be presented as well, followed by rebuttals from the author.
Corruption Can Only be Mitigated
Corruption is a global phenomenon that plagues not only developing countries but also developed countries, impeding progress and often exacerbating social issues like poverty, inequality, human rights crises, and environmental crises . Today, more than 60% of countries measured by Transparency International scored lower than 50 out of 100, which indicates high levels of corruption (“Corruption Perceptions Index,” 2020). Apart from this, corruption exists in numerous ways, and not just in government. While the most common or well-known forms of corruption include bribery and kickbacks, misuse of public funds, collusion, extortion and solicitation, embezzlement, and gifts, political theorists agree that it evolves and adapts based on different contexts and changing rules (“What is Corruption?,” n.d.).
Corruption as a Byproduct of Human Nature
Corruption exists because of humans’ innate need to find more efficient and convenient ways to achieve their goals. Since its establishment, laws, especially in systems with inefficient bureaucracy, have always been an impediment to individuals and groups who wish to do something. Going around the laws or subverting them lets these groups accomplish their goals faster.
In a similar vein, less-privileged individuals who wish to advance financially or their status in life may resort to corrupt practices when they feel like their society offers very limited opportunities for progress (Christensen, Ojomo, & Dillon, 2019). Such individuals may not see corruption as a matter of ethics and morality but as an efficient means to an end. Thus, the existence of corruption is not dependent on moral bankruptcy but on an innate need for efficiency. Studies have found that humans are wired to conserve energy as much as possible, which extends to every aspect of their lives. Christensen, Ojomo, and Dillon explain that one of the main reasons for the attractiveness of corruption is dependent on humans’ cost structure through which they calculate the revenue-cost relationship of their actions and goals (2019). Humans will always choose the most efficient way to do it, making corruption attractive beyond ethics and morality.
Corruption as Inherent To Culture
Apart from the fact that humans are wired to be susceptible to corruption, political theorists have also argued that corruption is ingrained in human culture and society. Modernization theorists posit that corruption in post-colonial nations is the result of the enforced marriage of “modern political structures and processes” with “indigenous socio-political structures” (Iyanda, 2012, p. 41). One example of this is the expectation for individuals who advance their status change to increase their responsibilities to their families, friends, and neighbors. This expectation and the desire to satisfy their kinsmen may pressure an individual to engage in corrupt practices (Iyanda, 2012). In this case, the expectations set by the culture are conducive to corruption. In such a case where corruption is rooted in a culture, it would require an uprooting of the said culture in order to also eradicate corruption. Such a change would be too drastic and likely to be resisted, if not close to impossible as culture is tied to a people’s identity.
Money Increases the Temptation of Corruption
Anti-corruption organizations and some theorists alike promote the idea that corruption will be eradicated with economic and social progress. While it is true that the countries with the lowest levels of corruption are some of the most advanced economies, it is also true that there are wealthy countries that struggle with high levels of corruption, such as the United States of America and South Korea (Corruption Perceptions Index, 2021). The vice chairman of the advisory board of the International Anti-Corruption Daniel Li explained that corruption cannot be completely eradicated, especially in an “economically vibrant” society because temptations for corruption, such as bribery, are much stronger (Kim, 2019). With better economies, people and companies prosper and therefore have better capabilities to engage in corrupt practices since they have more funds and influence. Furthermore, corrupt practices also evolve as laws and anti-corruption measures evolve. People engaging in corrupt practices simply find loopholes in new laws such that trying to eradicate corruption has been described as a game of Whac-A-Mole (Kim, 2019; Christensen, Ojomo, & Dillon, 2019). Although it is true that economic development, in some cases, has brought about lower corruption rates, it is worth noting that it has not completely eradicated corruption. Furthermore, in some cases, economic development has only made corruption more deeply entrenched in society.
Given these, it would be near impossible to aspire for the complete eradication of corruption. However, this does not mean that corruption cannot be minimized and controlled. Countries such as Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, and Singapore were able to achieve and maintain the lowest rates of corruption according to Transparency International, they are proof that it is possible to keep corrupt practices at bay. Singapore is perhaps the strongest model for reforming corrupt institutions since it went from being the center of trade for drugs in Asia into one of the least corrupt countries in the world. However, Singapore has been an exemption rather than the norm throughout history (Keefe, 2015). Even with its status as a model for transparent governance, it is still not completely corruption-free.
Eradicating Corruption Has Been Done
Considering the detrimental impact of corruption on countries, it is arguably a grim outlook to say that it is impossible to eradicate corruption. Some political theorists and, especially, anti-corruption organizations insist that it is possible to eradicate corruption, if not, for it to become obsolete (Keefe, 2015). John Noonan, a federal judge in California likens bribery to slavery and explains that the latter may become obsolete in the same manner that slavery eventually dissipated (Keefe, 2015).
Proponents of this notion posit that the perceived efficiency of corruption only exists as a byproduct of inefficient and corrupt systems. As such, it can be eradicated by a complete reform of the system as Singapore had done. Among the nations with the lowest corruption rates, Singapore is the most notable since it managed to achieve this through strict government reforms. Their efforts started with the election of a Prime Minister and members of government whose platform focused on anti-corruption. Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew committed to the goal of eradicating corruption by “recalibrating the risk/reward ratio for officials who might feel inclined to betray their office” (Keefe, 2015, par. 5). He raised the salary of civil servants to minimize the temptation to accept bribery, instituted harsh punishment for those caught engaging in corrupt acts, and he strengthened the authority of the anticorruption bureau (Keefe, 2015, par. 2). With this, he also fostered a culture of ethics and morality, such that when one of the members of government was caught accepting bribery, the said member killed himself and left a note saying “[i]t is only right that I should pay the highest penalty for my mistake” (Keefe, 2015, par. 2). While this is an extreme result, this has been used as proof that it is possible to cultivate a culture of honesty and uprightness that pressures deviants or criminals to feel remorse.
Uprooting a deeply entrenched system seem is a gargantuan task, indeed. However, as Singapore has demonstrated, it is possible. Moreover, Singapore is not the only country that succeeded in keeping corruption at bay. Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, and Norway also have low levels of corruption and, in fact, rank higher in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (2021). These countries are known for their efficient government institutions and strong accountability and transparency policies, which one can corroborate is also the reason they have low corruption rates (Martela, Greve, Rothstein, & Saari, 2020). If laws and regulations are sensible and are not an obvious hindrance to private entities’ projects and goals, they will have no reason to be tempted to subvert the laws. Likewise, if there is plenty of opportunity for personal advancement, individuals would not be tempted to accept bribery.
Corruption is, indeed, a complex issue. However, by looking into the workings of the aforementioned nations with low corruption rates, there is a clear pattern. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, these countries have strong government infrastructures and laws against corruption. However, another significant factor that makes it possible to eradicate corruption is economic and social progress. This is one of the qualities the aforementioned nations have in common. Denmark, for instance, has strong anti-corruption policies that strictly prohibit all forms of active and passive bribery facilitation payments and gifts and hospitality (GAN Integrity, 2020). The Scandinavian country is also known as the “welfare state” because of its effective programs supporting citizens struggling with poverty (GAN Integrity, 2020; Martela, Greve, Rothstein, & Saari, 2020). They are also known for high levels of gender equality and equal distribution of incomes, which means that citizens have opportunities to improve their lives without resorting to illicit activities (Martela, Greve, Rothstein, & Saari, 2020). A combination of strong governance and economic and social progress has made it possible for certain countries to remove a culture of corruption.
Another reason why economic and social progress is at the core of anti-corruption efforts is that as people progress in life, they also become more intolerant of corruption (Christensen, Ojomo, & Dillon, 2019). Christensen, Ojomo, & Dillon used the US as an example of this. As the US progressed economically and people established better ways to acquire wealth, they also became more vocal about their dissatisfaction with the corruption that used to pervade the country (Christensen, Ojomo, & Dillon, 2019). As a result, anti-corruption laws were implemented. Combining this with the wealth and equality that are characteristic of Scandinavian countries, many see this as proof that there is a formula for overcoming corruption.
Counter-arguments for the thesis of this argumentative essay are sensible but idealistic. First and foremost, it is unsound to hold the countries with low corruption rates as proof that corruption can be completely overcome. While those countries do have low corruption rates, even they have not managed to completely eradicate corruption. This means that corruption still exists in these countries, albeit at much lower rates than others and with significantly fewer effects on society.
Secondly, these countries have been glorified for their low corruption rates for decades. Singapore elected Lee Kuan Yew from 1959 to 1990 during which he famously reformed the country (Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d.). Lee Kuan Yew’s work could have been used as a blueprint for how to be an effective leader against corruption, but this has not been done. Perhaps more accurately, since believers of the possibility of eradicating corruption say that political reform and social and economic progress are the keys, the formula has not yet succeeded in countries plagued by corruption. This is likely because corruption takes on different characters and forms and it evolves as the context changes—a fact that will be apparent if a history paper were written about it.
Thus, the hope of completely eradicating corruption is more of a positive thinking rather than a viable goal. This is not to say that the world should stop efforts toward overcoming corruption. Rather, it only means that expectations should be calibrated; and, instead of hoping for complete obsolescence of corruption, it is more logical to accept that corruption can only be mitigated or minimized, but not completely eradicated.
Furthermore, such a view or the belief that one country has eradicated corruption completely may even prove dangerous as it may lead to complacency in governance. Once authorities become complacent, seeds of corruption may sprout and grow again. Corruption will always find its way into any system, no matter how seemingly perfect because it is born out of humans’ need or desire to make things more convenient for them in addition to its resilient nature. It would be more beneficial, then, to stay vigilant against corruption.
Corruption has been plaguing the world for centuries. It not only exists in governments but also in private corporations and even within communities. Despite valiant efforts to expunge it from society by governments, activists, and international organizations, it continues to dominate nations, turning the topic into one of the best political debate topics . In this essay, the author expressed adhesion to the belief that it is impossible to completely eradicate corruption. This opinion is founded on the arguments that corruption is not a morality issue but a natural byproduct of humans’ natural inclination to seek more convenient and efficient ways to accomplish goals. Related to this, certain cultures are also more susceptible to corruption. In particular cultures with social kinship often clash with western systems of government, which results in corrupt practices as an offshoot. Moreover, no matter how hard we work against corruption, it will inevitably evolve as is its character. People will continue to find loopholes in anti-corruption laws in order to achieve their goals efficiently. Proponents of the opposite notion—that it is possible to completely eradicate corruption—turn to countries that have notably low corruption levels as proof and examples. However, as the author’s rebuttal expressed, even these countries have not completely eradicated corruption, thereby proving the thesis that it is only possible to mitigate corruption but not completely remove it from society. This idea may seem grim but it is potentially more beneficial as it encourages a vigilant stance against corruption. This should allow governments and anti-corruption organizations to continue to keep fighting corruption.
Adeyemi, O. O. (2021, March 1). The concept of corruption: A theoretical exposition. The Journalish: Social and Government, 2(1), http://thejournalish.com/ojs/index.php/thejournalish/index
Christensen, C., Ojomo, E., & Dillon, K. (2019, April 3). Can corruption ever be eliminated in the world? Boss Tweed and Napster show a counterintuitive path forward. TED Ideas . https://ideas.ted.com/can-corruption-ever-be-eliminated-in-the-world-boss-tweed-and-napster-show-a-counterintuitive-path-forward/
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Encyclopaedia Britannica. (n.d.). Lee Kuan Yew: Prime minister of Singapore. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lee-Kuan-Yew
Iyanda, D. O. (2012, November). Corruption: Definitions, theories, and concepts. Arabian Journal of Business and Management Review (OMAN Chapter), 2(4), https://www.arabianjbmr.com/pdfs/OM_VOL_2_(4)/4.pdf
Keefe, P. R. (2015, January 12). Corruption and revolt: Does tolerating graft undermine national security?. The New Yorker . January 19, 2015 Issue. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/01/19/corruption-revolt
Kim, B. (2019, September 15). [Herald Interview] ‘Corruption cannot be eradicated, only contained and controlled.’ The Korea Herald. http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20190915000095
“What is corruption?” (n.p.). Transparency International. https://www.transparency.org/en/what-is-corruption