"YOU ARE NOT TO ACCEPT A BRIBE, FOR THE BRIBE BLINDS CLEAR-SIGHTED MEN AND CAN DISTORT THE WORDS OF RIGHTEOUS MEN."—Exodus 23:8.
THREE thousand five hundred years ago, the Law of Moses condemned bribery. Over the centuries since then, anticorruption laws have proliferated. Nevertheless, legislation has not succeeded in curbing corruption. Millions of bribes change hands every day, and billions of people suffer the consequences.
Corruption has grown so widespread and sophisticated that it threatens to undermine the very fabric of society. In some countries almost nothing gets done unless a palm is greased. A bribe to the right person will enable one to pass an exam, get a driver's license, land a contract, or win a lawsuit. "Corruption is like a heavy pollution that weighs on people's spirits," laments Arnaud Montebourg, a Paris lawyer.
Bribery runs especially rampant in the world of commerce. Some companies allocate a third of all their profits just to pay off corrupt government bureaucrats. According to the British magazine The Economist, as much as 10 percent of the $25 billion spent every year in international arms trade serves to bribe potential customers. As the scale of this corruption has increased, the consequences have become catastrophic. During the last decade, "crony" capitalism—corrupt business practices that favor the privileged few who have good connections—is said to have ruined the economies of entire countries.
Inevitably, the ones who suffer most from corruption and the economic devastation it spawns are the poor—the ones who are rarely in a position to bribe anyone. As The Economist succinctly put it, "corruption is but one form of oppression." Can this type of oppression be overcome, or is corruption inescapable? To answer that question, we must first identify some of the fundamental causes of corruption.
What Are the Causes of Corruption?
Why do people choose to be corrupt rather than honest? For some, being corrupt may be the easiest way—or indeed the only way—to get what they want. At times, a bribe may provide a convenient means of avoiding punishment. Many who observe that politicians, policemen, and judges seem to ignore corruption or even practice it themselves merely follow their example.
As corruption snowballs, it becomes more acceptable until it is finally a way of life. People with pitifully low wages come to feel that they have no option. They have to demand bribes if they want to make a decent living. And when those who extort bribes or pay them to gain an unfair advantage go unpunished, few are prepared to swim against the tide. "Because sentence against a bad work has not been executed speedily, that is why the heart of the sons of men has become fully set in them to do bad," observed King Solomon.—Ecclesiastes 8:11.
Two powerful forces keep stoking the fires of corruption: selfishness and greed. Because of selfishness, corrupt people turn a blind eye to the suffering that their corruption inflicts on others, and they justify bribery simply because they benefit from it. The more material benefits they amass, the greedier those practicers of corruption become. "A mere lover of silver will not be satisfied with silver," observed Solomon, "neither any lover of wealth with income." (Ecclesiastes 5:10) Granted, greed may be good for making money, but it invariably winks at corruption and illegality.
Another factor that should not be overlooked is the role of the invisible ruler of this world, whom the Bible identifies as Satan the Devil. (1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9) Satan actively promotes corruption. The biggest bribe on record was the one Satan offered to Christ. 'I will give you all the kingdoms of the world if you fall down and do an act of worship to me.'—Matthew 4:8, 9.