Power Leads to Corruption

1 January 2017

Corruption is when people in positions of entrusted power abuse their power for their own personal gains [or to fulfill the agendas of the group they represent]” (Transparency International). Lord Acton, a nineteenth century historian, argued that power is the root cause of corruption. The more power one has, the more corrupt one is likely to become (“Biography of Lord Acton. “).

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Although some commentators argue that there is no correlation between power and corruption, however Lord Acton was right because power makes individuals egocentric, makes the powerful less sympathetic towards those who are inferior, and makes a person hypocrite. First of all, power is such a tool that it makes individuals egocentric. The standard of living brought by power for its bearer is hard to quit. Most of the time powerful individuals enjoy pleasures of life which are the by-product of the power they hold and to enjoy the same pleasures of life, powerful individuals use measures and policies which benefit only the powerful people.

For example, the budget of President House in Pakistan was set at Rs. 482. 63 million for the fiscal year 2011-2012. President Asif Ali Zardari’s salary was Rs. 1 million. Besides other expenses, entertainment and gifts allowances were set at Rs. 15. 8 million. Rs. 24. 63 million were apportioned just for the conveyance and motor car expenses of the Prime Minister’s Secretariat and that is covers only 2. 08% of the total budget of Prime Minister’s Secretariat i. e. Rs. 1. 18 billion (Ali, Kalbe. “Areas That Matter Most. ). These statistics shows that the life enjoyed by powerful politicians and rulers is beyond the scope of an ordinary person, principally because of the income that is generated due to position of authority. So after coming into power these individuals try to make money which would ensure the same living standard once they lose their power. The policies they formulate are for their own interest and not for the people they represent. Whatever they gain because of their policies is at the cost of citizens.

Referring back to the budget of Pakistan for the fiscal year 2011-2012, the powerful individuals who were the architect of the budget did not consider the efficient management of national resources when they were the concerned party. They instead increased their own budgets as compared to the last budget and all of this was at the cost of low subsidies on essential food items, electricity and other the necessities of life (Ali, Kalbe. “Areas That Matter Most. “). Hence a logical conclusion that follows is that powerful individuals use their power for their personal gains and are not concerned about the effect of their doings on the society.

Another major reason because of which power tends to corrupt is that people with absolute power usually become less sympathetic towards those with no or less power and do not consider the perspective of other individuals. Adam Galinsky, a psychologist at Northwestern University conducted a series of experiments to find whether powerful individual give importance to others or not. As part of the experiment, Galinsky asked the participants to write letter ‘E’ on their forehead. The results of the experiment showed that participant who were primed with the feeling of power wrote ‘E’ backward, when seen by another person (Lehrer, Jonah. How Power Corrupts. “).

This experiment clearly shows how powerful individuals see the world through their own eyes and do not care for what other view. Besides this, example from history also proves the point that powerful individuals do not show sympathy towards less powerful people. For instance, Adolf Hitler is just one of many powerful individuals who showed no sympathy and mercy to those who were subject of his hate. Hitler believed in theory of Charles Darwin and the notion of survival of the fittest. For him Jews were the mistake of the nature and through his massive genocide he was attempting to correct that mistake.

Therefore, to conclude, power gives a person a sense of superiority over other individuals because of which the person does not give importance to what others think or believe. As a result powerful individuals use their power to force their decision upon people, even if people are against that decision, and hence powerful individual are not sympathetic towards others. On the other hand however, people deny the fact that power leads to corruption because they think that one’s moral and ethical standards determine whether the power one have will be abused or not.

They argue that if a person has high moral and ethical standards then the extent of power does not matter as that power will always be used for the welfare of others and the person will not be motivated by personal motives. The example often quoted by such people is of Abraham Lincoln. They claim that Lincoln was a man with high moral standards because he was against slavery throughout his life and he used his power to abolish slavery. However they fail to recognize that ethical and moral standards are culturally defined. What is acceptable in one culture may not necessarily be acceptable in other cultures.

Slavery is just one example of differences between cultural standards. Although slavery is not acceptable in many societies, but this does not eliminate the possibilities of its acceptance in others. During Lincoln’s time slavery was the cultural identity of South America (Blankenship, Jason. “Causes & Effects: Beginning of the Civil War, 1861. “). Thus by abolishing slavery throughout America, Lincoln gave his own motives, i. e. personal hatred for slavery priority over the norms of South America. He used his power to suppress the people who were dependent on slaves for their income.

If Lincoln had not been the corrupt man then he would have not used his power to enforce his judgment upon the people of South America. Therefore, it is evident that since moral standards are defined in a cultural context, one cannot conclude that if the person with power has high ethical standards then he/she will not be corrupt. Furthermore, power also has the ability to make its holder hypocrite. Before coming in power, individual make great claims to do work for the benefit of the people but once such power greedy individual gain power, they tend to forget all of their promises.

It seems that they never made any promise to do good for the people. Military rulers in Pakistan are a clear example of how individuals become hypocrite because of power. In Pakistan there have been several military rulers who after taking over the power from civilian government promised to have election within ninety days. However, none of them actually organized election within the given time frame. Ayub Khan ruled for eleven years, Yahya Khan stayed for two years, Zia-ul-Haq headed the country for eleven years and Pervez Musharraf for nine years.

These military rulers dismissed democratically elected governments and were supposed to help stabilize the conditions of the country which they did not. The power they acquired as a consequence of the Martial Law, made them forget what their initial purpose must have been. Instead of steering Pakistan towards stability, they became obsessed with their power, and chose to ignore the real purpose of their power. This hypocritical behavior of these men led to the corruption that took place during their respective regimes.

Hence, by acquiring power, the hypocritical attributes are inculcated in the powerful that result in the corruption that follows. To sum up Lord Acton’s claim, it is clearly evident that power indeed is a major reason for the corruptive measures practiced by the powerful. Those who are bestowed with absolute power, tend to feel that it is their right to have it. As a consequence, they may become heedless towards their subjects, self-centered in their intentions and actions, and shallow from the inside. These personality traits of the one with absolute power result in the corruptive mindset and practices of these people. Therefore, absolute power is succeeded by absolute corruption on part of the ones who have acquired such power.

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