Friday, September 3, 2010

Why elected officials want to water down Ethics Codes

The insidious creeping in of entitlement that turns an elected official corrupt. Keep the Broward County Commission's and the Deerfield Beach Commission's recent actions in mind when you read this:

Very few public officials begin their careers with the intention of becoming corrupt, but then succumb to a sinister form of peer pressure over time. Being placed in a position of significant political power can be overwhelming, and the temptation to bend or break rules for a perceived 'greater good' is always present. How often have you heard a politician say, “I am voting for this because it is good for the city.”

Contrary to the Machiavellian cliché, nice people are more likely to rise to power. Then something strange happens: Authority atrophies the very talents that got them there. Psychologists refer to this as the “paradox of power”. The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power. Instead of being polite, honest and outgoing, they become impulsive, reckless and rude.

Why does power lead people to flirt with interns and solicit bribes and fudge financial documents? According to psychologists, one of the main problems with authority is that it makes us less sympathetic to the concerns and emotions of others.

Although people almost always know the right thing to do—cheating is wrong—their sense of power makes it easier to rationalize away the ethical lapse. There is no easy cure for the paradox of power. The best treatment is transparency; the worst abuses of power can be prevented when people know they're being monitored. This suggests that the mere existence of a regulatory watchdog can help discourage people from doing bad things.

However, people in power tend to overestimate their moral virtue, which leads them to stifle oversight. They vote against regulations, sometimes there will be lip-service paid but circumventions in practice, and sometimes there will be direct resistance to anti-corruption efforts. Corrupt politicians will defend their vital interests, vehemently and sometimes even violently. The end result is power at its most dangerous.


U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre,

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