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The general idea

I want us to discuss "corruption" in a very particular sense. I'm not interested in overt lawbreaking or outright bribery (e.g., Congressman X takes $50,000 personally to vote Nay on a particular bill); I am instead interested in non-obvious corruption--instances where a decision is improperly and/or subtly influenced by a government actor's anticipation of some sort of indirect economic gain or loss. Where a person in power is motivated more by, e.g., money to their campaign, support for favored research, etc., than the interests they claim to or otherwise should be advancing.

For this is the core of the corruption in our present system of

government.“Corruption” not in the sense that representatives are bribed. Rather, “corruption” in the sense that the system induces the beneficiaries of Congress’s acts to raise and give money to Congress to induce it to act. There’s only so much time; there’s only so much Congress can do. Why not limit its actions to those things it must do—and those

things that pay?

- Lessig, Free Culture

I've listed some contexts in which I'd like to explore these ideas. Within each, I'd be eager to see (1) recommendations for things I should read; (2) research it would be helpful to do (meaning, if you had all the money in the world, what research question would you explore); (3) examples (of corruption) it would be useful to document.

The definition of corruption is slippery indeed. It seems to emerge from a property of social systems where people employ everyday denial (we all do, see this recent NYT article), to see their role in a limited context while overlooking amoral or immoral aspects of the systemic context in which their role is defined. Of course, an actor's desire to get ahead, have power, influence, reward, abets such "overlooking." Moral Mazes is a critically important book because it an anthropological study of how this works in corporations. -- isen

As I described in my Required Reading blog post, this is a new field for me. I want to read as broadly as I can.

Please don't slander people on these pages (meaning if you do, I will remove them). If you've got some hot tip, save it for email. And NPOV is very important here.

Thanks for the help.

Criticism of the General Idea Your lecture at the Commonwealth Club was outstanding. Stay the Force. Here are some words of wisdom to support you from my grandmother:

It's all a matter of personal viewpoints

My grandmother was 93 when she died some 25 years ago and would probably say the same today (supporting your profound words).

Beloved grandmother, Minnie used to tell me, " Don't believe everything you read and only half of what you see and hear." … " Think before you open your mouth to say anything, and don't put your foot in it." At 93, when asked who she was going to vote for in the election, she said in her wonderful street-smart way:

… "Who's ever in … vote em out."

And when questioned why she offered such tough words of wisdom she replied:

" They make a lot of promises to get elected and come into office with all kinds of high-faluttin ideals about how they will change the world. By the end of their first year in office they realize there is no way they will ever change the system. By the end of the second year they realize most of the insiders have rigged the game. By the end of the third year they have seen all kinds of graft, corruption and 'old boy' cronyism. By the end of their fourth year they have figured out how to do it themselves. "

"Vote em out."

Her daughter (my mother) was one of Mayor Richard J. Daley's secretaries.

Maybe that is why Thomas Jefferson told his colleagues that a person should serve his country for only 4 years and then go home to his own business. He was a Unitarian … authored the Declaration of Independence … became one of the most respected presidents of the US … and owned 400 slaves.

Overview: Must-reads and good reads

Particular Areas


Legal Academics



Politicians (Foreign Aid)

The Market (The Public Relations Industry | Corporate Culture)





Political Economy