The Organic Nature of Corruption


Aspen and conifer forests competing for survival.  Brian Pinkowski
Aspen and conifer forests competing for survival. Brian Pinkowski

Governments and Nations Fail from Corruption.  Even the strongest and least corrupt of nations struggles with the downward pull of destructive forces arising from.  No matter if the corruption comes from internal and external causes – it’s always there, under the surface. (What the U.S. Government Shutdown Teaches Us About Organizational Corruption.)

When governments fall, it is the corrupt organizations and networks that expand fastest for the simple reason that they are best organized to respond to the survival needs of the community.

Large and small criminal organizations have hierarchies, communication networks and logistics that allow them to quickly expand in the vacuum created by government collapse and failure.  When governments and nations collapse, criminal organizations are often the only organizations that solve problems for the community.  Churches and businesses that survive the collapse of nations simply don’t have logistics in place to meet people’s needs for food, water, shelter and physical protection.  This leaves the criminal organizations as the only effective organizations around.

Of course, criminal organizations are built to leverage on the survival needs of their “customers.”  Although a “pernicious organism,” it is nonetheless a living organism that derives its life force from its symbiotic relationship with people in its communities.  Criminal organizations, like any other organization, are built on the desire to survive now and into the future.

The Struggle for new governments, especially in developing countries, is to organize quickly enough to outcompete and ultimately replace the criminal networks.

Corruption and anti-corruption are fundamentally about competing models  for community survival.  Like all survival issues, the competition is not about idealism or morality, but effectiveness.

Where the government is built upon failed purpose, it is nearly impossible for the organization to compete effectively against criminal groups.

I discuss the corruption of groups and society in What is Anticorruption? and in New Tools in the Fight Against Corruption.

Groups are identified by 5 primary characteristics.

        1. Identity
        2. Purpose
        3. Ability to carry out Group Purpose
        4. Intent to Survive into the Future
        5. Ability to defend itself.

All groups, whether they are the U.S. Government, Rotary Clubs, sports teams, corporations, or Al Qaeda operate with these same basic characteristics.

The difficulty in many countries (developing or otherwise) is that individuals in leadership positions are often corrupted as to purpose.  They have conflicts of interest that defeat organizational purpose before they first sit at their new desk. (See Link).   Their commitment to the five characteristics above, as to the larger government organization, may be far weaker than their commitment to theses characteristics for their political party, tribe, or family.

Thus, they are unable to build or lead an organization that can compete effectively against criminal networks.

Complicating matters, many organizations understand that they can “capture” new government by inserting their representatives and interests into the foundations from the beginning, and later on throughout the democratic process.  Intertwining the organizational “DNA”, in a manner of speaking.

Indeed, researchers and organizational development consultants have identified these organization characteristics as fundamental to successful organizations and government.  (See Duarte )  and “Divergent Cultures?  When Public Organizations Perform Well in Developing Countries” – Merilee S. Grindle)

These are so important that insurgents, counter-insurgency experts and political parties organize their efforts to attack, weaken (corrupt) these characteristics in government and opposing groups.

Leadership is key

In any organization, these characteristics are impressed upon group members by leadership.  Criminal organizations are often more effective at impressing these key characteristics upon group members than government executives or political leaders simply because the link to their daily survival is so much more obvious and immediate.

Whereas, government executives and politicians are often under much less immediate pressure to look to the long-term survival of the larger group in comparison to their obligations to the smaller groups that supported them in their quest for office.

Nipping around the edges of the challenges, development organizations spend millions each year in “capacity building” for staff in developing countries, only to find that staff become immediately ineffectual as leadership restrains the enthusiasm that often follows increases in skills.

Fanning the flames of greater duty in the hearts of leaders is the real challenge and fundamentally important if we are to outcompete criminal organizations.

Brian Pinkowski

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3 thoughts on “The Organic Nature of Corruption

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