Decay of Social Agreements


Disagreement about the purpose of streets and sidewalks.
Disagreement about the purpose of streets and sidewalks.

Most corruption is well beyond “simple” violations of the law.  Corruption is the action of process of decay of something.  Criminal forms of corruption are violations of the written laws.

Other forms of corruption erode away the foundations of the social agreements we make about how society should function.  For example, in the photo above, there are cars parked all over the sidewalks, and people are forced to walk in the streets.  This happens in many countries and cities around the world and creates a tsunami of small obstacles for pubic policy makers that are trying to build economies.

The basic social agreement in the photo above is that “streets are for cars” and “sidewalks are for people.”

Decay of this agreement occurs when the auto owner chooses to break this agreement and the first policeman chooses to ignore the problem.

This is not a very serous matter.  Mostly a nuisance, actually.  The excuses, all very reasonable, are that there is no place for cars to park.  Of course, then failure to penalize the auto owners for traffic safety matters removes pressure from others in government from doing their jobs – managing traffic flow in the city.

In turn, a hands-off approach to managing traffic flow affects the speed of business flow. On and on it goes slowly eroding people’s expectations that things can and should be . . . better.

Unwillingness to enforce the lower level “rule of law” removes the pressure from others creates a basis for ignoring more serious Rule of Law matters.

In smaller communities and nations its very difficult for compatriots to enforce the “small” laws on each other.  Smaller communities have to rely on each other in more obvious ways for mutual survival. This takes precedence over “traffic violations,” for example.

On the other hand, public policy makers need reliable social agreements as the foundation for their efforts to build societies and nations.  As they address the larger scale issues, sometimes these “little matters” work against their efforts to help a society in subtle ways.  Even the best designed policies may appear to struggle, weighed down by neglect.

These issues require more than the “letter of the law” to resolve, and require a shift in community thinking about the importance of social agreements.

Anti-Corruption is about changing people’s minds to strengthen the foundations upon which their societies are built.

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