A recent survey by researchers at Chapman University reveals that the #1 fear of Americans is corruption of government officials. A random sampling of 1541 adults weighed in on their level of fear for 88 different choices. Corruption of government officials (at 58%) ranked at the pinnacle, ahead of cyber-terrorism (44.8%), corporate tracking of personal information (44.6%), terrorist attacks (44.4%), government tracking of personal information (41.4%), bio-warfare (40.9%), identity theft (39.6%), economic collapse (39.2%), running out of money in the future (37.4%), credit card fraud (36.9%)
The findings were certainly not shocking. A Gallop poll last month concluded that 75% of Americans believe corruption is widespread in government (up from 66% percent in 2009).
While a large percentage of citizens agree that government is corrupt, there are different reasons for the belief. Many believe governments are inherently corrupt no matter the era, location, officials or any other variable. Government is the enemy, something distinctly apart from its citizens. It can never do much good, with the possible exception of providing “defense”/“security” — but even then only necessary to defeat external threats.
Government is incapable, according to this ideology, of providing positive results, of serving the common good, of addressing collective needs, of supplying basic rules, laws and regulations that are fair, just and/or which promote freedom or liberty.
But that’s not the only perspective. Many believe government is meant to be an extension of us, We the People — intended to not dictate and control, but be subordinate to our demands. While no institution is or will ever be perfect, none can ultimately provide real democracy and no public official is completely representative of his/her constituents, our governments (from the local to the national — including executives, legislatures and judges) are certainly worth having — if for no other reason than these public structures serve as a counterweight to ever-growing power of private structures. These specifically are for profit corporations.
This perspective asserts the reason for a major part of government corruption is that private/corporate institutions have become so powerful that they have profoundly influenced public/government institutions. This influence has resulted in the perversion of laws, rules and regulations (i.e. spending, tax and monetary policies, as well as regulations and court decisions) that unduly favor corporations and the super wealthy — the 2 largest entities contributing/investing in political campaigns.
Government corruption, therefore, is a result of government capture — to benefit a few at the expense of the many.
The increasing belief that governments are corrupt coincides with the increasing political influence of corporations and the super wealthy. The solution is not per se less government (though there are certainly examples where government interference has became antidemocratic). It’s reducing the ability of corporations and the super wealthy to influence governments.
There is no one antidote to reduce the influence of the super wealthy and corporations. Ending corporate personhood and money as speech via a constitutional amendment, however, is a pretty decent start.