Wednesday 6 June 2012

What to do about corrupt institutions


(By corruption I mean an institution or person performing a function other than that which it ostensibly exists to perform. Taking bribes to do what the briber wants, rather than what ostensibly ought to be done, is an obvious example. But most modern corruption comes from the the State - and is coercive: institutions that ostensibly exist to educate, or heal, or administer justice are instead made by the State to perform political functions. So in the Soviet Union all powerful institutions were corrupt: they mostly performed political functions instead of their ostensible functions: hence very little got done in terms of, say, actual growing of food. The modern situation increasingly resembles that.)


What to do about corruption? Possibilities include reform, destroy and renew.



The first decision is whether the institution is, on the whole, Good or bad; necessary or harmful.

Most modern institutions are, on the whole, evil and/ or harmful - the United Nations or the European Union, for example. So these should be destroyed, if possible. Any necessary functions are simply re-allocated to other institutions.

Obviously, it is exceptionally difficult to destroy evil and harmful institutions, because if these were not serving powerful interests then they would not still be existing.

Indeed, as a rule, the more evil and more harmful institutions are and yet existing, the more viciously and dishonestly they will be defended.



Reform doesn't work.

By the time things have reached the state that an institution can be described as corrupt, then corrupt is what it is.

Especially, large modern institutions cannot be reformed - they never have been reformed.

Let's just say reform is all-but impossible for institutions of any size or complexity or duration. Of course you can make changes and claim that these are refroms, but I am talking about the real world: after 'reform' is the institutions actually better at performing its ostensible function?

Shoving extra resources at a corrupt institution (in hope of reforming it) will strengthen its corruption, rather than reforming it. Entrenched and strengthened corruption has been the consequence of attempts to reform the state education system, the health services, and so on.

(Possible counter-examples of apparently successful reform will be seen to fall under the renew category. For a technical argument from systems theory proving the impossibility of reforming complex organizations - see



But if an institutions does valuable work, then that work must be continued.

The answer is renew: to set up a new institution - with new people - alongside; and as soon as it is functioning, than transfer the function (and also transfer the minority of honest and competent people).

Don't reform a corrupt government - renew it.


So, if there is a corrupt but necessary office or school. (Let's assume it can't be destroyed - although most corrupt offices and schools can and should be destroyed.)

What you must not do is try to reform the corrupt institutions while maintaining its functionality.

You should not try to repair the ship while it is still at sea. Repair is not-impossible in principle - but in practice a difficult repair cannot ever be done by a corrupt crew (who do not actually want to repair the ship).


Renew, don't reform.

Instead of trying to change to old corrupt office or school, you set-up a new and non-corrupt office or school next door/ nearby; with a new Head, who is in charge of a (mostly) new leadership team and with (mostly) new staff.

Then close-down the corrupt office or school.

(Any decent staff from the old office or school - if they can be identified by the Head of the new office or school can then be transferred to the new school.)


The take-home message is that when an institutions function is necessary or desirable yet that institutions is corrupt - then it should be renewed and not 'reformed'.


(Our society is corrupt, and it cannot be reformed - but only renewed. The Head and leaders must be replaced. Either 1. by the miracle (and it would be a miracle - which is not to say it is impossible) of them being 'born again' and becoming different people; or 2. by physically being replaced with other personnel. If no new and non-corrupt personnel are available from within the institution, then they would have to come from outside it - from 'abroad'.)



JP said...

If the cause of the corruption is political, then the cure must also be political.

To destroy a corrupt institution without attacking the political cause of the corruption is pointless, because the replacement institution will also be corrupt. The same problem applies to any effort at reform or renewal. A flourishing political Left will infect any replacement or reformed institution, if it permits replacement or reform to occur at all.

In short, we cannot just attack the symptom (corrupt institutions) we must primarily attack the disease (the political Left). Cure the disease first and then purge the institutions.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - in an ultimate sense, yes - but you are close to saying that nothing can change unless everything changes, which means nothing can change. There is a middle ground, and some parts of society are more politically autonomous than others.

For example, some (corrupt) schools are in a state of constant chaos and indiscipline - while others are not.

Something *can* be done about chaotic indisciplined schools, and that is 1. destruction: to close them down and allocate their good staff and decent pupils elsewhere; or 2. build another school nearby, with a new Head who appoints a new staff (a few of which may come from the corrupt school).

But corrupt institutions *must* be BROKEN UP.

What cannot be done is what is usually attempted - to provide extra 'support' (advice, resources, funding) to the bad/ corrupt school (same Head, same staff, same pupils) and 'turn it around'.


In summary, it is the level of corruption that matters. When the system is corrupt, then the system must be renewed - so if it is the whole education system that is corrupt then that is what must be renewed - but if it is just a few schools, then they can renewed without renewing the whole system.

This also sets a limit to what can be done at a small scale.

But I certainly agree with you that since the powerful institutions of our society are all dominated by the political left, our society as a whole cannot be reformed - it could only be destroyed or renewed.

The Crow said...

Show me an institution that is not corrupt, and I will show you what an astonished man looks like.
From my Pentecostal days, I remember a phrase, often used: "In the world, but not of it."
Corrupt institutions are a fact of modern life.
Accept it, while making some attempt not to contribute to the corruption.
Every (moral) man is an island.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - come come! Some institutions are basically non-corrupt and others corrupt; indeed, indeed, I have lived through the process of corruption of several.

Are you saying it makes no difference? Or that there is no difference between the level of corruption in Pakistan or Nigeria versus New Zealand or Iceland?

The Crow said...

Well, I concede there is a matter of degree, but probably all institutions are corrupt, in that once there is more than one person involved, co-operation is essential. How often have you run into co-operation lately? Isn't it always a downward compromise?

Civilization is dependent upon people being able, and willing, to co-operate. That is one prime reason we see the mess things are in: the concept itself is fast vanishing.

Any ideas on co-operation-encouragement are welcomed.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - the degree of cooperation in modern society is remarkable considering that modern ideology gives no reason to cooperate except when it is immediately expedient; and when the bulk (and the 'best') of modern culture (media, advertising, art, movies, fiction, plays) are soft sell (sometimes hard sell) propaganda for selfish hedonism.

dearieme said...

Dissolution of the

Bruce Charlton said...

@dearieme - I did originally intend to use this as an example, but it got too complicated.

EVEN IF the monasteries of Henry VIII era really were iredeemably corrupt (which I think is false) - then they should have been replaced with new monasteries.

To destroy them was catastrophic in so many ways - in a spiritual/ cultural sense England never recovered from this - but even in secualr terms it took scores or even hundreds of years for health care, education, music and crafts to recover.

(See RW Chambers book on Thomas More - English history written by a great philologist/ scholar from a Roman Catholic perspective. It was only because Chambers withdrew his application after shortlisting that Tolkien became Oxford Prof. of Anglo Saxon so young and with so little published work. RWC stayed at his beloved UCL.)