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License to Corruption

Research and data can throw rather interesting theories and a recent one by Uma Karmakar, a Harvard Professor and Bryan Bollinger of Fuqua threw up an interesting argument.
Their research drew a correlation that shoppers who brought their own bags to recycle would tend to buy more organic versions of food. One green action led to another. But the same people were most likely to buy ice cream, chips candy bars and cookies. These shoppers weren’t replacing green items with junk. They were just adding junk to the cart.
Uma’s research says:
You do good and you give yourself a cookie
If I behave well in one situation, I give myself license to misbehave in another.
I get a diet coke – I get myself a hamburger.
If I have carried my recyclable bag, I have helped the environment – so I have earned the icecream.
In consumer psychology ‘licensing is the key’
License to indulge or licence to be corrupt
Corruption isn’t only in financial parlance. Corruption is a simple word that means questionable intent wherein individuals don’t do what they are supposed to do or they do what they aren’t supposed to do.
‘Corruption in my most simplified connotation is diluted intent’
A simplified parallel can be drawn between the research above and over zealous and tom tomming ceos and executives in positions of authority and also between politicians who pretend to be paragons of virtue. And if you look around you there will be ample to locate.
People who are loud and brash and are over confident of their performance and cannot stop tom tomming are the people that boards and top leaders must watch out for. As corporations grow, more than often we would come across executives who are always on the right side of everything, who would always be too good to be true, whose integrity would always be seemingly unquestionable, who would always get loud in tricky situations to create a facade of invincibility. These could be the very people who would have hidden traits of Jeffery Skilling of Enron, Martha Stewart or Carly Fiorina who would put their businesses and its reputation in harm’s way.
Politicians aren’t terribly different either. The most corrupt politicians are the ones who indulge maximum in public service. India has a huge concept of farm and gas subsidies paid by the combination of fiscal deficit and tax payers money. But a fraction reaches the end user and yet the powers that be seldom show a real intent to weed out this structural flaw in public distribution because this money in some form or the other finds its way back into the politicians personal coffer.
The more money is allocated for infrastructure, the more we hear of people vanishing in open gutters during rains in India, the farmer suicides is now a global debate and yet no serious intent has been shown by the polity – for how else, but through corruption, would the elections be financed in India which is really the root cause and forms the bedrock of all corruption.
Bertrand Russel rightly quipped – Fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves and wiser people so full of doubts.

And next time be on a watch when someone tries to take the recycling of grocery bags to a level of obsession or talks too loud about ones virtues of honesty and righteousness.

12 thoughts on “License to Corruption”

  1. Few can weave a strong thread of expression into a raiment so delicate. A perfect marriage of facts and observations. Deduced to perfection. Tugged on my strings of perspective.
    Great read, Manu!

  2. Good article Manu. Like the chain of thought. In the seemingly juggernaut of a problem on Corruption, how does one even begin to think of tackling it? I think that not the future, but the current generation has to start dealing with it. Lead the way with will and determination, even if the skill is lacking or needs honing. The tipping point will eventually come. Otherwise we are communicating to the future generation, 'chalta hai'. And it will never get resolved.

  3. You have this great ability of observing common events around us And with ease draw an anology with an important issue bringing it to the forefront.
    I second every word written here (barring the point abt innocent shoppers splurging into their icecream) and see some examples from the Indian perspective- sahara! How boisterous company was putting strange but confident statements on the centrepage and look what has happened. Another example in the making – Mallaya from Kingfisher !

    I love your writing and am sure it would be even more Engaging intellectually to speak to you. Pls continue writing such good pieces.

    BTW I order all my grocery online 🙂

  4. I guess Manu at the end it comes to how ethical & Morally strong a person is. I guess in another 10-15 years, companies with sound Ethical values would only survive (Fingers crossed) Hope Lord Krishna will born again but this time inside us, so that the required change would come from within us.

  5. After reading the blog, I feel I am corrupt by the new definition attributed to corruption by the author as I am highly self confident and loud in airing my thoughts. I always felt self confidence comes with a person's knowledge on a subject and he or she shall not be worried about airing their thoughts whether it is loud or vociferous. Also, I carry my own bags for shopping. As such, I am more so corrupt 🙂

  6. The biggest scams are not done by the fools nor fanatics……rather they are all done by the so called "wise" men. They may have doubts but they hide them briliantly thru effective brand building or in other words "magic"…………………"The three stages of magic are:

    First, there is the setup, or the "Pledge," where the magician shows the audience something that appears ordinary but is probably not, making use of misdirection (what I refer to as personal brand building)

    Next is the performance, or the "Turn," where the magician makes the ordinary act extraordinary (reinforces the key messages of their personal brand)

    Lastly, there is the "Prestige," where the effect of the illusion is produced. There are "twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance and you see something shocking you've never seen before." And before you know it, you have swallowed it hook, line and sinker!

  7. Very well written Manu. Like the way you correlated the corruption aspect with a loud and brash corporate leaders thought process. Look forward to reading more of your thoughts.- Vipul Sharma

  8. It has always been an intriguing fact to see people forming 'alliances to corrupt' while the systems are designed to forge 'alliance to correct,' and the fall from great to bad and to worse (Enron to Sathyam to Leiberman to Sahara) has always been studied one after other yet lessons never beyond academic capture!

    Corruption causes internal chaos in a person – white not remaining white enough – a misalignment of the original human values and principles and its incongruence in effect creating a flee-market scenario in ones internal organization; it creates a noise in our head, and it remains there; the noise becomes the frame of reference in all engagements and there comes the loudness of conversation rising out of not the desperate need to be heard – as in a victim state – but out of desperate attempt to suppress the corrupt noise in the head from being heard in the conversation; there is a clash of swords between heart and mind, initially, gradually developing to a synchronized sound of a harmonious heart and mind, knee deep in the momentary glory of the booty from the corrupt act, disillusioned by its perceived immortality!!!

    The incentives we pay ourselves are absolutely true. We all wait for that Sunday morning to sleep an hour late – whether we sleep or not – because we've been good enough to wake up early all the other days. This natural incentive system gets replicated in all the avenues of our life, the manner of repayment and the value of incentive gets realigned…it's an ice cream for a shopping bag, a piece of real estate for a better 'contribution.' Different sizes of crayon boxes!!!

    Loved your writing, Manu. It's rich in content, simple in structure. Loved the response of 'anonymous' too.


  9. Well written yet again Manu. A believer in Karma, where a good act cannot negate a bad one and vice versa, would say that a good act is a good act and a bad act is a bad act. One has no bearing on the other. Each must be given its own merit and its own criticism. It's when we start evaluating one with bearing on the other is when we feel enamoured and/or betrayed. At the same time the belief that the consequences of corrupt acts can bribed away by doing good misleads people and increases such acts. If only everyone believed more in the philosophy there might be less corrupt acts as well as less cynicism towards good acts.

  10. I only partly agree with your argument. While the Diet coke – Hamburger analogy makes sense, and you really cannot make an unjustifiable argument against corruption & politics (at least in the Indian context), where I find flaw in the article is applying this in the corporate scenario. Just because someone is brash about their beliefs & confident in their judgement, does not a Skillet make. You are actually contradicting a previous post of yours where you were promoting 'entrepreneurship' & 'playing your gut', against reasoned out analyses!

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