Fighting corruption with religiosity?

Corruption is “one of the greatest challenges of the contemporary world. It undermines good government, fundamentally distorts public policy, leads to the misallocation of resources, harms the private sector and private sector development and particularly hurts the poor” Mission statement – Transparency International

While there is no universally agreed definition for the concept of corruption, there is more general agreement that it has negative effects at both local and global levels. The World Bank calls corruption ‘the single and greatest obstacle to economic and social development’ and the world’s largest public opinion survey on corruption from Transparency International shows that in 2013, more than one in four people paid a bribe to someone.

Around $1 trillion are paid in bribes every year, while an estimated $2,6 trillion are stolen through corruption. The latter sum is equivalent to more than 5% of the global GDP (Transparency International). According to the United Nations Development Programme, funds lost through corruption are estimated at 10 times the amount of Official Development Assistance (ODA).

But if corruption can have such a negative impact on economic and social development, why is it tolerated by the public? Or is it? And if so, to what extent and under what conditions is it acceptable?

In their paper entitled “Religious loyalty and acceptance of corruption”, Moamen Gouda (Philipps University Marburg) and Sang-Min Park (University of Virginia) investigate the relationship between the religious values of individuals and their attitudes regarding the acceptance of corruption. Based on a dataset collected by the World Values Survey from 139,826 individuals in 78 countries surveyed during a period of 13 years, Gouda and Park argue that people’s attitudes towards corruption and religion are associated. In other words, and as their research findings show, there is a certain level of religiosity below which corruption becomes more easily accepted by individuals.

Individuals with minimal religiosity are generally less constrained by religious norms; specifically, religious norms that are opposed to corruption are less binding on these individuals, resulting in them having a greater propensity to accept corruption‘ argue Gouda and Park. In other words, religiosity – when it exceeds a certain level – reduces people’s acceptance of corruption.

This, in fact, remains a debatable issue given that the research findings are merely based on a survey where people are asked whether or not they accept corruption and whether or not they are religious. However, and as Gouda argues in the video interview we conducted with him, this issue can be considered as an important one which deserves attention given the growing trend in literature related to economics of religion.

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