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How to prevent political corruption - Stephanie Honchell Smith

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Corruption is often defined as misuse of a position of power for personal gain. And while corruption in politics is nothing new, it isn’t limited to the political sphere; it can happen in schools, sports, businesses, or religious institutions. So, what exactly is corruption, and what can we do to combat it? Stephanie Honchell Smith explores the importance of transparency in building public trust.

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Philosophers have written about corruption and its role in governing through thousands of years. Plato, born in the 5th century BCE, wrote that most people were not capable of the rectitude or intellectual fortitude required to avoid corruption, and thus preferred rule by philosopher-kings over democracy. Machiavelli famously argued in The Prince, a political treatise, that rulers must have a degree of ruthlessness that would be unwelcome for the average citizen in order to govern well. While these philosophers focused on the morality of rulers, they were also concerned with the "corrosion of public virtues." In other words, they worried that corruption in leadership and corruption in the citizenry would go hand in hand.

As discussed in the video, corruption in government and institutions can lead to an erosion of public trust. When Melbourne's city government promised to "deep clean" their commuter trains in order to protect travelers from the risk of Covid-19, the IBAC found that their claims were unfounded. Not only did the government know they were not protecting commuters in this way, they continued to use public funds to do the useless work, paying bribes to keep the truth a secret. Scandals like these make citizens less likely to trust their government, but also less likely to believe that precautionary measures to protect others are effective at all.

Those more interested in reading further on corruption, or who have a specific country in mind may want to search on the corruption perception index, or CPI, on the Transparency International website. This index measures countries and territories around the world by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Stephanie Honchell Smith
  • Director Jeff Le Bars, Jet Propulsion
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Composer Salil Bhayani
  • Sound Designer Amanda P.H. Bennett
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Produced by Abdallah Ewis
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Editorial Producer Shannon Odell
  • Fact-Checker Charles Wallace

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