Political Corruption

(Picture via The Sun-Times News Group)

“The pathetic behavior of the Illinois governor – his brazen attempt to sell a Senate seat – raises the larger question of power and corruption, and whether having a position of power reliably leads to unethical behavior. (My first thought, upon hearing that Blagojevich had been recorded by the Feds, was that even the lowliest corner boys on the Barksdale crew were smart enough to not say incriminating stuff over the phone.) Here’s some suggestive evidence:

Researchers led by the psychologist Dacher Keltner took groups of three ordinary volunteers and randomly put one of them in charge. Each trio had a half-hour to work through a boring social survey. Then a researcher came in and left a plateful of precisely five cookies. Care to guess which volunteer typically grabbed an extra cookie? The volunteer who had randomly been assigned the power role was also more likely to eat it with his mouth open, spew crumbs on partners and get cookie detritus on his face and on the table.

Why does feeling a sense of power change our behavior? Part of the problem is that power is isolating. Our sense of fairness is innate, but it’s also fragile. As the Times notes:

Mr. Blagojevich had grown increasingly isolated in recent years, particularly from his own state’s Legislature and even from his father-in-law, Dick Mell, a powerful longtime Chicago alderman who showed him the political ropes as a younger man.The governor was rarely seen around his offices in Chicago and Springfield, preferring instead to spend time at home on the North Side.

“I believe he became a prisoner of his own home,” Mr. Jacobs said.”

(via The Frontal Cortex)

(“Rat sign vanishes from Blagojevich’s alley” via Chicago Breaking News)


  1. TiamatsVision: “Our sense of fairness is innate, but it’s also fragile.”

    What is natural and what is moral are not the same.

  2. Trevor : this was copied and pasted from the article. No personal commentary here.

    But you make a good point.

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