A lot of people right now are wondering why corruption seems to be getting worse. In the New York Times last week, Eduardo Porter asked, 'Have corporations lost whatever ethical compass they once had? Or does it just look that way because we are paying more attention than we used to?'
More than 60% of the people in the United States, the U.K., Germany, Canada, France, and Norway think corruption has increased during the past three years, according to TI's Global Corruption Barometer.
In Mexico, Israel, Greece, India, Spain, and even New Zealand, more than 70% think corruption has grown worse.
But has it?
The human heart doesn't change from year to year, or generation to generation. But different things do catch our eye at different times.
It was the Clinton Administration that first invited NGOs to speak for victims of graft. That drew new attention to the problem.
Spreading anti-corruption laws, thanks mainly to the OECD's ten-year push, brought graft and kleptocracy further into the spotlight. So did increased enforcement of the FCPA after 9/11.
And the global financial meltdown that started in '07 and continues today revealed a sickening integrity gap from Wall Street to Main Street. The newly exposed corruption and the financial chaos it spawned frightened everyone.
Fear drives the perception of more graft, according to Bertrand de Speville, who headed Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption.
'A sluggish economy or an economy in recession,' he told a gathering in Singapore in 2009,' is widely believed to bring about an increase in crimes of dishonesty, particularly fraud and corruption. Whether there
actually is an increase is uncertain. What is certain is an increase in reports of fraud and corruption at such times. The increase in reports does not necessarily reflect an increase in corrupt activity – it may be due only to increased fears about the economic climate.'
No one can say for sure whether there's more corruption now than five or ten years ago. But what's important is the belief that there is.
In the big and not-so-big democracies, voters today are afraid growing graft threatens the future for themselves and their children. They're demanding change. Politicians who respond to that demand will be elected; those who don't will be relieved of duty.
The net result will be more enforcement worldwide.