A reader’s thoughts on the ‘Psychology of corruption’ | Inquirer Business

A reader’s thoughts on the ‘Psychology of corruption’

A reader, Ron (not his real name), who runs a family business, is troubled because his son prefers to work in a country, like New Zealand, with less perceived corruption. The son does not want to stay here, and the family cannot dissuade him from leaving when he can.

Ron asked for my take on the reasons for corruption, so last week I discussed experiments done by Duke University psychology and behavioral economics professor Dan Ariely on the matter. In the Scientific American article “Contagious Dishonesty,” Ariely and his colleagues concluded that “social norms and legal enforcement are key factors in shaping ethical behavior.”


Another reader, Pacholo Garcia, replied with thoughtful and sensible suggestions to help Ron:

I am a regular reader of your column. I always enjoy the articles you write because I also belong to a family business (I am part of the second generation), so I am always looking for tips and advice on how to continue making it a successful one for my generation as well as for the next.


I read your article on corruption and how Ron’s son wants to migrate because of it. Ron would prefer to have him join their family business but that there was not much they could do.

I tend to agree that corruption is quite endemic here. Ariely, as mentioned in your column, also provides examples on how it appears to be part of human behavior (to some extent) to easily cave in to corrupt practices.

In a country like ours where “pa-merienda” (snack money) is both a normal cultural practice as well as a form of bribery, it becomes hard to decide whether it is an endearing Pinoy trait or a corrupt practice since it all depends on the intention of the persons involved.

Back to the issue of Ron’s son wanting to leave. Since it will be hard to defend corruption, perhaps Ron should try a different approach: Help his son compare the pros and cons of his decision.

Is corruption affecting his daily life so much that he is willing to abandon his family, his friends and his family business in order to escape this? Is it guaranteed that wherever he moves to will not have its own form of corrupt practices? Will leading an uncorrupted life here make it impossible for him to get ahead in life? Is there nothing he can do to help our country become a wee bit less corrupt by him helping in his own little way rather than abandoning his country?

There are a ton of other questions that Ron’s family can have the son contemplate and answer so that he can see things from a wider perspective rather than focusing on a single view.

A family business is a blessing not many families have. Starting one is no easy feat so it would be a shame to lose a potential family member due to external forces. But if moving abroad (even for a little while) might help Ron’s son see things in a different light, then that might also be an option.


My reply

Thank you, Pacholo, and I wish you well in your family business. Let us end with this prayer recited by bishops in Kenya in their anticorruption crusade in 2019:

“Father in heaven, You provide for your creatures, to live as you have always willed. You blessed our country with rich human and natural resources to be used in honor and glory and for the wellbeing of everyone. We are deeply sorrowful for the wrong use of your gifts and blessings through the act of corruption, thus, many of our people are hungry, sick, homeless and displaced, ignorant and defenseless. Father, You alone can heal us of this sickness which leads to death.

“We humbly beg you, touch our lives and those of our leaders so that we may realize the evil of corruption and work hard to eliminate it. For those who acquired anything through corrupt means, give them courage to make restitution and come back to you. Raise up for us God-fearing citizens and leaders who care for us and who will lead us in the path of peace, justice, prosperity, progress and above all, love.”

Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” via Lazada and the ebook version on Amazon, Google Books and Apple Books. Contact the author at [email protected]

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