Thursday, March 22, 2012

Types of Political Corruption

In his recent book Republic, Lost, Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Law Professor, discusses four types of political corruption: quid pro quo, venal, dependency, and systematic. These types of corruption are defined as follows:

Quid pro quo: Latin. 'what for what' or 'something for something.' The concept of getting something of value in return for giving something of value. For a contract to be binding, it usually must involve the exchange of something of value (Lectric Law Library).

Quid pro quo corruption example:

The Prime Minister rejects regulating carbon emissions, and the oil and gas sector gives voluntarily the Prime Minister $200,000 in undisclosed cash.

Venal: 1. open to bribery; mercenary. Capable of betraying honor, duty, or scruples for a price; corruptible.

2. Marked by corrupt dealings, especially bribery: a venal administration.

3. Obtainable for a price (Free Dictionary).

Venal corruption example:

The crusading journalist attempted to fight corruption in government by casting light on venal lawmakers and the special interests that whispered in their ears (Merriam-Webster).

Dependency corruption refers to politicians who are dependent on major donors not only to be elected, but to live a lifestyle attendant with being an elected official (Dr. Lawrence Lessig).

Dependency corruption example:

The Member of Parliament, who lives an upper class lifestyle, is attuned to the interests of the lobbyists, while being oblivious to the real concerns of her constituents.

Systematic corruption refers to corruption which is an integrated and essential aspect of the economic, social and political system (Basil Institute of Governance), and corruption in the very processes of economic, social and political systems (Foundation for Democratic Advancement).

Systematic corruption example:

Over the last several decades, the majority of Members of Parliament have passed federal election laws which favor profoundly large, established political parties.

The Congress amended laws so that the gas sector is excluded from the Air and Water Protection Acts, and despite serious health concerns over the gas extraction process.

As may be noted, there is overlap between the four types of corruption.


  1. In which countries is the corruption problem unfixable?

  2. Just to clarify, were all these examples hypothetical?

  3. According to Lessig, the venal, dependency, and systematic corruption in the US federal political system will require a revolution to overcome. (As he noted, the reforms are relatively simple; the profound difficulty is getting those corrupted to implement them.)

    It may be argued that nothing is unfixable in terms of dealing with it in one form or another.

    The examples of the definitions are mostly hypothical though it is possible they may correlate to reality. The example about the US Congress favoring the gas sector at the expense of public health is fact. The ammendments occurred in 2005. See the recent FDA blog post on Gasland for more information:


Thank you for sharing your perspective.