Professor of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University
- The causes of crime and corruption can be grouped into four categories, which rely on different assumptions about the origins of the conduct.
- Ethical explanations see crime as a moral failure in decision making, with external factors pushing individuals to act criminally and place their own self-interest above the interests of others.
- Structural explanations emphasize the role of broader systemic factors that create conditions and opportunities for corruption to flourish.
- Classical explanations see crime as the result of a free-will decision to make a criminal choice and are based on the assumption that people always act to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.
- Positive explanations consider the internal or external influences on individuals as the cause of criminal or corrupt behavior.
In the article, “Focusing Anti-Corruption Efforts More Effectively: An Empirical Look at Offender Motivation—Positive, Classical, Structural, and Ethical Approaches,” Albanese and Artello consider corruption—the abuse of public office or entrusted power for private gain—and the motivations behind it. Based on interviews with 72 former investigators, prosecutors, community stakeholders, and individuals with first-hand experience in corrupt activities, as well as analyses of court documents, the authors looked at hundreds of cases to learn more about why people engage in corrupt activities. They classify motivations into four categories—ethical (38% of instances), structural (28%), classical (19%), and positive (15%)—and note that, rather than a general explanation of corruption, each of these explanations helps explain corruption under varying circumstances. The authors suggest that approaches to prevention must recognize this variability rather than focusing on limited, specific methods. They conclude by recommending ways to reduce the underlying behaviors that lead to corruption, including reducing opportunities to engage in corruption, as well as improving the recruitment, training, and supervision of public officials.