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Public Corruption as a Phenomenon and Explanations Essay


Corruption could be defined as unethical and dishonest behavior or action with the purpose of the personal gain of a person who is entrusted with the power (Rose-Ackerman, 2013). Unfortunately, corruption is a widespread phenomenon among different societies and institutions. The reported cases of bribes taking in the government, police, judiciary, healthcare, sport, and other areas of social life occur almost every day. It is considered that corruption did not appear at once. It was developing gradually from the small single events to a general problem (Köbis et al., 2016). Thus, to describe the phenomenon of public corruption, four major hypotheses exist the concept of “slippery slope,” the society-at-large hypothesis, the structural or affiliation hypothesis, and the rotten apple hypothesis.

Gratuities as the First Step on the “Slippery Slope”

Gratuities are the commonly accepted practice. This occurrence seems to be innocent: people are grateful for the favor and express their gratitude by gifts. However, according to Köbis et al. (2016), these events are the first steps on the so-called “slippery slope” which leads to the corruption increase and spreading. The general idea of this concept is that people who were entrusted with the power started to ignore their professional duties and act only with the purpose to obtain financial or other benefits.

An example of such a “slippery slope” was cited by Coleman (2004). A café near a police station offers free coffee to a police officer. This officer provides some favors to this café owners, in particular, protects customers from drunken visitors. The situation seems to be understandable and innocent. However, an officer inevitably starts to expect more bonuses for his services: a coffee and a dessert, a free lunch, and, finally, some money as a bribe. In turn, the café expects more and more favors from the officers. Thus, if the process started, it could not be stopped.

Society-at-Large Hypothesis

The society-at-large hypothesis suggests that people in the community are willing to give bribes to the entrusted with the power of people: police officers, politicians, judges, and others. Thus, people with authorities started to expect these actions in response to their professional duties performing. It is a possible way how the phenomenon of bribes appeared. According to Meyer, Steyn, and Gopal (2013), it is important to increase people’s awareness of corruption reasons and consequences. People should understand that a single gift or a bribe is not something innocent but a part of the whole system of corruption. Citizens are responsible for giving bribes. To overcome public corruption, they should stop doing it.

An example, cited above, is also suitable to illustrate the society-at-large hypothesis. The café owner was a person who offered a free coffee to a policeman. Thus, the owner is responsible for corruption, appeared later. In this case, no free services should be provided to a police officer. Café protection is the direct duty of the police officers, and there is no need to encourage them to perform it.

Structural or Affiliation Hypothesis

All social institutions have a strict structure and hierarchy. In this structure, inexperienced officers are taught by older and more experienced colleagues and preceptors. Thus, all the aspects of officer’s work are accumulated, including the attitude to corruption. If a tutor takes bribes, the possibility that a newcomer will do the same significantly increases. A newcomer simply follows the existing behavioral standards of an institution. (Meyer, Steyn, & Gopal, 2013). A police station is a perfect example of structural or affiliation theory. If a new officer comes to the station, other colleagues, older and more experienced officers are the example for the officer’s behavior. If they afford themselves to take a free coffee from a café nearby, a newcomer is likely to do the same and gradually become a part of the corrupted system.

Rotten Apple Hypothesis

Mainly, the rotten apple hypothesis is referred to as corruption and other forms of illegal and unethical behavior of police officers. However, this theory could be applied to describe public corruption in general. According to the hypothesis, in every social institution, several “rotten apples” exist. By a rotten apple, a personality with the lack of morality and the inclination to illegal actions should be considered. These persons usually affect the whole institution negatively and lead to corruption increase. Thus, this hypothesis appeals to the personal qualities of individuals and distinguishes between people instead of considering the system as the whole (Rose-Ackerman, 2013).

As an example of this hypothesis, the mentioned above hypothetic police station could be cited. The rotten apple hypothesis supposed that in the station, not all officers but just several of them take bribes. These particular officers could be characterized as persons with low morality. Thus, they agreed to take free coffee and to provide some services for the gratuities due to their personal qualities. These officers are so-called rotten apples in the station.


Corruption is a widespread social phenomenon. It causes significant damage to national economics, politics, and social structure. It is important to understand the reasons and consequences of corruption, to prevent its spreading. Four main hypotheses were developed to explain the roots of the corruption: the slippery slope concept, the society-at-large, structural or affiliation, and rotten apple hypotheses. These hypotheses discussed the origin and main driving factors of this negative social phenomenon. All four hypotheses postulate different reasons of corruption advent: gratuities, people’s willingness to give bribes, advert preceptor’s influence, and officers with the lack of morality present in the system. It could be concluded that all these factors might be the actual reasons for the public corruption phenomenon appearance.


Coleman, S. (2004). Criminal Justice Ethics, 23(1), 33-44. Web.

Köbis, N. C., van Prooijen, J. W., Righetti, F., & Van Lange, P. A. (2016). The road to bribery and corruption: Slippery slope or steep cliff?. Psychological Science, 28(3), 26 – 49

Meyer, M. E., Steyn, J., & Gopal, N. (2013). Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 36(1), 140-156.Web.

Rose-Ackerman, S. (2013). Corruption: A study in political economy. New York, NY: Academic Press.

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