Professor Sees Corruption Vital To City Government Functioning
Notes Need for Central Authority
Corruption is vital to the functioning of our municipal governments, Edward C. Banfield, professor of Government, said last night.
Speaking on "Private Vice and Public Virtue in Urban Politics," Banfield stated that "the most striking characteristic of political systems in cities is the extreme decentralization of formal authority." It is this "myriad of separate authorities" that creates the essential problem for an official--gathering together enough authority to carry out his job.
Thus the "difficulty is that political systems require people to act immorally," Banfield said. Since no one has enough authority to do anything, officials are forced to offer "intervening motives and inducements" to acquire the needed authority.
The means of overcoming the initial distribution of formal authority vary. Salesmanship and logrolling are predominant today and cost the taxpayers much more than the outright crookedness of politicians. This fact, Banfield warned, should not lead us to ignore the moral significance of bribery. Bribery involves the corruption of the characters of individuals, erodes away their respect for values, and thereby undermines the cohesive principle of society.
"Reasonable discussion" is the ideal way for officials to collaborate. But Banfield posed this question: "How do you govern a body in which everybody is honest, principled, and of different opinions." His solution is to "choose the least among evils" which lies somewhere between centralization and bribery. Our city officials do engage in "reasonable discussion." Expediency, however, apparently takes precedence over complete honesty.
Honorable, Vulgar Bribery
There is no clear-cut line between bribery which is motivated by noble or public purposes and vulgar bribery. This fact, says Banfield, is what leads to the American public's "cynical view of the morality of politicans."