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Power + Money = Corruption


Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Great men are almost always bad men.

Lord Acton, letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, Apr. 3, 1887

Power and Money change the brain in ways that may turn people into monsters.

The neoliberal focus on economics has promoted a business mindset in politicians at all levels. Together with the effects of power it has brutalised society in the name of the free market.


Power boosts sex drive and makes men more attractive to women. This has been known ever Zeus’s seductions and rapes were written down and rape is often associated with power rather than lust.

Power swells the head and reduces empathy. Sometimes this is necessary: leaders can’t worry about individuals and any action they take has winners and losers. It’s easy to decide to help those who matter and ensure that the rest continue not mattering. It’s equally easy to convincing themselves what is best for the leader is best for everyone.

Power changes the wielder as the malleable brain adapts, sometimes fast, sometimes slowly. Keeping a moral compass is harder as power increases. The powerful forget how to read other people’s feelings and may stop seeing those in their power as human.

Abuse of Power

Even small amounts of power corrupt. In the Stanford Prison experiment student volunteers were assigned roles in a fake prison, either as guards or prisoners: the “guards” began abusing the prisoners.

Similarly some Police, Civil Servants, Immigration Officials and others will abuse their power. This is often seen as the proverbial bad apple in the barrel but can be more like poisoned ground creating poisoned trees that create or attract bad apples.

Unchecked power leads to unbalanced behaviour. Those in power may show the “Right Man/Woman” syndrome and decide to be out of control, seeing questioning of their actions as an attack justifying extreme responses. Their judgement suffers and their levels of psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism soar.

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Power is addictive

The leader trying to cling on to power when well past their sell by date is not uncommon. In Ancient Rome dictators given supreme power to handle a crisis were executed if they refused to surrender power once the crisis was over. Today they would probably be removed by large men in white coats. In 2020 President Trump of the USA peacefully surrendered power despite alleging the election that removed him had been rigged. This is probably progress.


The studies reported here apply to populations, not individuals so each individual must be considered separately. Feel free to say you are not like that.

A study reported in Time magazine showed people lied and cheated more to get extra cash if they were first told to think about money. They cheated more even in a game rigged to reward them whether or not they played by the rules.

Separate tests to separate greed from “just doing business” showed that a business mindset was more closely linked to unethical behaviour than feelings relating to power, profit or self interest: small unnoticed money reminders could produce lying cheating and stealing within minutes by narrowing the subject's world view to a cost-benefit analysis.

Another study indicated that the richer we get the more likely we are to behave unethically. Upper class individuals tended, far more than lower class individuals, to make unethical decisions, take valued goods from others, lie in negotiations, cheat to win a prize and endorse unethical behaviour at work. Unethical behaviour, uncorrelated with political affiliations. was seen in the laboratory and in realistic settings

Upper class individuals are also less aware of others, worse at identifying other people’s emotions and are less generous and altruistic. The researchers concluded part of the reason for this was a “greed is good” attitude. Other reasons included the relative isolation of upper class individuals from other classes and being able to avoid or minimise the adverse consequences of unethical behaviour. They also speculated that a layman's knowledge of mainstream economics, which popularly emphasises self interest may lead some upper class people to view greed as good.

Money and Power Together

Money and power change people dramatically and populations for the worse. Power wielders must become less empathetic to be effective but some take this too far.

A business mindset, say when considering tax legislation, the temptations power brings and the way power attracts money will, together, lead all but the strongest policy makers to justify their self interest as the national interest. It also helps explain why actions the public consider borderline corruption, such as taking party donations from Big Business seem, in the UK at least, more prevalent than simple bribe taking: It is just doing business on behalf of the party.

The focus on economics since the 70s has promoted a business mindset in politicians at all levels. The increase in corruption and the brutalisation of society in the name of neoliberalism and the free market has been a consequence of this.


AlexK2009 (author) from Edinburgh, Scotland on October 08, 2021:

Thank you Umesh. It's been like this for millennia and the situation ( and people) are unlikely to change

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on October 07, 2021:

Well expressed.

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