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Money: Glorified Corruption?
Turn on the television, computer, or that brand-new iPad and one will see how the world glorifies wealth. Today, money is the ultimate goal in society; it is viewed as the “key to success.” While money can be used in many instances for good, more often times a vicious, damaging cycle is the outcome. Money turns into power, which becomes greed for more, and this greed inevitably becomes corruption. Dalton Conley, expert economist, is quoted in a New York Times article as saying, “The real issue is not the money itself, but the power money gives you” (Yabroff 1). Money alone is not harmful, but indeed the end results can be. Examples from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales illustrate how money causes greed, dishonesty, and self-consciousness in society, which leads to inequality and ultimately corrupts the universal class system.
When people with faulty morals have wealth, their ambition leads them to become individuals with power and their greed leads them to crave more, thus beginning a destructive cycle. Their actions set the example for the lower classes, who then believe that they must follow the same pattern in order to become persons of wealth. Recently in China, outside influences have caused the people to shift their focus from cultural and religious icons to the overwhelming addiction known as wealth. In an article written by undergraduate economist student at the University of Staten Island, Ming Xia, this issue is elaborated upon. Beginning at the top, corruption filters all the way down the social ladder. At the bottom, the idea takes hold with those who are desperate for a better way to live. Corruption becomes rampant in the forms of organized crime, prostitution, and other criminal means of cheating to get ahead (Xia 1). These people should be looking at hope for a better future through an honest living, but this can’t happen when the top is filled with greedy, power-hungry individuals spreading their ideals.
According to Executive Director for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, Kirk O. Hanson, Americans see this problem just as frequently as their Chinese counterparts. In the American class system, cheating is viewed as absolutely necessary to “get ahead” in terms of class and wealth (Hanson 1). When the average citizen sees wealthy corporate executives living lavish lifestyles, the question is posed as to how they can enjoy the same benefits. What the average eye cannot see, however, is the oftentimes dishonest methods used to climb the corporate ladder. If these methods are known, there is actually a greater chance of replicating them because no consequences were received by the wealthy. Hanson recognizes that the mindset behind this mimicking revolves around the thought processes, “If they can do it, why can’t I? And also, if everyone else is cheating, there is no hope for me unless I do the same” (2). The world cannot seem to understand the downward spiral in society that is caused by this trend. Consequences are not the same for every person. An entire character of dishonesty can be developed by small lies developing into larger ones. The line becomes blurred between integrity and corruption and soon those upholding the laws and values in society become the ones breaking them. The Summoner from "The Friar's Tale" in The Canterbury Tales is a perfect example. He is a dishonorable church official who forces innocent citizens into giving him money to “repent” of their sins so they don’t have to go and confess before the Pope. He has a network of secret spies who report to him so that he can issue false summons and extort money from these people (Chaucer). Instead of representing justice, as he should, he uses his position as a church leader to become more wealthy and powerful.
When corruption is seen at the political level, even more negative ramifications come about. In Latin American countries, leaders use their wealth for underhanded purposes and manipulate the democracies in their countries to gain more power. These ulterior motives at a high level have led to weak democratic systems throughout the region and a power struggle with no clear end in sight. These politicians lost their focus on the more important events occurring in life and have been blinded by their own ambition, ultimately failing to see the harmful effects they have caused (Berrospi 1).
This concept of political corruption is also seen in the Ghanaian class system. Political activist and journalist, Kwaku Abrefa Damoa, argues that corruption in the government is connected to the uneven distribution of wealth in the country (Damoa 1). Many average, everyday citizens in Ghana are below the world poverty line, while government leaders are basking in their wealth and not taking action to solve these problems. Recently, uprisings and rebellions have occurred in Ghana because of this unbalanced system. Although he acknowledges the natural human tendency towards corruption, Damoa points out that when the wealth of a country is pinpointed to one demographic, it becomes easier for corruption to occur because there is no regulation or checks and balance system (2). Equal opportunities for wealth need to be given to those in every stratum in order for widespread corruption to decrease.
Proper regulations are not currently being put in place and the distance between the wealthy and the destitute is just continuing to grow. Once barriers are formed between classes, the ball never stops rolling. Scientific research has been done in the United Kingdom linking wealth with children’s test scores. The study indicated that higher test scores and success in school were direct results of the family’s income (“Family Wealth…” 1). Money creates the illusion that a child may be brighter than another because of a private school education. With these inaccurate assumptions, the rich become more educated and, therefore, have the opportunities to become wealthier. Likewise, the poor stay uneducated and see little hope to move up in the class system. When a group of people are confined to one level of the class system and see no honest way out of their situation, corrupt ideas begin to form. People become desperate; they want the same opportunities as the privileged. A child’s birth into a wealthy family is simply the luck of the draw. Should this luck interfere with opportunities for the future? Money creates this separation, and ultimately leads to haughtiness and desperation in the upper and lower class, respectively.
Professors of sociology at New York University have been compiling evidence of another, less obvious social effect of money on society. Generally, those of lower status have been found to be embarrassed to discuss their possessions with those of higher status. Corruption on a grand scale has filtered into the lives of everyday people and their conversations. These factors indicate that an attitude of arrogance will continue throughout the generations as this state of mind is passed on. The barriers between classes will continue to grow as the years pass and this will cause more desperate measures to be taken by those wishing to increase their economic status.
In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer has a low opinion of the Catholic Church because of their use of power to extract wealth. The Catholic Church experienced great wealth during the fourteenth century, and they used this wealth to become a great power in the religious world, as well as a manipulative force in the political spectrum of medieval Europe. Extravagant cathedrals were built in large cities while the general population, including some belonging to the Catholic faith, suffered from poverty, disease and famine. The religious figures Chaucer represents all deviate in one way or another from what was traditionally expected of them, showing that he believed the clergy class as a whole to be corrupted from the wealth they received. This exchange of wealth for power can be seen in the political advertising campaigns of today. Excessive spending is put into candidates’ political campaigns to enhance their chances of winning the ballot. Commercials are filmed, campaign trails are mapped, expenses are paid; over time, this practice becomes an absolute necessity to even be in contention for power. When a candidate is focused on the money spent winning the election, and not their political talent, why would they be reliable in office? Political spending must be regulated in order to maintain government integrity; otherwise, a modern-day monopoly of government, similar to the picture Chaucer paints of fourteenth century Catholicism, could be a possibility. Additionally, a large majority of the American public are not even fully aware of the problem, which goes to show that society is not always conscious of the corruption in social classes, but the problem is still prevalent nonetheless (Kirkpatrick 1).
It is absolutely crucial that money falls into the right hands. Money leads to power, and when people abuse this power, corruption follows soon after and can pollute an entire class system. Money directly relates to crime rate, happiness level, and the overall cohesion of a society (Florida 1). When there is less of a divide between classes, those with lower incomes are not going to be inclined to resort to violent means of furthering themselves. In a happiness sense, a general population would be obviously happier with more means to support themselves. And finally, when a society has similar economic status, or the same views about wealth and class status, there will inevitably be cohesion. The entire economic capacity is based on the distribution of wealth within a community (2).
Problems arise when individuals, such as the church officials represented in The Canterbury Tales, use money to become powerful, and then abuse this power to promote themselves, without any thought of the ramifications. This ugly cycle has been present since the beginning of man, so how can it possibly be reversed? There are always ways to improve major problems in society. When one chooses to exemplify honesty, others may be inspired to do the same. When an honest decision is made, it can be compared to tossing a pebble into a pond of still water. Ripples of goodness can come from one choice and affect people in every corner of the world. One movement can entirely change the mindset of future generations regarding the importance of wealth. Appreciation of the simple, everyday material goods is also crucial. Gratitude will always reverse greed and the thought that a simplistic lifestyle can be as fulfilling as any other should be considered. Lastly, giving of substance and volunteering time to the less fortunate will increase harmony by leaps and bounds within communities and promote a general satisfaction and sense of well-being in a population. Corruption will continue to grow and intensify only if these actions are not taken. One person and their example can be the faint footsteps the rest of the world uses to follow in the changing of an entire culture.
Berrospi, Karinna. “Fighting Corruption in the Americas.” Inter-American Dialogue. 15 Sep. 2009. Web. 12 Jan. 2011.
Chaucer, Geoffrey, Thomas Betterton, John Dryden, and Thomas Morell. The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer. London: Round-Court, 1737. Print.
“Family Wealth May Explain Differences in Test Scores in School-Age Children.” ScienceDaily. 26 Mar. 2008. Web. 25 Jan. 2011.
Florida, Richard. “What Makes Countries Corrupt.” The Atlantic. 10 Nov. 2010. Web. 21 Jan. 2011.
Hanson, Kirk O. “A Nation of Cheaters.” Santa Clara University. 19 Jan. 2003. Web. 12 Jan. 2011.
Kirkpatrick, David D. “Does Corporate Money Lead to Political Corruption?” The New York Times. 23 Jan. 2010. Web. 20 Jan. 2011.
Kwaku, Damoa Abrefa. “Corruption Is a Bane of Ghana’s Progress and Development and a Militant against Justice.” Modern Ghana. 18 Oct. 2010. Web. 25 Jan. 2011.
Xia, Ming. “Corruption and Organized Crime.” The New York Times. 2006. Web. 20 Jan. 2011.
Yabroff, Jennie. “Money Changes Everything.“ The New York Times. 7 May 2006. Web. 8 Jan. 2011