Does religion matter in corruption eradication?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I have been wondering why people who perform religious rituals can also be corrupt at the same time. Consider this passage from the renegade whistleblower police general Susno Duaji:
Saya kira solusinya kita perbaiki moral melalui agama seluruh pimpinan negara ini. Sekarang ini kan orang tidak takut lagi sama Tuhan. Mereka tetap Sholat lima waktu tetapi korupsinya jalan terus. Kalau mereka ketemu daging babi muntah muntah, tetapi aspal dan pasir masuk perut.

My translation: "I think the solution is for us to fix the morality of this nation's leader, through religion. Nowadays people are no longer afraid of God. They pray 5 times a day but remains corrupt at the same time. If they meet pork, they will throw up, but asphalt and sand goes to their stomach."

Interesting isn't it? Now my question: why do religious rituals fails in deterring people from being corrupt? In fact, I found that in several cases, some people actually use the hot money from their corruption to finance their religious activities. A Judge used the hot money to finance his umrah (small hajj) and a legislator used the fund to build a mosque.

So I run a quick literature check on Google Scholar, to see whether religion is considered as an important factor in corruption eradication. To my surprise, there is not enough literature seriously considering the role of religion in eradicating corruption. This is a sad fact provided that in some countries, their population invest a lot in religious activities.

There is however, one literature which I found very interesting. Using religion as a proxy of culture, the author weigh the role of religious diversity in a country against its corruption level. The result: countries which are more diverse in terms of its religion are less corrupt.

The author, Martin Paldam, suggested an explanation (p 26):
This is in accordance with the insight of Adam Smith: η= ∂κi /∂hi < 0, so a country with great religious diversity (low h) has less corruption (high κ) than a country with a monopoly religion. It is often argued that religious homogeneity is a great advantage for a country, as religious diversity may lead to political and social instability and even civil war, but as regards corruption diversity is probably an advantage.

This paper still has not answer my curiosity. What I really want to know is why religion fails to influence the cognition of those who engage in corruption. It is likely that the answers should come from behavioral economics.

But the paper remains interesting as it may have implication on public policy. It sends a message that regulating deviant teachings through blasphemy laws may not be efficient, as it infringe the free-market of ideas as advocated by Smith, and at the same time, facilitates corruption.