What’s wrong with a bit of corruption?

One bit of news over the last few days has been another bunch of Fifa officials being arrested for corruption. You may, of course, be tempted to shrug your shoulders, particularly if you don’t like football much. Maybe if you like it, you may have already got corruption fatigue in light of all the high-profile (and long overdue) arrests thus far.

It might be worth thinking about what exactly is wrong with corruption? What even is corruption? Casting it in an economic light, it’s a mis-allocation of resources, where the means of re-allocation has a criminal element to it.

Thinking even more strongly in economic terms, corruption is rent seeking behaviour. That is, it is behaviour that does not create new wealth (such as producing a new widget that can be sold), but instead that extracts wealth from others. For example, a corrupt official may solicit bribes from those around him (or her); those bribes do not create anything, they simply reallocate wealth to the corrupt official.

Hence we can think that, absent of corruption, there might be a very different distribution of funds and activities in Fifa – some of the vast amounts of money that move around the game might get to grass roots endeavours around the world, in some of the poorest and needy parts of the world, rather than in the pockets of officials of football associations in some of those countries (and other ones).

So, even if we don’t care about football itself, we ought to care about corruption – and we ought to be trying to ensure that in all areas of economic life resources are going where they ought to be going, rather than into the hands of corrupt officials…