New research examines how Americans regard the government and financial institutions when it comes to honesty and ethics. The most recent results are not encouraging; surveys by Gallup last year found that 60 percent of Americans believe corruption is widespread among businesses, and only one in five people reported having much trust in banks. More than half of those surveyed rated members of Congress “very low” on honesty and ethical standards.
But the public’s perception of corruption might not be entirely related to actual corrupt behavior. According to economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, the public’s view of bankers, business leaders and politicians sways with the economic climate. When economic times are good, the public perceives these visible figures as honorable, but their ratings plummet during economic crisis.
Ironically, points out the Fiscal Times, “it’s often during those boom times in the business cycle – with huge profits to be made – when investors and businessmen are most likely to cut corners, chisel, or outright steal from investors, and when politicians are most on the prowl to line up campaign contributions or business deals that can help line their pockets.”
Interestingly, in comparison to other countries, Americans’ perception of corruption in finance and politics is relatively positive. In the 2012 Corruption Perception Index from Transparency International, a corruption monitoring organization, the United States ranked 17th out of 174 countries and territories – up from 24th in 2011.
Is the increased ranking a sign of improving economic times, or is the publics’ mistrust of government and financial institutions overblown by the media? Weigh in here.