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Author: Julius Mera Smith J, IV year of B.Com.,LL.B.(Hons.) from Tamil Nadu National Law University


Corruption – the most spoken about the topic and the concept which is responsible for much of the red herrings in the bureaucracy and slow development of our nation is the topic the researcher has chosen to write about. Let’s get into how corruption would have started. When the governments started ruling states and the rich wanted to bypass the poor in certain queues and get the work done faster and because of the greediness of the officials, there emerged corruption for the first time. On the other hand, when a grandfather tells his grandson to buy a good which is worth Rs. 5 and gives Rs. 10[1] and when the grandson buys the good and keeps Rs.5 to himself and tells the grandfather that the good is Rs. 10. Here emerged the corruption. These are the two kinds of ways in which corruption is practised even today. Corruption is not new to the world. Why does the Justice say that Corruption is as old as Adam? It is because the serpent corrupted Eve and Adam corrupted Eve according to the biblical version. If we listen to him carefully, he also says that corruption cannot be eliminated rather it can be reduced to an appreciable level. This is where the researcher is strong that if corruption is acknowledged as a crime by society and does not come under collective action theory anymore, the crime of corruption is bound to become very less.

Collective Action Theory

Let’s get into what collective action theory is all about. As the name suggests, it speaks about an action done collectively by human beings. This is a theory first propounded by Mancur Olson. We must have all read the quote “Mob has no mind”. This quote can be correctly appreciated in the play ‘Julius Caesar’ written by William Shakespeare. Mancur Olson has tried to analyse the rational behaviour in groups whether self-interest overrides the group or altruism occurs or something else happens when men and women are put into groups and activities is a group activity.

Group Action is not merely joining the group, it is about producing a collective action by the group together. The action will cause a collective good. Any good that a member can consume or enjoy and cannot be excluded from is called as the collective good. Coercion is also an element in the collective action because most of the time, they are not producing the good or service or for that matter, anything through free will. There is coercion by the group and that is why it is called a collective action.

The size of the group may vary, it may be just a family, or a classroom, with close ties, or a state or a country with loose ties and the group might even be the entire world if collective action can influence the whole world. The examples of collective action theory are there everywhere. From paying the donation to floods due to the pressure or the coercion of others’ paying and you not paying for a good cause, everywhere where individual action is subjected due to the action of a group, that action is a collective action[2].

The examples of such actions in simplified versions are playing football when you like to play keyboard but you are influenced by the actions of the collective group. Similar examples include saying “yes” to a particular question just because the collective group says yes but your opinion is being a “no”. To understand simply, this is what is called collective action. Why is this theory being a very important one in sociology, economics and psychology and other disciplines too? It is because international problems can be solved by reversing the collective action into conscious good choices for the greater good of society. According to John Stuart Mill, the right action is what gives the greater good for society[3].

The collective action theory can be used by the policymakers and the society in both evil and good ways. The better understanding of the theory and the use of this theory in policy making can make changes in many of the domains which the human beings are fighting against. For example, even the environmental change which is a huge challenge can be fought by the world as a whole and united, thereby leading to overcoming the challenge.

Corruption in India

Corruption in India has not started in Independent India or British India. It has been there in India for time immemorial. Some evidence of corruption in the Mughal Period and Delhi Sultanate has also been recorded. It has not stopped still now and as the Justice above mentioned, corruption can never be eliminated. Rather it should be tried to be reduced to an appreciable level. Starting from getting a driver’s license to getting licenses to start industries, corruption is spread everywhere. Corruption in India is similar to influencing people through words. If you would have read the book “How to win friends and Influence People”, he speaks how we can get the work done by speaking in a particular way either to our inferior officers or the superior officers. In India, this strategy is often combined with corruption. Not only in India but since we are speaking about India here, in every dimension, the work is done faster or efficiently or at least done only by giving favours to the government officials. This kind of corruption is also called systemic Corruption. The factors which cause corruption may be many according to many theories: greediness, overpopulation and unemployment. But these factors are not only responsible for corruption but for all the ills which are caused in our society like poverty, theft, and many others. To point out a single theory which might sufficiently explain our society, the researcher points out the collective action theory.

The relevance of collective action theory to Corruption in India

In this juncture, the researcher has to use an economic concept of the prisoner’s dilemma to explain the corruption in India. Prisoner’s dilemma is a concept where there are 2 prisoners and if one of them confesses and the other does not confess, the person who confesses gets 10 years sentence and other who did not confess gets a 2-year sentence. If both of them confess, both will get a 4-year sentence and if both did not confess, both get a 6-year sentence. Noting here, the prisoners are not allowed to make an agreement for not confessing which will lead to both of them making a choice which is good for the particular person. If there was an agreement, both would have got an only 2-year sentence. However, both will think of not confessing since it is individually beneficial to them. They will get a 6-year sentence.

Therefore, if the prisoners agree on themselves, they will be able to get better results. The same goes for corruption in India. If the persons who are bribing to get better results agree within themselves that they will not bribe, then corruption will be reduced. The same dilemma which occurred in Prisoner’s Dilemma occurs in every sphere of our life. A non-employed B.Ed. graduates give money to the official concerned with the selection of graduates as government teachers to get a job. Here, if all the B.ed. graduates agree together to not give bribes to the official, then the corruption would stop in that particular area. It is similar to oligopoly, where the members of the organization decide to do something together for a certain price and therefore, the rest of the world has to follow it. In the same way, if the VAO in a particular village, gets Rs. 200 for each signature of registration of a document, say if the villagers decided not to give Rs. 200 for the signature and nobody faces the dilemma faced by the prisoner whether others will give money or not, there reaches a conclusion where the VAO cannot ask for Rs. 200 from anybody. This is how corruption can be stopped in each sector. This is in the lower levels. If we have to speak about the high amount of money, whether giving tender for a particular construction or a product, if there is an agreement between the persons who bid for the contract and corruption as a crime is socially looked down, then the corruption will reduce.


If we can research much more into collective action, and try to bring progress, the problem of corruption can be drastically reduced. Collective Action can be used for bringing about much more world peace. My prediction is that the world will unite soon for the problem of survival. Humans have since the prehistoric days always fought for their and their genes’ survival. The instinct of survival has made humanity adapt to various changes and the major problems that the future generation will face are environmental protection or climate change, disruption of artificial intelligence, usage of nuclear weapons. The solution for all the three problems lies in world peace for which we need a united world which calls for collective action. Environmental problems cannot be solved by a single nation or a single state. It requires the combined effort of the entire world. For proposing proper ethics in the usage of Artificial Intelligence, the need for collective action arises. Collective Action theory which has been till now explaining corruption can be used to counter the same corruption. Fight against corruption can be held through collective action. When collectively, it is acknowledged as a crime, it will stop happening in large numbers and the status quo will change. But I can never tell, corruption will be eliminated. It’s a crime and it will happen forever till humanity exists but marking it as a crime socially is a very important thing to do and will hopefully take place in a few decades.

[1]The author tries to convey the situation in a different era through today’s currency

[2] FLORES-MACÍAS, GUSTAVO A. “Making Migrant—Government Partnerships Work: Insights from the Logic of Collective Action.” Political Science Quarterly, vol. 127, no. 3, 2012, pp. 417–443., Accessed Oct. 2020.

[3] Riley, Jonathan. “Bentham, Mill, Stoicism and Higher Pleasures.” Happiness and Utility: Essays Presented to Frederick Rosen, edited by Georgios Varouxakis and Mark Philp, UCL Press, London, 2019, pp. 184–206. JSTOR, Accessed 27 Oct. 2020.


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