New Zealand’s rating as the world’s least corrupt society is due to its culture, not its politics.
Our low-corruption society is a precious thing. It gives each of us certainty and security – the factors most valued by humans.
It protects the elite from revolt. It protects the middle class from crime and elitism. It protects the working class and poor from crime, hardship, and lack of opportunity.
Honesty is a cultural thing. People are innately honest, but remain particularly so when that is expected of us, when those around us act that way, when we are conscious of close connections to others in our community, and when we believe we are being observed.
These things are true of small, prosperous, countries where you find strong levels of employment, enterprise, self-reliance, sport, participation, strong commonalities in values and experience, and small scale community activity.
Honesty is rooted in cultural values we might never fully appreciate. Research has shown, for example, that the higher the rate of tipping, the more corrupt the country.
Honesty is not a political thing. It is not something that is mandated, although it can be reinforced. It is not something that is made by laws on crime, or institutional transparency. It is not led by rhetoric from politicians. It is driven by action of ordinary individuals.
Our politicians are not corrupt – because they are generated from our culture. But politics has the power to poison culture.
Honesty can be knifed by politicians blurring the lines of probity; by saying one thing and doing another; by taking convenient options rather than hard ones; by acting as if words and vainglorious ideas are hard graft; by talking as if no one can be trusted without authority’s sanction; by creating structures that dominate or replace community organisation; by dividing society into victims and abusers; by pushing an ideological agenda at the expense of others; by fueling dispute and disparity; by bureaucratising charity; and by adopting the rhetoric of community bonds as a campaigning tool, as if they’d invented it.
We must step extremely carefully into our future, because if we weaken our culture of honesty, we lose what makes us a very special and unique place.