Skip to main content

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions

sierakowski46_JANEK SKARZYNSKIAFPGetty Images_poland government Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

The Mainstreaming of Corruption

Unethical behavior by populist parties across the West has forced traditional parties to abandon their own moral standards. And the evidence suggests that if mainstream politicians want to try to beat populists at their own corrupt game, their supporters will reward them for it.

WARSAW – As we have seen in recent years, domination by a populist party can lead to the deep polarization of an electorate. But it also erodes the ethical fabric of political life. Unable to defeat populists through the usual methods, traditional parties have begun to emulate their opponents, leaving voters with no alternative but to embrace cynicism.

In many countries, even supporters of anti-populist parties have begun consciously accepting pathological behavior, rule-breaking, and even illegal acts on the part of their chosen political representatives. Following Gresham’s Law, which holds that bad money drives out the good, opposition forces increasingly feel compelled to scheme and cheat in order to win.

As a result, politicians with scruples will find themselves at a disadvantage. With more and more voters concluding that populists must be beaten at their own game, opposition parties are faced with a choice between upholding their ethical standards and saving liberal democracy.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.


Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.;
  1. solana114_FADEL SENNAAFP via Getty Images_libyaprotestflag Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images

    Relieving Libya’s Agony

    Javier Solana

    The credibility of all external actors in the Libyan conflict is now at stake. The main domestic players will lower their maximalist pretensions only when their foreign supporters do the same, ending hypocrisy once and for all and making a sincere effort to find room for consensus.


Edit Newsletter Preferences