When I speak to audiences about the economics of integrity, I often get asked about how integrity relates to politics. While I’m not an expert on the political world I do think there are some similarities (and differences) with the way integrity works in the economy. The biggest difference is that in politics there isn’t a direct financial payoff from acting with integrity as there is in the economy. But I do think there is a payoff nonetheless.
If some smart person were able to measure outcomes, I bet they would find integrity in politics builds trust and that leads to greater political power. Of course, other factors can also give individuals enormous power in politics and clearly that’s where it can get tricky. But in a macro sense, I think there is a direct relationship between integrity in politics and good policies that create a well functioning social and economic system.
If politicians tell lies, mislead the public, and further their interest ahead of the people they were elected to represent, then we’ll get a mismatch of policies that are pretty ineffective and perhaps even harmful. But if our political leaders act with integrity, that is, tell the truth, keep their word, and act in the best interests of the public they are serving, we should get policies that are beneficial to the nation.
A casual observer would probably find little reason to distinguish between Republicans and Democrats on integrity. Wouldn’t it be a striking way for either party to differentiate itself by becoming the party of integrity? Acting with integrity builds trust among the public. The more trust political leaders have, the greater their mandate. It seems to me integrity would be a powerful way forward for any political party to take.