I really enjoyed the Michael Johnston reading and felt like he tactfully filled in a lot of the holes and small nuances that surround the literature around corruption and anti-corruption policy. He criticizes having a general consensus definition for corruption, rank-order scaling, and its synonymity with the word bribery because it ignores how it can differ from country to country and downplays its inherent complexity. To order to better model and create better and more targeted policy he breaks country’s down by type and discusses what form corruption most commonly takes in countries with varying levels economic institutions and state capacity. I think this ready was really helpful for me in getting a more wholistic view of corruption, where many of the readings like Li’s, admit to using bribery and corruption synonymously.
Fisman and Miguel decided to use the distribution of parking tickets to diplomats in New York as a lens to study how cultural norms and practices influence the prevalence of corruption. They find that diplomats from countries with higher rates of corruption were more likely to accumulate unpaid parking violations, revealing that cultural norms do impact the persistence of corruption. Additionally, they find that once law enforcement stopped allowing diplomats to avoid paying for tickets, the rates of corruption went down, indicating that law enforcement, if used properly, can help curb corruption.
I thought this was a really interesting way of studying corruption. Because of the complex nature of corruption, most other literature uses much more subjective indicators to measure it. However, this work was based primarily in data, giving the experiment relatively high levels of internal validity and providing empirical evidence for their claims. For this reason, this was probably my favorite reading from this week.
Svensson begins his article by contextualizing the state of research around corruption in bureaucracy as well as attempting to define corruption in the public sector as someone using his position of power against its intended use. Then, throughout the article, Svensson proposes several questions surrounding the causes and effects of corruption. Finally, he concludes by claiming that there is insufficient research on corruption to satisfyingly answer his questions.
In their study on corruption Fisman and Miguel found a very creative way to research the effects of cultural norms and legal enforcement on corruption, specifically involving United Nations Members. The study tracked UN members’ interactions with parking enforcement in Manhattan, and they were able to yield very interesting results. The first being that UN members that come from countries with traditionally high ratings of corruption were more likely to accrue more parking tickets that their colleagues that came from traditionally less corrupt countries. There were a few other findings, that were in someways more interesting. The first being a pattern finding that the longer a UN member was found to be a member the more likely they were to acquire parking tickets. The finding I found the most interesting was their realization that there were some countries that received many parking tickets, but also paid them off, almost all the time. I thought that this might be indicative of another form of corruption in which they know what they are doing in wrong, but they simply have the funds to compensate for their intentional errors.
Jakob Svensson attempts to answer eight questions about corruption, ranging from the basic question of “what is corruption?” to diving into different theories of reducing corruption. He discusses the strong logarithmic relationship between GDP per capita and corruption, and how higher wages and increased competition may not actually lead to decreased corruption. In his conclusion he brings up the case of China, which has grown quickly but is ranked among the most corrupt countries, and poses two questions: is corruption less harmful to China? Or could the nation’s growth have been even quicker if corruption was decreased?
What I found most interesting in the readings for this week was the notion that in some cases, corruption could serve as an aid to effective governance. I wonder if we never focus on this because political scientists and researchers tend to view corruption through the lens of being from a core/highly developed country. Therefore, corruption is seen as a hinderance to global development and therefore not great for multinational corporations, which are typically found in the same countries where research on corruption is done.
Therefore, are our measures of corruption too heavily centered on development indicators and not on governance indicators? How might we study corruption in a way that doesn’t automatically favor core countries?
And if we calibrate our indicators of corruption to its effects on governance, would there be situations where corruption aids the efficiency of bureaucracies and their policy implementations?