Corruption has been part of social interaction since the beginning of humanity. People have always wheeled and dealed, given and taken, sought position, benefits, and privileges. In modern societies there are laws that prohibit public officials from receiving benefits other than salary, and an expectation that in the private sector business undertakings will be conducted with integrity. This does not always occur, and there is considerable analysis of the causes and experiences of corrupt behavior as well as of the mechanisms that could be used to prevent it. Rather than define corruption, one might try to understand the suite of behaviors that are deemed corrupt, and these will vary from society to society, and will be treated differently in different types of societies. In essence, corruption involves the abuse of public position or entrusted office in return for private gain. It involves the unauthorized trading of entrusted authority. It may manifest itself in different ways, in bribery, extortion, conflict of interest, a public official hiring one’s own company for government contracts, hiring unqualified friends or family members for government jobs, and so on. Sometimes there is a corrupt person in an organization, sometimes the whole organization is corrupt, or sometimes the society tolerates corruption on a grand scale. These variations lead to different interpretations and analyses of the concept. When a public official does wrong things, or fails to do what he or she should do, or does something permissible, but purposely does it in an improper manner, then there is a strong suspicion of corrupt behavior. The World Economic Forum estimates that corruption costs about 5 percent of global GDP (about $2.6 trillion), while the World Bank estimates that about $1 trillion per year is paid in bribes and about $40 billion per year is skimmed or looted by political leaders. On an everyday basis corruption hurts the public and undermines government. The impacts of corruption severely and disproportionally affect the poorest and most vulnerable in any society, and when it is widespread, corruption deters investment, weakens economic growth and undermines the basis for law and order. In wealthier countries corruption pushes taxes to higher levels than they need be, and reduces services to lesser quality than they might be.
Corruption is best understood by examining the variety of contexts and behaviors that shape behavior that allows private gain to be extracted from public office. Rose-Ackerman 1999 provides a comprehensive overview while Klitgaard 1988 examines and applies approaches to the control of corruption. One useful framework is the TASP analysis—types, sectors, activities, and places—developed in Graycar and Prenzler 2013. Johnston 2005 reminds us that not all corruption is the same and Uslaner 2008 focuses on inequality and trust as drivers of corruption. Kaufmann 1997 and Tanzi 1998 delve into issues of causes and consequences of corruption, while Treisman 2000 takes us on a broad journey through time and through several systems.
Graycar, Adam, and Tim Prenzler. Understanding and Preventing Corruption. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
An analysis of types and activities of corruption and sectors and places in which it is prevalent. Discusses how to measure corruption and applies an analytical framework to the prevention and control of corruption.
Johnston, Michael. Syndromes of Corruption: Wealth, Power, and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
All corruption is not the same. This comprehensive analysis of the different forms of contexts of corruption in different types of societies is penetrating and analytical.
Kaufmann, Daniel. “Corruption: The Facts.” Foreign Policy 107 (1997): 114–131.
An analytical overview that lays out basic arguments and is most useful for analysis.
Klitgaard, Robert E. Controlling Corruption. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
A classic that outlines the dynamics of corruption and approaches to its control.
Rose-Ackerman, Susan. Corruption and Government: Causes, Consequences and Reform. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
This is a classic introduction to the topic. Dissects corrupt behavior types and blends economics and politics, richly illustrated with pertinent examples.
Tanzi, Vito. “Corruption around the World: Causes, Consequences, Scope, and Cures.” International Monetary Fund Staff Papers 45.4 (1998): 559–594.
This comprehensive overview is more than a few years old, but it is an excellent starting point for an understanding of causes, consequences, scope, and cures. It emphasizes the costs of corruption in terms of economic growth. Corruption is costly, and so too are attempts to counter corruption.
Treisman, Daniel. “The Causes of Corruption: A Cross-National Study.” Journal of Public Economics 76.3 (2000): 399–457.
Why is corruption—the misuse of public office for private gain—perceived to be more widespread in some countries than others? This article analyses some historical and structural issues, such as colonialism, federalism, and democratization, that explain variations in corruption. Available online via ProQuest.
Uslaner, Eric M. Corruption, Inequality, and the Rule of Law. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
This book argues that the roots of corruption lie in economic and legal inequality and low levels of trust. High inequality leads to low trust and high corruption, and this is demonstrated with considerable statistical analysis. Two older publications, (Tanzi 1998) and (Kaufmann 1997), are highly authoritative in that they survey the scene and discuss scope of corruption, causes and consequences, costs, and possible countermeasures.
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