The study of corruption and what to do about it is no longer an academic or policy-studies backwater. Matthew’s bibliography of corruption-related publications now lists over 6,000 books, articles, and reports and, as his regular updates show (thank you Matthew), the list continues to grow at the rate of some 50 plus per month. That is the good news. It is also of the course the bad news. Few practitioners, and I suspect even academics, can claim to have absorbed the learning in the 6,000 current documents let alone keep up with the outpouring of new works.
For those who can’t , I recommend two recent books: Dan Hough’s Analysing Corruption and Alina Mungui-Pippidi and Michael Johnston’s Transitions to Good Governance: Creating Virtuous Circles of Anti-Corruption. Both do an excellent job of synthesizing and extending recent scholarship on corruption issues, and both do so in a sophisticated but accessible manner. Both have the added virtue of being available in reasonably priced paperback editions.
Hough, professor of politics and director of the Sussex Centre for the Study of Corruption at the University of Sussex, provides a readable survey of the key issues. It is a first-rate introduction to the study of corruption for those new to the field as well as a fine refresher for older-hands. Corruption studies can seem to be a confusing collection of unrelated topics. Hough’s tightly organized chapters focus on three questions: What is corruption? What causes it? How to fight it? These signposts make it easy to navigate the terrain.
The chapter on measuring corruption summarizes well the history and current state thinking and nicely complements Matthew’s fine post yesterday on the latest CPI. Other chapters cover the different theories on what causes corruption, the relationship between business, the economy, and corruption; the U.N. Convention Against Corruption, the OECD Antibribery Convention and other international responses, and civil society efforts to combat corruption.
Professor Hough is careful to caution at several points that corruption studies still contain far more unanswered than answered questions, especially when it comes to how to combat it. But he does such a nice job of neatly tying together so many disparate strands that a reader can be forgiven for coming away with the sense that doing something about corruption is, if not easy, not that challenging given how much we know about it.
That’s why the reader should immediately plunge into the Mungui-Pippidi and Johnston edited volume. In chapters covering Botswana, Chile, Costa Rica, Estonia, Georgia, Qatar, Rwanda, South Korea, Taiwan, and Uruguay, country experts explain how these extraordinarily disparate countries each progressed from a situation where corruption is the norm to one where, if not the exception, it is at least becoming the exception. As the editors explain in the introduction, from: “a governance norm where public resource distribution is systematically biased in favor of the power-privileged to a society where the state is largely autonomous towards private interest and the allocation of public resources is based on ethical universalism (everyone treated equally and fairly….” The great advantage of putting the fight against corruption in these terms is it makes it clear (beyond peradventure as lawyers would say) that at bottom corruption is a political problem not a technical one and that solutions must therefore be found in changing a country’s politics.
While the editors, veterans between them of many battles with corruption, emphasize that political change is no easy task, they stress that neither is it a Herculean one. While it is true that corruption can’t be beaten by simply transferring wholesale techniques that worked in one country to another, at the same time there is a sameness to the success stories recounted in the country chapters. Anticorruption policies succeed when they are built “on interests and issues sufficiently important to sustain opposition to corruption in the face of major challenges….” The strength of the country chapters is that all tell the story of the subject country’s success in these terms. Readers looking for practical approaches and innovative moves will find much of value in each of them.
I won’t claim that a careful read of the Hough and Mungiu-Pippidi/Johnston volumes will prepare one to slay the corruption beast. But I am confident that those who don’t pay close attention to the learning the two books provide have no chance of getting even close.