To say that a successful attack on corruption begins with a political economy analysis is commonplace. To declare that absent such an analysis of the political, economic, and social conditions that foster a particular type of corruption, an anticorruption policy has little chance of succeeding is hardly remarkable. What remains noteworthy is in the two decades plus since the global war on corruption began how few such analyses have been done.
Of the more than 7500 entries in Matthew’s corruption studies bibliography, titles of fewer than 50 indicate a political economy focus. The corruption and development “gray literature,” reports on corruption in developing nations commissioned by donor organizations, is little better. Perhaps a larger number of studies, but few quality ones, and perhaps surprisingly, a real dearth of analyses of petty corruption, the kind that citizens of developing nations, most often the poor, regularly encounter in their daily life.
That’s why it was a pleasure to discover Inge Tvedten and Rachi Picardo’s recent study of where Mozambican goats eat. The Mozambican expression cabrito come onde está amarado (“goats eat where they are tied up”’) refers, as they explain, to the two-legged species rather than the four-legged one. The kind that exploit their place in government to enrich themselves, friends, and supporters. The two draw upon years of accumulated research to show how, in a variety of thickly described situations, “a set of structuring principles and common schemes” lead to the “internalization” or “embodiment” of corruption. (Others might term the principles and schemes “institutions” and internalization or embodiment a “Nash equilibrium.”) An especially thought-provoking example is how traditional norms of deference to authority figures interacts with the way the District Development Fund, a program to help the poorest, is managed to keep beneficiaries marginalized.
Whether hunting for how to deprive a greedy Mozambican goat of nourishment or for a first-rate example of political economy analysis of petty corruption, readers will profit from perusing Tvedten and Picardo’s article.