On Differing Understandings of “Corruption”

I’m sometimes asked how my work on anticorruption (and this blog) relates to the work of my Harvard Law School colleague Larry Lessig, who is the Director of Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics (and who also has a widely-read blog). Under Larry’s leadership, the Safra Center has been focused primarily on “institutional corruption,” and Larry’s 2011 book Republic, Lost likewise focuses on how money corrupts the U.S. Congress. So, what’s the relationship between our two projects?

The short answer is that, although I respect and admire Larry’s work, our corruption projects are about very different things. By itself that’s not terribly interesting, and I wouldn’t bother posting about it except that I think the differences in our projects highlight a longstanding difficulty about the term “corruption” and its use in social science and political advocacy. I don’t want to belabor the issue—when academics run out of ideas, they argue about definitions—but maybe a few quick observations on this point are in order.

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