The 2016 CPI and the Value of Corruption Perceptions

Last month, Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). As usual, the release of the CPI has generated widespread discussion and analysis. Previous GAB posts have discussed many of the benefits and challenges of the CPI, with particular attention to the validity of the measurement and the flagrant misreporting of its results. The release of this year’s CPI, and all the media attention it has received, provides an occasion to revisit important questions about how the CPI should and should not be used by researchers, policymakers, and others.

As past posts have discussed, it’s a mistake to focus on the change in each country’s CPI score from the previous year. These changes are often due to changes in the sources used to calculate the score, and most of these changes are not statistically meaningful. As a quick check, I compared the confidence intervals for the 2015 and 2016 CPIs and found that, for each country included in both years, the confidence intervals overlap. (While this doesn’t rule out the possibility of statistically significant changes for some countries, it suggests that a more rigorous statistical test is required to see if the changes are meaningful.) Moreover, even though a few changes each year usually pass the conventional thresholds for statistical significance, with 176 countries in the data, we should expect some of them to exhibit statistical significance, even if in fact all changes are driven by random error. Nevertheless, international newspapers have already begun analyses that compare annual rankings, with headlines such as “Pakistan’s score improves on Corruption Perception Index 2016” from The News International, and “Demonetisation effect? Corruption index ranking improves but a long way to go” from the Hidustan Times. Alas, Transparency International sometimes seems to encourage this style of reporting, both by showing the CPI annual results in a table, and with language such as “more countries declined than improved in this year’s results.” After all, “no change” is no headline.

Although certain uses of the CPI are inappropriate, such as comparing each country’s movement from one year to the next, this does not mean that the CPI is not useful. Indeed, some critics have the unfortunate tendency to dismiss the CPI out of hand, often emphasizing that corruption perceptions are not the same as corruption reality. That is certainly true—TI goes out of its way to emphasize this point with each release of a new CPI— but there are at least two reasons why measuring corruption perceptions is valuable: Continue reading

Trust in Government and Public Health: Corruption and Ebola Revisited

A little while back I did a short post expressing skepticism about some claims that corruption was a significant contributor to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. I agree that insofar as corruption diverts resources from public health and sanitation, or leads to undersupply of necessary medicines and supplies, it is likely to worsen both the frequency and magnitude of public health problems. But I was more skeptical that there was any direct evidence that the admittedly rampant corruption in places like Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria was a major contributor to that particular public health crisis.

Last month I was fortunate enough to moderate a panel on corruption and public health at the World Bank’s International Corruption Hunters Alliance meeting, and the presentations at that panel have altered my thinking about this issue somewhat. More generally, several of the presenters from countries hit hard by Ebola — including Commissioner Joseph Kamara of Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission and Commissioner Aba Hamilton-Dolo of the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission — made a convincing case that corruption has been, if not a primary cause, then at least a significant contributor to the extent and severity of the Ebola outbreak. Of course, there is still relatively little direct evidence, and it’s reasonable to wonder whether commissioners on anti-corruption commissions may be likely to overestimate the significance of their particular issue area for the most pressing immediate crisis facing their nations. Nonetheless, they did make a plausible case that corruption, while perhaps not a direct contributor to the outbreak, has significantly impeded the response.

On this point, Commissioner Hamilton-Dolo emphasized an important argument that I hadn’t really paid enough attention to, even though I quoted Professor Taryn Vian making essentially the same point in my earlier post: in addition to the squandering of public health resources, corruption may also impede the effective response to public health crises by undermining trust in government. The argument, as I understand it, goes something like this: Continue reading

Guest Post: The Potentially Perverse Effects of Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws

Professor Michael Gilbert from the University of Virginia Law School contributes the following guest post:

Since at least the 1970s, proponents of campaign finance regulations in the United States and elsewhere have supported mandatory disclosure of monies spent on politics.  Notwithstanding some significant loopholes, those proponents have in many respects gotten their way in the United States and many other countries. Much of the enthusiasm for disclosure is based on the notion that it helps combat a certain kind of corruption—the exchange of campaign support for policy favors. Publicizing the flow of money to politicians exposes illicit relationships and quid pro quos.  In Justice Brandeis’s famous phrase, “Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant.”

This logic is correct but incomplete.  Disclosure does indeed provide information that officials and the public can use to combat corruption.  But, as Ben Aiken and I argue in a new paper, corrupt actors can also use that information to overcome an impediment to illegal exchanges:  lack of trust.  Private parties cannot sign enforceable contracts with politicians for quid pro quos. Instead, they must trust one another—if I give you the money today will you deliver the vote tomorrow?  That need for trust means that both sides to a potentially corrupt exchange must assess one another’s credibility. Disclosure laws can, perversely, help foster that undesirable trust. After all, disclosure of campaign donations reveals which parties reward compliant politicians; this same disclosure, combined with politicians’ voting records, reveals which politicians reward their financial supporters most consistently.  Through those channels disclosure can bring conspirators together and reduce the uncertainty that inheres in illegal transactions.  As a colleague put it, “disclosure is like for criminals.” Continue reading

If It Looks Corrupt, It Is Corrupt

In combatting corruption, how much conduct should be prohibited? This lively issue, implicated in the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent controversial decision in McCutcheon, is relevant to those drafting reform legislation worldwide. There are two different starting points for analysis. The first approach (call it the traditional view) aims to eliminate only “actual” corrupt behavior: the FCPA, for example, requires that to violate its anti-bribery provision, an act must be done “corruptly.” The second method bans acts that create the appearance of corruption: in the United States, for example, this standard governs the behavior of federal employees and federal judges (except the Justices of the Supreme Court).

My position is that anticorruption law should adopt appearance-based rules that prohibit behavior and relationships giving rise to a (reasonable) appearance of corruption. Under traditional thinking, these laws might be deemed too over-inclusive. However, this post highlights two crucial insights missing from the traditional calculus:

(1) The appearance of corruption creates a real harm to society, independent of the harm from “actual” corrupt behavior; and

(2) Recent empirical work shows that maintaining appearances is important: a decline in the public’s trust in government brings forth an array of nasty behavior from citizens.

Continue reading