The Cancer of Corruption

Last weekend, my research partner and I agreed that we would work collaboratively on a thesis that deals with corruption, especially in the third world.  Political corruption, which gets defined in numerous ways, receives a great deal of blame (not necessarily unwarranted) for the failure of many aid programs, as elites and authorities siphon funding and resources into their own coffers for personal use. 

So we make a rather radical suggestion:  Suppose that corruption, as we call it, is integral and functional within the system; that is, were a “corrupt” official or institution to be suddenly removed from the equation, this would create a gap that would actually act to interrupt otherwise positive-growth activities.  Furthermore, corrupt practices are manifestations of the universal phenomenon of a person or organization that uses its vested power to prevent access to resources unless payment is made to them.  Under this perspective, whether you are paying a bribe or an income tax, you are participating in the same generalized system where access is restricted to those who pay the bribe/tax/fee/etc.

Taxes as glorified bribes?  In a sense, yes.  If you don’t pay your taxes, do you still get access to the system?  No.  In extreme cases you go to jail.  Analogously, if you don’t pay the armed officer on the road in Kenya a bribe to get through his roadblock, will you still get your goods to market?  No — or yes but only with a great deal of effort (travelling off road, which will take longer, be more dangerous, and make market activities less profitable). 

We grant there are differences, but the analogy is too valid to be ignored. 

The possibilites for research are three:

1) Fit corrupt practices into a more general theory of state formation, such as the roving/stationary bandit model developed by Mancur Olson and other institutional economists.

2) Identify particular practices that are labeled as corrupt and demonstrate that they are not.

3) Develop a methodology for testing the theory utilized in 1).

 More on these later.


One Response to “The Cancer of Corruption”

  1. sgreenla Says:

    Very interesting topic and worth pursuing. A couple thoughts come to mind. Have you read William Easterly’s books? I know he has a chapter about corruption in the first one, The Elusive Quest for Growth.
    For a contrary point of view see Jeff Sachs, The End of Poverty. His second book, which I haven’t read, has a chapter titled: “The rich have markets, the poor have bureaucrats,” which might be relevant.

    Are you considering bribes in developing countries vs. taxes in developed countries (i.e. a functioning tax system)?

    Based on about 2 minutes thought one might do a cross section growth accounting regression by countries with a tax variable vs a bribe variable, even if the latter’s a dummy.

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