Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Corrupt Exchanges

Empirical Themes in the Politics and Political Economy of Corruption

Termin: 18. - 19. Mai 2001
Leitung: Donatella Della Porta (Florenz) und Susan Rose-Ackerman (New Haven, CT)

This conference brought together a group of scholars from different disciplines, such as political science, economy, law, and sociology. The aim of the conference was to start to bridge the gap between different approaches to the study of corruption, and to seek common ground, in particular, on empirical methodologies for the study of corruption.
In the last few years there has been an explosion of interest in corruption in all parts of the world. Spurred by the fall of the Soviet Union, the growing pains of new democracies, and scandals in well-established democracies, the issue has moved to the front of the global reform agenda. Yet corruption will always be a difficult topic to research. Its essence is a secret transfer of funds from a private individual or a firm to a public official. Theoretical work can produce straightforward predictions about the link between government policies and corrupt incentives, but producing convincing empirical documentation is difficult. Empirical research must take an indirect approach to uncover the depth and scope of the problem.
The damage caused by corruption was given empirical support by cross-country studies showing that countries with high levels of corruption had lower levels of investment and growth, tended to have too much public investment relative to private investment, and invested relatively less in education. However, most of these studies provide no direct information on the mechanisms by which corruption operates to produce these results. One cannot tell if the problem is high-level corruption in procurement, dysfunctional bureaucracies where payoffs are routine, or corrupt elected officials. Thus the conference focused on research that examines the fine structure of corrupt exchanges and of reform experiments, looking for "thick descriptions" of corrupt exchanges, of the networks of actors involved in them, and the resources they use. The studies presented at the conferences ranged from opinion polls on direct experiences of corrupt exchanges, to analyses of public budgets; from in depth interviews with experts, to analyses of police and judicial records. They covered different geaographical areas, ranging from developing countries and transitional regimes, to highly industrialized democracies.
Besides attempting to measure and map corruption, the papers addressed the issue of the causes and conditions for its rise and growth. Corruption is a deviation from accepted norms that involves a hidden exchange between a public agent and a "third party" (corrupter). What causes or permits this deviation? As with other deviations from laws or norms, individual decisions to participate in corrupt exchanges depend upon the probability of being discovered and punished, the severity of the potential punishment, and the expected rewards as compared with the available alternatives. Political economists have singled out factors that influence individual decisions to participate to political corruption: from the types of the market where corrupt exchanges develop, to the degree of competition in political elections. Scholars of comparative politics have debated the institutional conditions for the development of corruption, looking in particular at the interactions between parties, public bureaucrats and the citizens. During the conference, the discussion focused in particular on the effects of new developments in transitional regimes and established democracies – from privatization to devolution, from the reforms of the public administration to the challenges to representative institution, from globalization to the judicialization of politics – that may affect the development of corrupt exchanges.

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