Controlling Corruption

Controlling Corruption

Controlling Corruption

Controlling Corruption


Corruption is increasingly recognized as a preeminent problem in the developing world. Bribery, extortion, fraud, kickbacks, and collusion have resulted in retarded economies, predator elites, and political instability. In this lively and absorbing book, Robert Klitgaard provides a framework for designing anti-corruption policies, and describes through five case studies how courageous policymakers were able to control corruption.


The first thing that needs to be said is that corruption is a sensitive subject.

In my experience with policymakers and students from many countries, the topic tends to evoke a particular pattern of reactions. First there is evasion. Then excuses. And finally, with luck, useful analysis.

Evasion. You encounter almost a reflex. “Nothing can be done about corruption,” someone tells you flatly. “Corruption is everywhere in the world and has existed throughout history. You have it in America, in Japan, not just here in X. And if the people on top are corrupt, if the whole system is corrupt, as they are here, it’s hopeless.” An article from Guatemala illustrates this alarmingly widespread view. It begins: “When in a society the shameless triumph; when the abuser is admired; when principles end and only opportunism prevails; when the insolent rule and the people tolerate it; when everything becomes corrupt but the majority is quiet because their slice is waiting.…” After a series of such laments, the author concludes: “When so many ‘whens’ unite, perhaps it is time to hide oneself, time to suspend the battle; time to stop being a Quixote; it is time to review our activities, reevaluate those around us, and return to ourselves.”

Excuses. Next you hear that nothing should be done about corruption. This reaction has been prevalent among social scientists. “Bribes are a form of gift-giving consistent with local mores,” an anthropologist tells you. Someone with an economic bent notes a similarity between a bribe and a market price when a market is not allowed; and isn’t that “efficient”? A political scientist points out that in unjust settings corrupt payments may be the only means of making one’s wishes known; thus, corruption may be an important avenue of political participation. Some social scientists aver that bribes cannot be distinguished from . . .

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