Political Corruption: In and beyond the Nation State

By Robert Harris | Go to book overview

2

The idea of political corruption (II): the contribution of political economy

there is one human motivator that is both universal and central to explaining the divergent experiences of different countries. That motivator is self-interest…. Endemic corruption suggests a pervasive failure to tap self-interest for productive purposes.

(Rose-Ackerman 1999:2)

In this chapter we consider, first, the contribution of political economists to the study of political corruption. We show in particular the utility of Olson’s classic theory of collective action for addressing corruption, and advise anticorruption strategists to place less emphasis on ethical imperatives than on striving to create a consonance between public and private interests: in a fallen world it is generally more effective to address people’s worst than their best natures. Even this, however, is almost impossible to achieve in high-corruption countries, because if the organs of government are so thoroughly corrupted that corrupt behaviour is normal behaviour, what internal leverage can be brought to bear on them?

Second, we address the issue of rent-seeking, described by one of its leading theorists (Tullock 1989, 1993) as politicians’ pursuit of private interests when such interests conflict with public duty. We accept this definition but argue that rent-seeking, even of this extreme kind, is but an extension, albeit quite possibly a grotesque and deplorable one, of normal political behaviour.

Third, we introduce the subject of economic liberalization, a policy considered by many to be conducive to lowering levels of corruption. Liberalization, according to this line of argument, drives out corruption by forcing the rigours of the market into economic transactions previously subject to distortion as a result of monopoly state activity. This occurs by squeezing out the non-productive capital involved in bribe payments, contracting corruption and so on, ensuring, in a process of economic Darwinism, the survival of the fittest and most efficient providers. Conversely, where state economic intervention is extensive, corruption thrives as a natural, inevitable and

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