Quantitative Report: Why do some societies manage to establish control of corruption and others not?

Why do some societies manage to establish control of corruption and others not? Control of corruption is defined in this report as the capacity of a society to constrain individual corrupt behavior (defined as particular distribution of public goods leading to undue private profit) in order to enforce the norm of individual integrity in public service and politics as well as to uphold a state that is free from capture by particular interest.

This report sought to answer this main research question from an interdisciplinary perspective and by a large-N comparison method. For the dependent variables, the report uses: the aggregated Control of Corruption Index (CoC) from World Bank, the Corruption Risk Index from the International Country Risk Guide (ICRG), the experience with bribe and perception of official’s corruption from the Global Corruption Barometer 2013, the experience with bribe and perception of favoritism from ANTICORRP’s own QOG 2013 European survey, the expert perception of diversion of public funds from the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Survey and the tolerance towards corrupt practices from the World Values Survey 2008.

The report finds that individual behavior is predicted by context (most people simply follow the “rules of the game” in their own societies) and individual status (individuals who believe in competition more due to their individual skills tend to be less tolerant towards corruption). Societal control of corruption is reached as a state of equilibrium between opportunities or resources (power discretion and potential spoils such as natural resources) and legal and normative constraints (checks and balances, collective action capacity of enlightened citizens). A parsimonious model based on this concept proves robust to testing and opens the possibility to calculate country risk and areas of vulnerability on more objective grounds than was possible until now. Institutional ‘silver bullets’ prove, on the contrary, disappointing and only the interaction between civil society and various tools of transparency seems to work. By and large the report targeted these objectives:

  1.  To propose and bring solid evidence in favor of a holistic approach to control of corruption as a governance order. The report brings evidence that control of corruption is an equilibrium involving both state and society, widely perceived by respondents in highly salient opinions and attitudes which inform their behavior. The various forms and types of corruption should be seen only as symptoms of a systemic vicious equilibrium, which can vary from one context to another according to individual resistance but which do not change the definition and mechanism of the equilibrium as a whole. It is highly unlikely that a radical change can work other than by a systemic approach.
  2. To show that determinants of control of corruption are similar across measurements from very different sources, businesspeople, ordinary citizens and experts therefore validating the measurements of corruption.
  3. To propose a policy-relevant model able to explain most variance without resorting, like many models of ‘institutional quality’, to legacies such as age of democracy, colonial past, legal tradition and religion. All elements of the model can be influenced by human agency – if not by the agency of governments uninterested in changing the status quo then by the agency of civil society and international donors.
  4. To test anti-corruption devices and prove which ones seem to work, and in what circumstances. The strategy which reduces resources and increases constraints still holds good if we understand to what extent constraints need to be societal, not just on the state side (see also Kaufmann 1997; Huther and Shah 2000). Institutional weapons such as FOIA work if institutional warriors exist and pick them up. Many interventions would gain in effectiveness if the stakeholders (taxpayers, consumers, businesses, NGOS) were to be involved, because what works to deliver change is the interaction between civil society and the tool itself (for instance, fiscal transparency).

A forecast based on this model would imply that change in governance order can occur only gradually and by a succession of radical actions and disequilibria until new equilibrium is achieved with better control of corruption. That explains why so few success stories exist, and why they seem to result more from domestic agency and broad reforms (Estonia, Georgia, Uruguay) than from typical anti-corruption strategies focused on repressive agencies.

Control of corruption in a society has to be understood as a complex balancing act rather than as a group of separate factors determining corruption. Therefore anti-corruption (AC) cannot be effective unless it manages to assemble these features:

  • AC is adjusted to the real equilibrium level (particular transactions are either the exception or the norm) as two very different sets of policies apply (contextual);
  • If particular transactions are widespread, AC needs to affect more than one element (comprehensive);
  • If particular transactions are widespread, AC needs to be radical and strong enough to affect the balance and so trigger a disequilibrium (deep);
  • If particular transactions are widespread, AC needs to involve both state (e.g. fiscal transparency) and society (watchdog NGOs) in order to influence both sides of the formula (balanced);
  • If particular transactions are widespread, AC needs to result from action by those groups on all sides (state and society) who oppose the institutional status quo (genuine ‘principals’) and cannot be simply conceived as top-down ‘reforms’.

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