Three different data sources support similar explanation of why some countries perform better and others worse in controlling corruption

fragile democracy

Photo credit: João Trindade, Flickr

Why are some national constituencies satisfied with how their states control corruption, and others not? While we are all familiar with the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index there is considerable contestation of this- and other rankings- which rate corruption at the national level. In the latest ‘milestone’ report published yesterday by the EU FP7 ANTICORRP project, the research team at the Hertie School of Governance led by Professor Alina Mungiu-Pippidi draws on three entirely different data sources (a public opinion survey, Global Corruption Barometer 2012, an executive business survey, World Economic Forum 2012, and an expert assessment, ICRG Corruption Risk 2012) to come up with answers. Comparative statistical analysis (equilibrium cross-sectional models here and panel regression here) returns not only highly significant results, but extremely similar mechanisms across these three differently generated data sets. Experts, businesspeople and ordinary people have coherent views on control of corruption, and such surveys offer a consistent picture when comparing across countries and make us understand what some countries have, and others miss so that the result- corruption at national level- is different in Denmark versus, say, Greece.

The Quantitative Report on Causes of Performance and Stagnation in the Fight Against Corruption shows that countries which control corruption better manage to present an equilibrium between opportunities or resources (power discretion and potential spoils such as natural resources) and legal and normative constraints (checks and balances, the collective action capacity of enlightened citizens). In other words, the combination of reduced opportunities or resources for corruption and high constraints results in low corruption, while abundant spoils (lack of transparency, mineral resources in public property) combined with insufficient constraints (disempowered voters, weak magistrates) results in high corruption. Regardless the sources of data, researchers find this model applies explaining most countries in the database.

The tested model thus shows that informed citizens, a free press and an active civil society have a positive effect on the control of corruption, while red tape and lack of transparency have a negative effect on it. As Hertie School’s models avoid structural determinants (such as the past of a country as a colony or not) and focuses only on policy variables the results also open the possibility for researchers to calculate a corruption risk by country which is at the same time a complete prescription for action. Any student could easily look at the determinants of control of corruption per country and check what elements of the equilibrium are failing and could be ‘fixed’. The important thing is that the combination leading to either a virtuous or a vicious equilibrium rather than one silver bullet taken separately which can deliver the much expected improvement.