The phenomenon of corruption has existed since antiquity; from ancient Mesopotamia to our modern-day high-level ethical morass, people have sought a leg up, a shortcut, or an end run to power and influence. In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, Robert Rotberg, a recognized authority on governance and international relations, offers a definitive guide to corruption and anticorruption, charting the evolution of corruption and offering recommendations on how to reduce its power and spread. The most important component of anticorruption efforts, he argues, is leadership that is committed to changing dominant political cultures.
Rotberg explains that corruption is the conversion of a public good into personal gain—either by the exchange of cash for influence or by the granting of special favors even without explicit payments. He describes successful anticorruption efforts in countries ranging from Denmark and Sweden to Canada and Costa Rica, and discusses the roles of judicial systems, investigative journalism, multinational corporations, and technological advances. He shows how the United States has become more corrupt than before, and contrasts recent US and Canadian experiences.
Without sufficient political will to eliminate corruption, it persists. Rotberg outlines thirteen practical steps for battling corruption, including removing holdover officials tainted by corruption and the public declaration of financial assets by elected officials and appointees.
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Corruption indicates that a state, public body, or corporation is not functioning as fully as it was intended to function. Instead of delivering appropriate levels of service, called “good governance,” if the jurisdiction is governmental, these corrupt bodies are focusing on supplying rents or emoluments to persons in charge. (Rents are any payment to an owner in excess of the costs needed to produce a certain item. Emoluments are illicit profits or fees from an office, employment, or sale.) A corrupted governmental apparatus at any level consequently thus forfeits its legitimacy as a neutral, all-encompassing, and beneficial provider of services to its citizens and taxpayers, or its shareholders and consumers, and becomes a vehicle for illicit personal enrichment.
Corruption occurs when public servants or corporate leaders disregard their obligations to operate for the commonweal, and make special arrangements for private profiteering. As Cicero long ago suggested, corruption is a betrayal of fidelity to the public interest. Or it is a “subversion” of the public interest. Biographer James Bosworth’s Samuel Johnson called corruption “wickedness; perversion of principles.” “Mankind,” opined Johnson, “are universally corrupt.” More recent commentators call corruption “a moral evil”—a breach of duty.
Public officials of all kinds, even those who run such organizations as the International Olympic Committee, have an obligation to be impartial. At least that is the common expectation. When they do not—when they behave with partiality by discriminating in favor of one person or group against others, and by gaining personal rewards or misbehaving in that manner—those officials are corrupt and corrupted. They are not observing distributional justice. As the late Singaporean prime minister and nation builder Lee Kuan Yew said, “There must be a level playing field for all.” That is what citizens regard as “fair.”
When public and private officials put their own undue personal interests ahead of the stated public interest, those norm deviations are corrupt. Doing so cheats the public, erodes the legitimacy of the polity involved, coarsens discourse between the state (or municipality or corporation) and the citizen or consumer, invites cynicism, and distorts priorities. No political jurisdiction can function on behalf of its citizens and stakeholders if its leaders and middle managers are focused on private gain rather than public enrichment. Instead, bridges collapse, roads crumble, food is tainted, organs are peddled for profit, police self-enrich at roadblocks, marriage and birth certificates become costly, and the very fundamentals of a safe and secure life are compromised.
Table of ContentsSeries Foreword vii
1 Corruption 1
2 Measuring and Conceptualizing Corruption 31
3 “Getting to Denmark” 49
4 Positive Examples in Latin America 73
5 Confronting Corruption through Laws and Courts 91
6 Strengthening Accountability and Transparency 113
7 Technology Beats Back Corruption 159
8 The Leadership Factor 187
9 Achieving Anticorruption Success 209
Bibliography and Further Reading 235