Book Review - Corruption: What Everyone Needs to Know

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2024-07-07 17:00:06

Corruption: What Everyone Needs to Know by Ray Fisman and Miriam A. Golden. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2017. 336 pp, £51 hardcover 9780190463984, £10.99 paperback 9780190463977

From the fall of a South Korean President to the spark that unleashed the Arab Uprisings, from grand corruption to petty bribery, cases and accusations of corruption permeate politics and can have global repercussions. In Corruption: What Everyone Needs to Know, authors Ray Fisman and Miriam A. Golden approach the topic with the analytical toolkits of economics and political science ‘to provide the reader with an overview of existing knowledge on political corruption (…) to better understand where, why, and how corruption occurs’ (p. 1). To do this, they conceptualise corruption as the outcome of interactions between rational agents pursuing their own interest – to the detriment of society as a whole that suffers from lower economic growth, higher inequality and other negative consequences (1). In some contexts, high levels of corruption have become an equilibrium of mutual expectations: once the majority is expected to be corrupt, it is rational to engage in corrupt behaviour lest one disadvantages oneself by not engaging. A business may not get a contract, say, or a citizen may wait longer for a medical treatment if they do not bribe officials.

The argument of the book is usefully guided by questions, in the titles of chapters as well as headings within, and each chapter ends with a summary of its key points in bullet points. After an introduction to the theoretical approach and summary of the argument in the introduction, the second chapter (‘What is Corruption’?) provides useful conceptual background to the phenomenon, including discussion of and distinguishing it from related phenomena such as clientelism, patronage, and lobbying. Chapters 3 to 7 examine the causal relationships between corruption and other factors such as the level of prosperity, types of political institutions, and culture. This renders some interesting results, some of which go against received wisdom. For instance, Fisman and Golden find that neither particular religions and ethnicities nor electoral accountability are directly related to levels of corruption. In contrast, there is a clearer link between corruption and the prosperity and heterogeneity of countries: wealthier societies tend to be less corrupt, while those with high levels of fractionalisation are more likely to suffer from corruption than homogenous ones.

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