ArticlePDF Available

Corruption: What Everyone Needs to Know®, by Ray Fisman and Miriam A. Golden (Oxford University Press, New York, 2017).

Authors:
Corruption: What everyone needs to know® by Ray Fisman and Miriam A. Golden. (Oxford
University Press, New York 2017), pp. xviii + 316.
It is a bold assertion that any book can be ‘what everyone needs to know’ on any topic,
particularly when discussing a concept as broad as corruption. What Ray Fisman and Miriam
Goldman have done is narrow the topic effectively to an approach from the perspective of
political economy, which seems entirely appropriate as Golden is a political scientist and
Fisman a behavioural economist. I have argued elsewhere (Masters, 2015, 2018; Masters &
Graycar, 2016) that corruption is so broad in scope, it requires a descriptor to allow
analytical utility. The authors only narrow corruption to political corruption occasionally
(e.g. pp. 3-4), then later compare it to bureaucratic corruption (p. 39). Anyone scanning the
book may wonder how police corruption, when confessions are beaten out of a suspect for
no personal gain by the corrupt officer; or sport corruption, when private actors are bribed
by public officials for public gain via host rights to major events like the Olympics or the FIFA
World Cup fit in the volume. When the authors ‘roughly’ categorise four types of actors (p.
4), their categorization suits political corruption, but neglects civil society actors – who
despite best intentions – are as susceptible to corruption as any other social category. This
is my main criticism of the book, it would have been more accurate title the book Political
corruption: What everyone needs to know®. But this is just a quibble directed more at the
publishers than the authors in respect to an otherwise useful volume.
Corruption – as the authors rightly point out – has become a key issue in recent years. Post-
Cold War societal changes have shifted the thinking about corruption – particularly in the
economic, political science and development literature. While the days when scholars
argued that corruption is good for political and economic development are now gone, these
old arguments have a zombie-like character – raising their heads from time-to-time (Fisman
and Golden point to Huntington, 1968; Leff, 1964; Nye, 1967; Scott, 1972). The authors take
the time in this book to outline what these arguments were, the context of the times they
were made, and provide a sustained counterargument throughout the book as to why
corruption has no benefit other than to those directly involved in enriching or empowering
themselves through corrupt means. Their careful dismantling of the ‘corruption as grease in
the wheels’ thesis makes this volume a valuable contribution to the library of any student of
corruption in politics or economics.
The book’s themes are organised in a way to guide the reader through the world of political
corruption toward the tools available for reducing or controlling corruption. Importantly,
while the issue of corruption presents multiple challenges, the book makes no claim to a
final solution, nor does it point toward the lofty, yet unachievable goal of universally
eliminating the problem. Corruption varies markedly from place to place, across time,
government sectors, national boundaries and even within organisations. Solutions thus
need to be tailored toward specific contexts (Graycar & Masters, 2018; Graycar & Prenzler,
2013).
The authors miss their target audience to a certain extent. While eminently readable and
direct, the conception of corruption as an ‘…equilibrium in the specific sense that social
scientists use the term. That is, corruption happens as a result of interactions among
individuals in which, given the choices others make, no one person can make herself better
off by choosing any other course of action…’ (p. 4) could seem a little opaque to the lay
reader, or those otherwise unfamiliar with economics. This seems a long way from
Transparency International and the World Bank whose conceptualisation of corruption
‘abuse of public office for private gain’—while inherently flawed—is far easier to grasp for
those new to the field. Fisman and Golden’s later ‘definition of “corruption” focuses on the
public sector, not the private sphere. (Note, however, that [their] definition extends to
private sector interactions with the public sphere, such as when a corporation pays bribe
money to public officials to gain an economic advantage)’ (p. 25). It is unclear whether this
further extends to private-private corruption in circumstances where management of public
funds has been outsourced to civil society (e.g. health care or education) or business (e.g.
defence production). A generous reading would see their conceptualisation and definition
providing a deeper intellectual approach than the standard definition of ‘abuse of power for
private gain’ (p. 25). Had the authors dealt with the critiques of the World Bank and TI
definition first, their reasoning for a more complex conceptualisation would seem far more
logical.
The qualitative examples used to illustrate the points the authors make do, however,
provide an engaging approach. These examples are strengthened by the choice of
framework used in their selection. Scott’s (1972, cited on page 26) triple standard to define
a corrupt act – the standard of law; the standard of public opinion; and the standard of
public interest – applies to most of the selected cases. Such a standard adequately frames
political and public corruption, yet in other sectors such standards become problematic.
Corruption in sport, for example, may not breach the law, fail the public opinion standard
and be irrelevant to the public interest (Masters, 2015).
Corruption, unlike many crimes remains hidden – particularly at higher levels of society.
Corruptors and the corrupted have a vested interest in keeping their malfeasance under
wraps, and the victims are often unaware. At the other end of the scale, the book addresses
corruption that is all too often the reality of daily life. Bribe payers seeking services they
would, under ideal circumstances, receive from government are forced to pay. Corruption:
What everyone needs to know® provides a useful blend of economic and political analysis,
supported by good data and narrative examples throughout. The examples draw from and
postulate upon significant and recent cases, such as the ‘clean hands’ movement in Italy (p.
26), China’s ongoing crackdown on corruption (p. 182) and financial manoeuvring of
kleptocrats revealed by the Panama Papers (p. 31). Each chapter addresses a fundamental
question regarding corruption – e.g. why does corruption occur; who is corrupt; what does
culture have to do with it – and provides a useful dot-point summation for ease of reference
at the end of each chapter. This provides both a useful quick-reference facility for both the
lay-reader and anticorruption scholars alike.
This book presents a useful and affordable addition to any anticorruption collection or
library. It builds upon existing work of political scientists and economists who have focussed
on the political-economy of corruption.
Reference
Graycar, A., & Masters, A. (2018). Preventing malfeasance in low corruption environments:
Twenty public administration responses. Journal of Financial Crime, 25(1), 170-186.
doi:10.1108/JFC-04-2017-0026
Graycar, A., & Prenzler, T. (2013). Understanding and Preventing Corruption. Basingstoke:
Palgrave MacMillan.
Huntington, S. P. (1968). Political order in changing societies. New Have, CT: Yale University
Press.
Leff, N. H. (1964). Economic development through bureaucratic orruption. American
Behavioral Scientist, 8(2), 8-14.
Masters, A. (2015). Corruption in sport: From the playing field to the field of policy. Policy
and Society, 34(2), 111-123. doi:10.1016/j.polsoc.2015.04.002
Masters, A. (2018). How the Transnational Crime of Corruption Impacts Global Security. In P.
Reichel & R. Randa (Eds.), Transnational Crime and Global Security (Vol. 1, pp. 253-
280). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Masters, A., & Graycar, A. (2016). Making Corruption Disappear in Local Government. Public
Integrity, 18(1), 42-58. doi:10.1080/10999922.2015.1093400
Nye, J. S. (1967). Corruption and Political Development: A Cost Benefit Analysis. The
American Political Science Review, 61(2), 417-427.
Scott, J. C. (1972). Comparative political corruption. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
Full-text available
Purpose Corruption undermines good governance. Strategies for preventing malfeasance in low corruption environments require a different approach to that applied in high corruption environments. The paper asks if criminological theories and practice contribute to the study and prevention of corruption in public organizations? Do crime prevention techniques help us in preventing corruption? Design/methodology/approach Empirical data demonstrates the overwhelming majority of public officials in rich countries demonstrate high levels of integrity, yet significant sums are invested in anti-corruption agencies and prevention strategies. This paper reports on recent work with an anti-corruption agency, which forced us to re-think how to deliver an anti-corruption agenda in a low corruption environment. We build on our research of public sector corruption in rich countries to develop a set of 20 situational corruption prevention measures for public administrators. Findings The result, with lessons from crime prevention, is a prevention tool to support continued good governance in low corruption environments. Figure 1 is a template which readers can apply in their own environments. Figure 2 is our attempt to populate this template based on the research reported here. Originality/value The matrix of situational corruption prevention techniques provides two original approaches. First, it recasts the language of crime prevention into a non-confrontational approach to avoid alienating honest public officials. Secondly, the matrix incorporates common public sector functions to guide the development of context specific corruption prevention techniques.
Article
Full-text available
How is corruption in sport evolving into a global public policy issue? In the past century, four trends have affected sport according to Paoli and Donati (2013) – de-amateurisation at the turn of the twentieth century, medicalisation since the 1960s, politicisation and commercialisation to the point where sport is now a business worth more than US$141 billion annually. Each of these trends had a corrupting effect on what is generally perceived as a past ‘golden age’ of sport. In the twenty-first century more public funding is being directed into sport in the developed and developing world. As a result this paper will argue organised sport has entered a fifth evolutionary trend – criminalisation. In this latest phase, public policy needs to grapple with what constitutes corruption in what has historically been a private market.
Article
Local government corruption is a phenomenon across the world. This article draws upon survey work in Victoria, Australia, to show that citizens believe that corruption exists in local government and experience it, but rarely report it to an anti-corruption agency or elsewhere. Even when reported, tracing the outcome from state-level authorities to the local government becomes an exercise in futility, because the corrupt act is dealt with in policy frameworks that make it effectively disappear. As a result, corruption as perceived or experienced in the everyday life of citizens is different from what is defined in law and dealt with by public bodies. While the data here are Australian, the lessons and principles can be applied in many other countries. © 2015
Article
This now-classic examination of the development of viable political institutions in emerging nations is a major and enduring contribution to modern political analysis. In a new Foreword, Francis Fukuyama assesses Huntington's achievement, examining the context of the book's original publication as well as its lasting importance. "This pioneering volume, examining as it does the relation between development and stability, is an interesting and exciting addition to the literature."-American Political Science Review. "'Must' reading for all those interested in comparative politics or in the study of development."-Dankwart A. Rustow, Journal of International Affairs.
Article
“Private Vices by the dextrous Management of a skillful Politician may be turned into Publick Benefits.” —Bernard Mandeville, 1714 Corruption, some say, is endemic in all governments. Yet it has received remarkably little attention from students of government. Not only is the study of corruption prone to moralism, but it involves one of those aspects of government in which the interests of the politician and the political scientist are likely to conflict. It would probably be rather difficult to obtain (by honest means) a visa to a developing country which is to be the subject of a corruption study. One of the first charges levelled at the previous regime by the leaders of the coup in the less developed country is “corruption.” And generally the charge is accurate. One type of reaction to this among observers is highly moralistic and tends to see corruption as evil. “Throughout the fabric of public life in newly independent States,” we are told in a recent work on the subject, “runs the scarlet thread of bribery and corruption …” which is like a weed suffocating better plants. Another description of new states informs us that “corruption and nepotism rot good intentions and retard progressive policies.” Others have reacted against this moralistic approach and warn us that we must beware of basing our beliefs about the cause of coups on post-coup rationalizations, and also of judging the social consequences of an act from the motives of the individuals performing it. Under some circumstances Mandeville is right that private vice can cause public benefit.
Article
Among scholars the subject of corruption is nearly taboo. Placing it in a model of developing economy as a developing factor is even worse in some eyes. No doubt, Nathaniel H. Leff's analysis will be misunderstood. So be it. It still bids us to understand an important area of social behavior, and tells us why public policies will fail. The author is at Harvard University.
Transnational Crime and Global Security
  • A. Masters
How the Transnational Crime of Corruption Impacts Global Security
  • A Masters
Masters, A. (2018). How the Transnational Crime of Corruption Impacts Global Security. In P. Reichel & R. Randa (Eds.), Transnational Crime and Global Security (Vol. 1, pp. 253-280). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.