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Crime, Law & Social Change 27: 169183, 1997.

c 1997 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

169

New avenues in the study of political corruption


MARTIN J. BULL & JAMES L. NEWELL
Department of Politics and Contemporary History, University of Salford,
Salford M5 4WT, U.K.

Abstract. This article argues that the 1990s have witnessed a sea change in the study of political
corruption, especially in political science. It explores the reasons for the relative neglect of
corruption by political science in the past, and suggests that a process is underway whereby
the study of corruption is becoming more integrated into the mainstream of the discipline.
It explores the paradox of the co-existence of unresolved disputes about the definition of
corruption with a consensus on the severity of the problem, suggesting that corruption remains
a worthwhile object of investigation. Finally, it summarises how the contributions to this special
issue light possible new avenues in the study of the phenomenon.

Political science and political corruption in the 1990s


In political science, the 1980s and 1990s have witnessed a surge of interest
in the study of political corruption. This is not to suggest that it was not
studied with any level of sophistication before then. On the contrary, there
is a long tradition of studying corruption both from a conceptual/theoretical
point of view, from an empirical angle (particularly in developing countries),
and in related disciplines. Nevertheless it remains open to question to what
extent the study of political corruption was fully integrated into the discipline
of political science. It could be argued that it remained a marginal part of
the discipline, and tended not to appear as a paradigm to be explored and
explained in more general accounts of the analysis of political systems. As
Meny and Rhodes have recently argued, research into illicit governance is
still in its infancy.1
There are several reasons which might explain this (relative) neglect, but
three will be mentioned here. The first is the inherent difficulty of studying
political corruption because it is, by nature, clandestine, and the participants
have a vested interest in maintaining this secrecy. The second reason is that the
existence of corruption was never widespread or at least was not extensively
reported (at least compared with the 1990s). The third, and related, reason is
that political corruption was not perceived, by most of political science, to be
of great significance to liberal democracy. Political corruption appeared to be
more prevalent in developing countries, dictatorships and communist regimes,

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where its potential impact did not constitute a major cause of concern as it
would in liberal democracies where (normative) questions of legitimacy and
stability prevailed. Consequently, it could be argued that there existed a quiet
assumption that, while corruption existed in liberal democracies indeed, for
many, it was a pathological phenomenon of the creation of political society
it did not affect fundamentally the way in which liberal democracies were
governed and therefore the way in which political scientists studied and
interpreted them.2
If the above argument is overstated and sounds unfair to many authors who
worked in the field long before the 1990s, the reason is to emphasise what
has changed and is changing in the 1990s, part of which is precisely a
fuller recognition of much work on political corruption in liberal democracies
before this decade. For example, in the study of contemporary Italy a
western democracy which has undoubtedly been more visibly affected than
any other by the exposure of corruption in the 1990s it is feasible to imagine
that important texts such as (to name only two) Percy Allums Politics and
Society in Post-War Naples (published in 1973), and Franco Cazzolas La
corruzione. Il sistema politico italiano (published in 1988), would have had
significantly more impact on the broader study of liberal democracy had
they been published after the explosion of corruption scandals in the 1990s.3
Yet, not only did both precede these scandals, but the first was published
when Italian political science was still in its infancy, and the second when
revisionism about the nature and health of Italian democracy was at its height,
symbolised in Joseph LaPalombaras Democracy Italian Style.4 There was
a huge debate about LaPalombaras book, but work such as that of Cazzola
went relatively unnoticed in the international community.
What has changed, then, in the 1990s? First, the massive exposure of
corruption in the 1990s has revealed that it is not only present in liberal
democracies, but often widespread. This is not to suggest, of course, that
it is necessarily a new phenomenon or suddenly on the increase, something
about which there is much dispute. While, on the one hand, the exposure of
corruption may be the result of an increase in the practice of the phenomenon,
it might equally, be the consequence of the greater interest and investigative
abilities of institutions such as the judiciary and the media (whose exposures
nevertheless reduce the practical difficulties of analysing corrupt practices).5
Whichever the case, it does not affect the essential point: this is not that
the widespread existence of corruption is beyond dispute (because its scale
remains very much in dispute), but that there is a growing body of opinion
that views this to be the case: Even if there is no yardstick by which to
measure the extent of corruption with any accuracy, most observers concur
in acknowledging the growth of the phenomenon in the last two decades.6

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A growing number of collections now focus on the spread of corruption


in western democracies. Furthermore, there is growing interest by political
science in the role of the media and in what has been a relatively neglected
institution, the judiciary.7
Second, this has changed the debate about the causes of corruption, its
logic and dynamics, in two closely-interrelated senses. The new element to
the debate is explaining why if it is indeed the case the level of corruption
has increased in the late twentieth century. Various factors are cited, but the
most important appear to be: the changes which have taken place in the
regulation of the economy; the political opportunity structures for public and
private actors to engage in corruption; and the willingness of actors (or the
new breed of actors) to indulge in corrupt practices.8 Responding to this
challenge has led to attempts to go beyond the traditional functionalist and
political economy (methodologically individualistic) approaches to develop
an analysis of the interaction between the micro (individual) and macro
(structural) dimensions of the phenomenon an analysis which clarifies the
passage from structural preconditions to individual behaviour.9
Third, the exposure of corruption in the 1990s has led to a much stronger
voicing of concern about its significance and implications for liberal democracy. Meny, for example, states that ...corruption jeopardises the very values
of the system itself: corruption substitutes public for private interests; it saps
the roots of a democratic society; and it denies the principles of equality
and transparency by favouring the privileged and hidden access to public
resources of certain actions.10 Della Portas work on Italy has shown, in her
own words, that corruption and clientelism is unable to furnish a genuine
legitimacy to the political system. Rather, it creates support for business
politicians and an inflationary spiral of constantly expanding participation,
the economic and political costs of which eventually lead to the downfall of
the political parties and political class.11 The concern, moreover, is not just
limited to the national arena. There is rising public interest and concern about
the spread of corruption at the international level. The last five years have
witnessed several initiatives both by international organisations to contain
cross-border corruption, and by some multinational private corporations (BP,
ESSO, Mobil, Shell and Statoil) to create special anti-corruption agencies.
Moreover, May 1993 saw the launch of the first Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) dealing with international corruption, Transparency International
(whose Index is analysed by Thomas Lancaster and Gabriella Montinola in
this issue).12
Fourth, because corruption is viewed to be significant, it has reinvigorated
the debate about corruption control or anti-corruption methods, something
which has been reinforced by political sciences increasing willingness to be

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prescriptive on significant issues of politics. Corruption control is an area on


which there is considerable room for innovative thinking, not only because
of its apparent spread but because organisational thinking has tended, until
now, to be dominated by the assumption that corruption must be eliminated
at all costs, overlooking the value of cost-benefit analyses and of attempting
to strike an optimal investment.13 Recent work of Anechiarico and Jacobs,
for example, has shown how corruption control as it expands leads to
costly inefficiencies in decision-making and can contribute to a general crisis
in public administration.14 Perhaps for this reason, there is now a growing
interest in designing the functioning of democratic institutions in such a
way as to reduce the likelihood of corruption developing. As the principal
mediators (or gatekeepers) between state and society, political parties and
their financing have constituted a key focus of this debate.15
Fifth, if the above developments are, to a large extent, the product of
the perceived changes in western democracies, they have been reinforced
by the more dramatic changes which have occurred in central and eastern
Europe. Perhaps paradoxically, in the decade that political science has come
to recognise the full force of corruption in the west and is consequently
developing more sophisticated techniques for analysing it, the discipline has
been confronted by a related challenge in central and eastern Europe; for it is
true that many analysts had assumed that, since corruption was a characteristic
more of underdeveloped societies, it would disappear with the collapse of
communism.16 Yet, on the contrary, there has been a veritable explosion of
corruption in these countries; and, even if it can be argued that this is largely
a product of the fact that these countries are in turmoil and transition, this in
itself raises important questions about the comprehensiveness of theories of
democratic transition and consolidation which, to date, have given insufficient
emphasis to the role played by corruption in these processes.
In short, there can be little doubt that there has been a notable shift in
awareness in political science in the 1990s as far as the study of political
corruption is concerned, and that what we are witnessing is an attempt
perhaps analogous to what occurred to the study of terrorism in the 1970s
and of ecology in the 1980s to integrate the analysis of corruption into the
mainstream of the discipline. As Meny and Rhodes note,

It is... no longer possible to consider corruption as a peripheral phenomenon in the analysis of politics, or as a culturally specific syndrome
found only in particular places at certain times. To a greater or lesser
extent it infiltrates the political process and relationships of all countries
and poses special problems for political reform and regulation...17

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This has not reduced levels of disagreement amongst political scientists about
the concept. On the contrary, it has probably exacerbated them: as Meny
points out, beyond unanimity on the acuteness of the problem, there is barely
agreement on any of its aspects.18 Yet, there is a certain paradox in the idea
that there should be agreement on the severity of a phenomenon which people
nevertheless find difficult consensually to identify. This paradox needs to be
explored further in order to understand more fully the continued growth in
interest in political corruption.
Corruption: What it might be and why it matters
In raising the question what, exactly, is corruption one feels no need to
apologise for re-opening an issue that has been the subject of so much inconclusive discussion already, for the fact remains that without conceptual clarity
we cannot begin to make sense of the world and we cannot know what we are
observing. Definitions of corruption seem to fall into three categories. First,
there are those that require the breaking of some legal or moral rule or norm
for an act to count as corruption. The obvious problem here, as Lancaster
and Montinola point out in their article, is that unless cross-national variation in the rules or norms themselves is the object of the analysts interest,
such definitions appear to be useless from the point of view of comparative
enquiry owing to the tendency of societies to adhere to widely varying norms
and rules.19 Second, therefore, there are those definitions that attempt to get
round this problem by focusing on characteristics which appear to be inherent in corrupt acts themselves and which therefore have to be present for
them to be identified as such for example, transactions which violate the
trust placed in an agent by a principal. This only apparently solves the problem, however, for it remains for the principal to decide which transactions are
permitted and which not; so again, therefore, what is corrupt in one society
may not be so in another. Third, therefore, there are those analysts who give
up the attempt at objective definition altogether and who, in effect, make the
characterisation of behaviour as corrupt dependent upon their own values
as is the case with definitions that declare it to be damaging to the public
interest, for example.20
We are therefore stuck with the problem that if I characterise a given action
as corrupt and you refuse to accept such a characterisation, there is no means
by which we can resolve our disagreement. Indeed, there would appear to be
no way of resolving such disagreements even in principle, for in calling an
action corrupt what one is essentially doing is condemning it. Whatever else
it is, the concept of corruption is, by definition, heavily evaluative, a bit like
the concept of murder which precisely is unjustified killing.21 As such,

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therefore, there are no fixed, publicly available criteria for its application and
hence, the characterisation of acts as corrupt cannot but be dependent upon
the values of those doing the characterising. As Lancaster and Montinola
express it, Corruption essentially denotes deviation or perversion from
some ideal state or natural condition, and scholars appear to have different
notions of what that condition is.22
If we are forced, then, to the conclusion (as sociologists of deviance have
by implication long argued) that corruption is what people say it is, this does
not mean that all is lost; for it remains the case that If men define situations as
real, they are real in their consequences23 which suggests that, in spite of the
impossibility of achieving a value-free definition of it, corruption continues
to be a worthwhile object of investigation. This turns a spotlight back on the
issue raised earlier, namely, the implications which acts typically labelled as
corrupt have for democracy itself. It is these implications which account
for the levels of concern over corruption.
The characteristics of acts usually called corrupt are fairly clear. They
involve the suspension of normatively-defined criteria for the allocation of
resources (whereby the distribution of resources is as such defined as legitimate) in favour of allocation mechanisms market exchanges whose distributive consequences are inherently arbitrary. This being the case, concern
over corruption would appear to stem from four sources. First, it is subversive
of social order all round. A distribution of resources which is arbitrary, by definition lacks legitimacy, and that which lacks legitimacy is easily questioned
and challenged. The way in which this problem is dealt with in the case of
private markets is by legitimising the mechanism of market exchange itself by
claiming that it directs resources to those uses most desired by consumers; that
it provides consumer sovereignty and so forth. The Achilles Heel of such
arguments, of course, is that the medium through which market signals are
given and received, namely, money, is not distributed equally; therefore, the
problem with attempting to legitimise corrupt exchanges in a similar fashion
would be that the resources which are typically the object of such exchanges
planning permission, licences and permits, public-works contracts and so
on are precisely those resources whose distribution, by common consent,
should be governed by considerations of equality.
Second, by undermining the principle of equality, corruption is by that
token subversive of regimes called liberal democratic, whose authority rests
precisely on the claim that they are successful in ensuring, through the franchise and political accountability, that every member of the electorate can
have a say in public decisions which are thereby made to conform to the
wishes of the electorate as a whole. Corrupt exchanges, as principal-agent
approaches have highlighted so successfully, entail the replacement of these

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wishes by considerations of private gain as the determining factors in the


making of public decisions, thus undermining the very rationale for liberal
democracy as the organising principle of government in the first place. Unfortunately, as Pizzorno has pointed out (and as Hopkins piece in this collection
serves to re-emphasise) the potential for corruption is inherent in all liberal
democracies because in such systems the function of political intermediation
between electorate and government is largely carried out by private agents
(parties) using private resources and because the activity of intermediation
is not separable from activities designed to gather the resources necessary to
carry it out.24 Such non-separability means that even contributions which are
legal and voluntary may have a tendency to lead to the preferential treatment
of some interests at the expense of others, for they are likely to create a
relationship of dependency between party and donor. The difficulty of specifying precisely what it is that makes Mario Chiesas acceptance of tangenti
(bribes) for cleaning contracts an act of corruption, and Phillip Morris donations to parties in the expectation that they will refrain from bans on tobacco
advertising, an act of legitimate political influence, highlights once more the
ineliminable evaluative element in any conception of corruption.
A third source of the concern which corruption provokes is the realisation
that there is a significant self-generating mechanism involved in it, so that
beyond a certain point it tends naturally to feed upon itself and so to spread.25
Della Porta and Vannucci provide an account of the mechanism which runs
something like the following. Assuming that a person will engage in a corrupt
exchange if the anticipated costs are outweighed by the anticipated benefits, it
is apparent that there are significant economies of scale involved in corruption.
As corruption spreads, the lower will be the moral costs of engaging in it
because the more widespread it is, the less likely it is that abstaining from
it will, by example, make any significant contribution to eliminating it. At
the same time, the more widespread corruption is, the more likely is the
achievement of ones ends to depend on a willingness to engage in it oneself
and thus, for this reason too, the lower the moral costs will be, especially if
ones ends can be seen as involving a higher morality.
For example, one of the entrepreneurs interviewed by Della Porta stated
quite frankly and understandably that in deciding whether to pay a bribe
in order to win a public-works contract, he had to weigh his responsibility
to uphold the law against his responsibility to protect the interests of his
employees and shareholders.26 If not paying the bribe means that you put the
livelihoods of your employees at risk without making any significant difference to the spread of corruption whatsoever, what is the morally correct course
of action? Then, the decision to enter into corrupt exchanges will necessarily
trigger a number of mechanisms designed to secure the silence of those who

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might denounce the contracting parties to the authorities, including, for example, the threat of violence offered as a service by organised crime. The more
that silence can be guaranteed, the fewer the risks involved in corruption, and
the fewer the risks involved, the less likely it is that the anticipated costs will
outweigh the anticipated benefits for subsequent individuals contemplating
corrupt exchanges. As these individuals too are thus drawn into networks of
corrupt exchange, so it becomes more difficult to eliminate the phenomenon,
this by virtue of the need to spread more thinly the resources available to
investigate it. This lowers the moral and material costs of corruption still
further until eventually the point is reached where it becomes systemic and
the confidence of the public that its demands and needs will be dealt with by
the public authorities impartially is, effectively, destroyed.
The threat that corruption may spread, and in the end become systemic,
then, makes it something to be feared, and this provides the final source of
concern; for in threatening legal-rational authority the distinctive mode of
legitimation of the modern age corruption is widely seen as something
fundamentally irrational. That is, it is perceived as an atavistic phenomenon
which, because it is fed by private greed, and because it may, potentially,
become systemic, is not easily subordinated to human, collective, reason
(and the analogies often drawn with disease as when people talk about
the virus (or cancer) of corruption for example are telling here). It
is therefore seen as something which flies in the face of our conception of
ourselves and of modernity, this because it denies all those distinguishing
features of conduct that is specifically modern and which we take as signs of
human progress: universalism, fairness, impartiality, rational-legal authority.

New avenues...
The objective of this special issue is to make a contribution to recent advances
in the study of political corruption. Its particular focus is less a general empirical analysis of corruption in advanced democracies (on which there is, as
already noted, a burgeoning literature), than a distinctive mix of methodological new avenues (or at least a revised look at old avenues) and empirical
analysis from the three main regime-types: western democracies, developing
countries and ex-communist regimes in transition. The contributions can be
broadly summarised under five headings:
1. new approaches to measuring and comparing levels of corruption in
different countries;
2. new approaches to capturing the logic and dynamics of corruption;

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3. new ways of analysing political parties as potential vehicles of political


corruption;
4. new approaches to reducing or controlling corruption, specifically in
underdeveloped countries;
5. the significance of corruption in transitional ex-communist states.
In the first article, Thomas Lancaster and Gabriella Montinola (Toward a
Methodology for the Comparative Study of Political Corruption), explore
potential new approaches to measuring and comparing corruption in different
countries. They identify the distinctive challenge political corruption poses for
political science, and specifically for comparative politics. Even though there
is a burgeoning literature of theoretical and single-case studies, there are few
genuine comparative studies of corruption. The authors explain why this is
the case by focusing on three interrelated sets of problems: definitions, operationalisation and measurement of the phenomenon. They highlight especially
the difficulty of measuring corruption across different cases. The comparative studies which are conducted, they argue, tend to be collections of
single cases, rather than truly comparative works. They [the researchers of
these cases] avoid the problem of finding a cross-national measure for level
of corruption by focusing only on cases of high corruption. This selection
on the basis of the dependent variable precludes fruitful comparison. The
authors argue that the goal ambitious as it may be should be to incorporate
the study of political corruption into the mainstream of comparative politics
by attempting to formulate research programmes which are governed by the
accepted logic of comparative enquiry. Whilst recognising, and outlining, the
difficulties involved in this, they introduce and evaluate a new instrument
which might assist in the furthering of this goal: the Transparency International Index. They explore the origins and nature of this Index and evaluate its
degree of robustness, reliability and validity. While the Index is not beyond
criticism, Lancaster and Montinola argue that it has considerable potential
for opening new avenues of comparative research into corruption. Moreover,
even if some scholars reject it as a useful instrument, the very process of
evaluating the Index should force them to give appropriate attention to the
critical methodological issues confronting their work.
Indeed, it could be argued that the value of an instrument such as the
Transparency International Index can be fully assessed only when it is combined with more sophisticated frameworks or methods for studying the logic
and dynamics of political corruption for, plainly, it is only when the problems surrounding both these elements, measurement and theory, have been
satisfactorily resolved that it will be possible to make a credible attempt at
what must remain the ultimate goal of research into political corruption: the
achievement of robust explanations of cross-national variations in the phe-

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nomenon. It is therefore appropriate that Lancaster and Montinolas piece


should immediately be followed by the articles written by Nico Groenendijk,
and by Donatella Della Porta and Alberto Vannucci, both of which are inspired
by principal-agent models of behaviour.
The article by Nico Groenendijk (A Principal-Agent Model of Corruption),
has been included in this special issue to show that political science, in
attempting to develop more sophisticated approaches to analysing political
corruption, should take heed of similar developments in other disciplines.
Nico Groenendijk outlines and develops a new avenue in the study of corruption from a related discipline, neo-institutional economics. Neo-institutional
economics, as Groenendijk explains, deals explicitly with the institutional
factors that affect the decisions of individuals; and from the perspective of
the principal-agent branch of neo-institutional economics, corruption may be
understood as a type of non-co-operative behaviour by an agent in relation
to a principal, where agents are paid to take actions designed to further the
goals of principals. The potential for corruption arises from the circumstance
that the utility of any given action for the principal may well fail to coincide with its utility for the agent; that principals cannot costlessly monitor the
actions of agents; and that in any case the achievement of the principals goals
are not determined by the agents actions, they are only affected by them. This
means that principals face costs associated with the attempt to monitor and
control agents behaviour in the face of which agents incur concealment
and diversion costs. The actions of each will be a function of the structure of
costs and benefits facing them, so that from this perspective, corruption arises
as a result of the intervention of a second principal (the corruptor in Della
Porta and Vannuccis terminology) who is able so to alter the structure of
costs and benefits facing the agent as to induce him to take actions designed
to further his, the second agents, goals rather than those of the first principal.
Once it is conceded that the electorate can be considered as a first principal
vis-`a-vis elected politicians; the latter as agents; and any given individuals,
or groups of individuals as second principals vis-`a-vis politicians, then the
principal-agent approach may be readily applied to political corruption. A
complete application of the model is a matter of showing how the structure
of costs and benefits faced by all of these three sets of actors are affected by:
the characteristics of the goods and services produced by the politicians; the
characteristics of the processes (including electoral systems) by which these
goods and services are produced; the characteristics of the actors involved. For
example, as Groenendijk himself points out, there has been some discussion
about the effect of different electoral systems on the degree of competition
between parties and thus on levels of political corruption.27

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From this point of view, the value of Groenendijks work is that it lays
out a clearly-defined theoretical framework and associated research agenda,
something which throws a spotlight on the subsequent article.
Donatella Della Porta and Alberto Vannuccis article (The Resources of
Corruption: Some Reflections from the Italian Case) explores in depth one
core part of the principal-agent model, the resources available to the different
actors and those which are actually exchanged, showing how it can be used
to throw light on corruption in Italy and, vice versa, how corruption in Italy
can be used to throw light on one core part of the model. Using a wealth of
primary sources from the Italian case, Della Porta and Vannucci analyse the
commodities which flow, on the one hand, from the public to the private
sector (influence over decisions and information) and, on the other, from the
private to the public sector (bribes, influence on the mass media, patronage
and so on). They also explore the resources used by corrupt public agents
to initiate and conclude successful exchanges, or at least reduce the inherent
friction involved in illegal dealings. They show that one of the main effects
of corruption is to transform the exercise of public authority into a form of
power business. The different resources, moreover, are inextricably linked,
the same resources sometimes being used as commodities for exchange
and sometimes to reduce production or transaction costs in illegal dealing.
Moreover, the linking of these resources can produce an extremely powerful
because systemic - effect: where systemic corruption develops, then not participating is no longer a sign of honesty but rather lack of power, weakness or
incompetence. Between them, the articles by Groenendijk and Della Porta and
Vannucci demonstrate the strength of principal-agent models of corruption
and their potential to developing more comparative empirical-based analyses.
Jonathan Hopkins contribution (Political Parties, Political Corruption, and
the Economic Theory of Democracy) meshes with the previous two by also
being informed by an economic perspective while at the same time representing a shift of substantive focus, in this case, to the link between political
corruption and political parties as collective actors. Hopkin is struck by the
fact that in a consistent application of an economic approach to party behaviour a high propensity to corruption among the political entrepreneurs who
lead such parties is an inexorable deductive consequence of their role as rational utility-maximisers: political entrepreneurs are as subject to the free-rider
problem as any other actor and thus no more likely, in the absence of selective
incentives, to be willing to play a part in the production of public goods than
anyone else. Moreover, if, as an economic approach suggests, parties are composed of power-seeking individuals, serious questions are posed about where
the party obtains the resources it needs for its basic functioning: potential

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volunteer workers are subject to the irresistible temptation to free-ride; and


the party also has the problem of obtaining money. An economic approach
therefore points to a business-firm model of the party one whose capitalintensive approach to campaigning frees it from dependence on the uncertain
commitment of volunteers, while at the same time requiring that it raises vast
sums to carry on such activities. But, since the individuals who will provide
such sums are subject to the self-same logic of collective action and will
expect private benefits in return, the likelihood of corruption enters the scene
once more. Thus, to the extent that real-world parties come increasingly to
resemble the business-firm model, an increase in corruption may tentatively
be hypothesised, while the striking parallels between the deductively derived
behaviour of the business-firm party, and the actual behaviour of some southern European socialist parties in recent years, points to a new relevance for
economic theories of party political corruption.
The above insights from capitalist democracies are extremely pertinent for the
former communist countries currently attempting to manage the transition into
stable regimes based on free elections and private ownership of the economy
(the hallmarks of western democracy). Their efforts to design democracy
can only be assisted by an awareness of the causes, dynamics and consequences of political corruption in the west. Yet, of more immediate relevance
is the explosion of corruption that has occurred in these regimes since the
collapse of communism, something analysed in the article by Leslie Holmes
(Corruption and the Crisis of the Post-Communist State), and on which there
is, to date, little research of substance. The evidence presented by Holmes
shows that, however corrupt the old communist system may have been28, political corruption has certainly become rampant throughout the post-communist
world. He argues that the very nature of post-communism is conducive to the
spread of corruption because of a serious moral and ideological vacuum, the
decline of control of the state and of fear of it, and the opportunities presented
by the massive privatisation programmes underway. Corruption, moreover,
is potentially more destructive in post-communist states in transition than in
established consolidated democracies, a factor which has been inadequately
explored to date in theories of democratic transition and consolidation.29 The
ex-communist regimes are faced with difficulties which are more complex
than those facing many Latin American countries, and ceteris paribus, the
more complicated the task of transition, the more fragile a system [one has],
and hence the more endangered by the cancer of corruption and crime [it will
be]. Holmes takes the argument further, arguing that corruption in central
and eastern Europe has implications which reach far beyond the former communist countries themselves, and suggests that what we might be witnessing
is the emergence of a new type of crisis of the state (that of public trust in it)

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which is unaccounted for in the state debate literature to date. In short, while
it may be true that the former communist regimes can learn from the spread
of corruption in the west, Holmess article is a sharp reminder of the fact that
the west should be watching far more closely the spread of corruption in central and eastern Europe; he calls, therefore, for more research into the nature
and role of corruption in these transitional regimes and for comparisons with
corruption in other types of regime.
If the above suggests that corruption may well increase in the coming period, then one can assume that the debate over anti-corruption methods will
gain increasing prominence. It is appropriate, therefore, that the final article
by Robin Theobald (Can Debt be Used to Combat Political Corruption in
Africa?) is located within this debate and, more broadly, within prescriptive
political science. The explicitly prescriptive focus is understandable for, as
Theobald himself points out, if corruption is undoubtedly a global phenomenon, its consequences for poor countries can be devastating, resulting (in
some countries in Africa) in schools, roads and hospitals failing to be built
while self-confessed kleptocrats transfer millions overseas. This then sets off
a vicious spiral of economic and social decline leading to crippling levels of
indebtedness and, in some cases, bringing the state to the verge of complete
collapse. Paradoxically, however, indebtedness also creates the opportunity
for an improvement in the conditions of African states, this by allowing the
development of policies which would link debt write-offs to the acceptance
of external auditors working in anti-corruption agencies whose task would be
to monitor flows of government finance. According to the plan advocated by
the London-based Centre for Accountability and Debt Relief, and accepted
by the government of Uganda, the identification of irregular or inappropriate
payments could result in the reimposition of unamortized portions of debt,
with immediate consequences for debt servicing.
Of course, one could argue about the extent to which debt should be used in
this way some might argue that such a policy would in effect be another form
of neo-colonialism but against this Theobald points out that most African
states are already enduring serious infringements of their sovereignty in terms
of the structural-adjustment and other programmes that have been imposed
upon them. Rather, for Theobald, the questions that need to be asked about
such policies are of a practical nature and concern the issue of how one deals
with the forces that might otherwise be expected to subvert the work of anticorruption agencies, namely, patrimonialism, grand corruption by heads of
state and the advanced state of decay of the African state itself. These are
formidable obstacles, particularly the second one, and, argues Theobald, much
will depend on the educative role of anti-corruption agencies and their success,
or otherwise, in galvanizing and focusing opposition to misgovernment and

182

MARTIN J. BULL & JAMES L. NEWELL

the continued abuse of power. Despite these obstacles, Theobalds article


is perhaps confirmation of a key point made earlier: the paradox of the coexistence of an inconclusive dispute about definitions and a consensus on
the severity of the phenomenon. In the real world, when corruption reaches
endemic proportions, it seems to matter less that an agreement be reached on
what it is than that there is radical, innovative thinking about how it can be
stopped.

Notes
1. Yves Meny and Martin Rhodes, Illicit Governance: Corruption, Scandal and Fraud, in
Martin Rhodes, Paul Heywood and Vincent Wright (eds), Developments in West European
Politics (London: Macmillan, 1997), pp. 95113.
2. D. Nelken and M. Levi note that Before the 1990s, many in the west saw corruption as
a problem limited to underdeveloped countries (The Corruption of Politics and the
Politics of Corruption: An Overview, Journal of Law and Society, 1996 (23: 1), (special
issue on The Corruption of Politics and the Politics of Corruption), p. 1.
3. Percy Allum, Politics and Society in Post-War Naples (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1973); and Franco Cazzola, La corruzione. Il sistema politico italiano (Bologna: Il
Mulino, 1988).
4. Joseph LaPalombara, Democracy Italian Style (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987).
5. For a summary of these two interpretations see Yves Meny, Politics, Corruption and
Democracy. The 1995 Stein Rokkan Lecture, European Journal of Political Research,
September 1996 (30), p. 114.
6. Yves Meny, Fin de si`ecle corruption: Change, Crisis and Shifting Values, International
Social Science Journal, September 1996 (149), (special issue on Corruption in Western
Democracies).
7. For recent collections see, for example: A. J. Heidenheimer, M. Johnston, V. T. Levine
(eds), Political Corruption. A Handbook (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1989);
Donatella Della Porta and Yves Meny (eds), Corruption and Democracy in Western
Europe (London: Pinter, 1996); Walter Little and Eduardo Posada-Carbo (eds), Political
Corruption in Europe and Latin America (London: Macmillan, 1996).; Michael Levi and
David Nelken (eds), The Corruption of Politics and the Politics of Corruption, special
issue of Journal of Law and Society, 1996 (23:1); Alan Doig and F.F. Ridley (eds), Sleaze:
Politics, Private Interests and Public Reaction, special issue of Parliamentary Affairs,
1995 (48:4); Corruption in Western Democracies, special issue of International Social
Science Journal, September 1996 (149).
8. Yves Meny, Politics, Corruption and Democracy, op. cit., pp. 1147; Meny and Rhodes,
Illicit Governance..., op. cit.
9. Donatella Della Porta, Actors in Corruption: Business Politicians in Italy, International
Social Science Journal, September 1996 (149), (special issue on Corruption in Western Democracies), p. 350. See also, Donatella Della Porta, Lo scambio occulto. Casi di
corruzione politica in Italia (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1992); and Donatella Della Porta and
Alberto Vannucci, Corruzione politica e amministrazione pubblica. Risorse, attori, meccanismi (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1994). There are also several good examples in the collections
already cited in note 7.
10. Meny, Politics, Corruption and Democracy..., op. cit., p. 113.
11. Donatella Della Porta, Actors in Corruption: Business Politicians in Italy, op. cit., p.
363.

NEW AVENUES IN THE STUDY OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION

183

12. For a recent analysis of corruption at the international level see Jens Christopher Andvig,
Corruption and Softening of Governments: the International Dimension, paper presented
at the conference, Corruption in Contemporary Politics, European Studies Research
Institute, University of Salford, 1416 November 1996.
13. Edward C. Banfield, Corruption as a Feature of Governmental Organization, Journal of
Law and Economics, 1975 (18), 587605.
14. Frank Anechiarico and James B. Jacobs, The Pursuit of Absolute Integrity. How Corruption
Control Makes Government Ineffective (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).
15. A.B. Gunlicks (ed), Campaign and Party Finance in North America and Western Europe
(Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1993); R. Shiratori (eds), Comparative Political
Finance Among the Democracies (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1994); and C.
Malamud and E. Posada-Carbo (eds), Financing Party Politics in Europe and Latin America (London: Macmillan, forthcoming).
16. See, for example, George Schopflin, Corruption, Information, Irregularity in Eastern
Europe: A Political Analysis, Sudosteuropa, 1984 (33:78), p.400 (cited by Leslie
Holmes, Corruption and the Crisis of the Post-Communist State, in this issue).
17. Meny and Rhodes, Illicit Governance... op. cit., p. 96.
18. Meny, Fin de si`ecle corruption..., op. cit., pp. 30913.
19. Thomas D. Lancaster and Gabriella R. Montinola, Toward a Methodology for the Comparative Study of Political Corruption, Crime, Law and Social Change, 1997(27), 185206
(in this issue).
20. See, for example, A. Rogow and H.D. Laswell, The Definition of Corruption, in A.J.
Heidenheimer (ed), Political Corruption: Readings in Comparative Analysis, (New York:
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970); S.D. Morris, Corruption and Politics in Contemporary
Mexico, (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991).
21. I. Adams, The Logic of Political Belief: A Philosophical Analysis of Ideology, (New York:
Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989).
22. Lancaster and Montinola, Toward a Methodology... op. cit.
23. W.I. Thomas, The Child in America, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928), p. 572.
24. Alessandro Pizzorno, Introduzione. La corruzione nel sistema politico, in Donatella
Della Porta, Lo Scambio Occulto: Casi di corruzione politica in Italia, (Bologna: il
Mulino, 1992).
25. See Della Porta and Vannucci, Corruzione Politica... op. cit.
26. Ibid., p.325.
27. See, for example, G. Galeotti and A. Merlo, Political Collusion and Corruption in a
Representative Democracy, Public Finance, 1994 (49), 232243; R.B. Myerson, Effectiveness of Electoral Systems for Reducing Government Corruption: A Game-Theoretic
Analysis, Games and Economic Behaviour, 1993 (5), 118132.
28. Something on which there remains disagreement. For an extreme view see Lev Timofeev,
Metacorruption: a Theoretical Model of Shadow Relationships. The Russian Experience,
paper presented at the conference on Corruption in Contemporary Politics, European
Studies Research Institute, University of Salford, 1416 November 1996.
29. For a rare tentative excursion into this field see Jose Magone, Political Corruption and
Sustainable Democracy in Small Countries: The Portuguese Case in Comparative European Perspective, paper presented at the Conference on Corruption in Contemporary
Politics, European Studies Research Institute, University of Salford, 1416 November
1996.