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Review of International Political Economy

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The hollowness of anti-corruption discourse

Mlada Bukovansky
Department of Government , Smith College , Northampton, USA
Published online: 19 Aug 2006.

To cite this article: Mlada Bukovansky (2006) The hollowness of anti-corruption discourse, Review of International
Political Economy, 13:2, 181-209

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Review of International Political Economy 13:2 May 2006: 181209

The hollowness of anti-corruption discourse

Mlada Bukovansky
Department of Government, Smith College, Northampton, USA
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As part of an overall focus on governance in international political econ-
omy, the corruption issue has catapulted from the margins of academic and
policy discourse on international affairs to a position as one of the central
problems facing transition economies and the developing world today. But
the irreducibly normative character of anti-corruption discourse is in tension
with the predominantly rationalist, technical and instrumental justifications
for open markets which have long dominated the academic and institutional
discourse on international political economy. A survey of the anti-corruption
consensus reveals omissions and oversights which cause analysts to evade
and obscure, rather than directly engage, core problems of politics and ethics;
this may have practical consequences for anti-corruption efforts. Republican
political thought, though not without its own risks and flaws, may balance
and correct some of the omissions and oversights of liberal and rationalist
discourse on corruption.

Corruption; governance; republicanism; International Monetary Fund;
World Bank; Transparency International

In the last decade, international organizations have increasingly publicized
their concerns about political corruption (commonly defined as the use of
public office for private gain, or the illegitimate purchase by private actors
of political consideration), primarily as a negative influence on economic
development but also as the source of a host of other ills ranging from loss
of democratic legitimacy to terrorism. The corruption issue has catapulted
from the margins of academic and policy discourse to a position as one of
the central problems facing transition economies and the developing world
today. Moreover, international organizations and donor states, as well as
Review of International Political Economy
ISSN 0969-2290 print/ISSN 1466-4526 online  C 2006 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/09692290600625413

students of economic and political development, increasingly suggest that

correcting the problem of corruption requires multilateral solutions and
direct external pressure on sovereign governments (Mauro, 2004; UN,
This solidifying consensus that corruption is a problem of international
concern, requiring multilateral solutions, raises a host of questions. Why
has corruption moved from being a tacitly accepted, if unsavory, part of
international transactions, with many countries making bribes to foreign
officials tax deductible, to being considered a primary villain for under-
development and a host of other ills? Why does Samuel Huntingtons
assertion that corruption is an inevitable and perhaps even a desirable
part of the process of economic and political modernization no longer bear
the stamp of conventional wisdom (Huntington, 1987)? This essay ana-
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lyzes the anti-corruption rhetoric of several international organizations

and treaties, as well as the academic literature informing the policy stances
of those organizations and treaties, reviewing the main contours of the
anti-corruption consensus. A survey of this consensus reveals omissions
and oversights which cause analysts to evade and obscure, rather than di-
rectly engage, core problems of politics and ethics; this may have practical
consequences for anti-corruption efforts. In short, todays anti-corruption
discourse rings hollow in its neglect of the moral core of the corruption
concept, and this reduces its effectiveness.
Any perusal of major news sources will reveal plenty of corruption scan-
dals in the advanced industrialized states, and within international orga-
nizations themselves, but most international anti-corruption campaigns
emanating from international organizations and aid donor governments
are targeted at the developing world. Less developed countries are gen-
erally perceived as being far more corrupt than industrialized states, ac-
cording to such indices as the Corruption Perceptions Index put out by
Transparency International. In the past decade, charges that a countrys
development suffers because of corruption have become a widespread
and routine way of addressing the development gap between North
and South. Despite sporadic attempts to restrain multinational corpora-
tions by prohibiting them from bribing foreign public officials, the bulk
of multilateral anti-corruption rhetoric and policy is directed at the de-
veloping world, and at the transition economies of the former Soviet
In its developmental focus, current anti-corruption rhetoric signals an
extension of multilateral efforts to expand and solidify the institutional
foundations for a global market economy. But it is also signals some-
thing of a departure from previous norms and regimes geared toward
this same end. The key point on which the anti-corruption discourse
diverges from existing trade and monetary regimes is in its relatively
explicit evocation of the moral underpinnings of a successful market
B U K O VA N S K Y: T H E H O L L O W N E S S O F A N T I - C O R R U P T I O N D I S C O U R S E

economy. But the normative character of anti-corruption discourse is in

tension with the predominantly rationalist, technical and instrumental
justifications for open markets which have long dominated the academic
and institutional discourse on international political economy (IPE). Blam-
ing economic problems on corruption rather than, say, inappropriate tar-
iff structures, unavoidably leads to the observation that individuals in
authority are behaving badly, and that they need to behave better
with an eye toward the public good rather than their own personal
or sectarian advantage to ameliorate the problem. Evoking, however
obliquely, the moral requirements for a liberalizing international econ-
omy also extends the neo-liberal institutionalist focus on transparency,
separation of powers, and government accountability beyond the realm
of institutional solutions technically conceived and into the realm of eth-
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ical mores such as public-mindedness, fairness, and equality before the

Despite its moral undertones, the bulk of contemporary anti-corruption
discourse deploys the language and methodologies of economics and ra-
tional choice to render diagnostic assessments of the plight of the corrupt
and less developed, and to develop cures based on these forms of analysis
(Hopkin, 2002). Advances in incorporating the study of institutions into
analyses of economic growth and development, represented by the new
institutional economics have led to greater and more refined treatment of
variables previously excluded from economic studies of development. Yet
the analytical framework has not changed in one important respect: it is a
framework wherein self-interested agents respond to a set of incentives in
their environment, yielding either positive (wealth and utility enhancing)
or negative (wealth and utility detracting) outcomes. Public policies aim
to manipulate the incentive structures such self-interested actors face in
order to achieve positive collective outcomes or at least minimize negative
ones. Corruption control thus becomes a technical matter of effectively
manipulating incentive structures.
While technical-instrumental approaches to the problem of corruption
undoubtedly have merit, they fail to address a deeper set of conceptual is-
sues, and they present an ethical problem. Advocating changes in incentive
structures without addressing problems of political agency is likely to be
an exercise in futility. It is well and good to ask that a countrys tax collec-
tion system be reformed, but who is empowered to do the reforming? What
forms of political authority exist in a particular society; who are the author-
itative agents, how do they derive their legitimacy, and are they capable
of, and willing to engage in, reform? Ultimately the question boils down to
how to get good leaders to do the right thing. This then raises the question
of what are the criteria for good and right and who should decide on
them? The liberal legacy of the rationalist approach allows such questions
to be evaded, because the ends of modernity, particularly economic growth

and a governing structure that maximizes individual rights, are taken as

given and unproblematic (Euben, 1989).
Furthermore, the liberal-rationalist approach to corruption has not gone
far enough in acknowledging the normative content of institutions; such
content cannot be fully captured if we treat institutions simply as incentive
structures that are part of the external environment faced by social actors.
For some purposes it may be useful to deploy a notion of institutions
that recognizes their capacity to be internalized, as normative, cultural
structures, by social agents. This would address the problem of political
agency insofar as we would have a richer conception of what such agency
would require: motivation to act in accordance with certain internally held
values rather than simply out of narrow self-interest. A richer concept of
institutions and norms along these lines, including the institutions and
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norms of modern market society, would also recognize their historical and
sociological contingency.
The ethical problem in the liberal-rationalist approach to corruption has
to do with the external imposition of contingent standards on societies that
are not fully participating in defining those standards. This problem needs
to be faced not only for moral reasons but for pragmatic ones as well;
arguably the moral reasons partly constitute the pragmatic reasons. Ex-
ternally imposed standards will lack legitimacy unless they are embraced
and internalized by the culture on which they are imposed. Legitimacy
of a law or standard is at least in part an ethical problem; a standard
must be embraced as right or fair by a social actor to be considered
legitimate. Standards that lack legitimacy (the ethical problem) are less
likely than legitimate standards to be effectively enforced (the pragmatic
An alternative discourse on corruption, one which does not take the
ends of modernity as unproblematic and given, might well correct some
of the evasions and omissions of the current anti-corruption consensus,
and may perhaps even begin to address some of its practical and ethical
problems. Fuel for such a discourse may be found in the republican tra-
dition of political thought. Republican discourse offers richer and more
normative notions of political agency, institutions, and public good than
are available in neo-liberal discourse. It also offers more in the way of a
self-determined notion of public good, and in a highly heterogeneous in-
ternational system, this may render its contributions particularly salient,
though also problematic and perhaps unsettling.
The first sections of this essay lay out a critique of the anti-corruption
discourse in its institutional and academic manifestations, and the final sec-
tion explores how our understanding of the corruption problem might be
deepened by attending to the republican tradition; the conclusion suggests
some practical consequences of the analysis.

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I I . T H E A NT I - C O R R U P T I O N C O N S E N S U S
The turn in international organizations concerned with development to-
ward addressing corruption and governance more generally is one symp-
tom of the perceived inadequacy of narrowly economic approaches to the
problem of economic development. In the dominant lending institutions
and the academic discourse they draw on and generate, the overall goal re-
mains the same as that articulated by classical economic theory: economic
growth is the engine of economic development. How the means to at-
tain that goal are conceptualized has broadened, however, to include such
things as institutions, governance, human capital, and social capital.
Because the modernization that was anticipated after decolonization did
not produce the hoped-for results stable market economies and democ-
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ratization in many parts of the world, the search for relevant variables
that may have been overlooked in the first waves of development litera-
ture has drawn scholars and policy-makers to the study of institutions and
governance. This focus has in turn unveiled the problem of corruption.
For decades, international institutions had little if anything to say about
corruption. Silence signified complacency, or at least unwillingness to con-
front the issue. Confronting the issue, on the other hand, means speaking
publicly about it. Publicly calling a person or government corrupt is a polit-
ical act. During the mid to late 1990s the United Nations, the International
Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooper-
ation and Development, and a number of regional institutions, business
organizations, and non-governmental organizations brought the corrup-
tion issue to the forefront of their agendas and began to lobby for measures
intended to curb corruption. The nongovernmental organization Trans-
parency International (TI) has played a central role in putting the corrup-
tion issue on the international agenda, through its field programs and lob-
bying efforts, and through its publication of the Corruption Perceptions
Index and the newer Bribe Payers Index (Transparency International,
2003). These policy developments have been informed and buttressed by
a growing scholarly literature focusing on corruption and its effects, par-
ticularly its effects on economic development (Hopkin, 2002).
The international realm has traditionally been viewed as highly permis-
sive with respect to bribery and other transactions that would be deemed
corrupt in a domestic context. Only 20 years ago it was considered per-
fectly acceptable and in many states tax deductible to bribe foreigners
if not ones own nationals. This is no longer the case in one small sense:
although such activities still routinely occur, they are no longer openly,
publicly justifiable (Noonan, 1984: 65255). This aligns with a more general
trend: the growth of a comprehensive governance agenda within interna-
tional institutions and across a broader swath of non-governmental and
trans-governmental networks, wherein the structure and implementation


of domestic institutions and laws within sovereign states is increasingly

subjected to external pressure to align with universal norms (Slaughter,
1997). This holds true for the problem of corruption as well as for other
governance projects such as democratization and advancement of human
An international regime targeting corrupt practices began to emerge by
the late 1990s. In the following paragraphs I outline the contours of the
emerging regime by reviewing some of its key documents. My review
includes the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank,
and OECD on the international institutional side; and Transparency Inter-
national on the NGO side. The emphasis is on the public rationales given
in those documents about why corruption is a bad thing. Almost all the
documents surveyed define corruption as the use of public office for pri-
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vate gain, and/or the exercise of inappropriate (i.e. private sector) influ-
ence over the decisions of public officials. Yet almost none actually explore
where the line between public and private should be drawn. Corruption is
treated like pornography people are expected to know it when they see
it. The key focus in the documents surveyed is on articulating a rationale
for fighting corruption, not defining corruption as such.
Examining public rationales for fighting corruption in the texts of key
international resolutions, treaties and commentaries helps us to interpret
the significance people are publicly willing to give the corruption issue.
Just as secrecy is a defining component of corrupt practices, publicity is
a defining component of anti-corruption campaigns. Public rationales for
anti-corruption efforts are worth studying precisely because they help to
constitute such efforts.

The United Nations

After some failed efforts by the United Nations Economic and Social Coun-
cil to bring the issue before the General Assembly in the early 1970s, the
Assembly adopted a Resolution in 1975 calling for international coopera-
tion against corruption and bribery in international commercial transac-
tions. Other institutions did not follow suit, and the issue remained more
or less a dead letter for about 20 years. But beginning in 1996, a Resolu-
tion calling for international cooperation against bribery became an annual
event. The core document upon which these Resolutions focus is the 1996
United Nations Declaration Against Corruption and Bribery in Interna-
tional Commercial Transactions (UN General Assembly, 1996a).
The dominant rationale for fighting corruption in the 1996 document
is developmental: a stable and transparent environment for international
commercial transactions . . . is essential for the mobilization of . . . resources
across national borders in order . . . to promote economic and social devel-
opment and environmental protection. Development means opening up
B U K O VA N S K Y: T H E H O L L O W N E S S O F A N T I - C O R R U P T I O N D I S C O U R S E

to international commerce. The document explicitly recognizes that de-

velopmental objectives have ethical dimensions, citing: the need to pro-
mote social responsibility and appropriate standards of ethics on the part
of private and public corporations, including transnational corporations,
and individuals engaged in international commercial transactions . . . (UN
General Assembly, 1996a, Annex, para. 13). But the Resolution is not solely
targeted at international business, since it also encourages the enforcement
of existing laws, adoption of new laws, and criminalization of bribery of
foreign public officials (UN, 1996b).
Subsequent Resolutions of the late 1990s revealed a shift in emphasis
from the corrupting influence of transnational corporations to corruption
in the public sector. For example, the 1998 Resolution reads: Convinced
that such [corrupt] practices undermine the integrity of state bureaucracies and
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weaken social and economic policies by promoting corruption in the pub-

lic sector, thus diminishing its credibility . . . (UN General Assembly, 1998:
1, preamble, para. 2; my emphasis). This dovetails with the neo-liberal
consensus that emerged in the late 1990s regarding the positive role of for-
eign investment in generating economic growth and hence development;
bribe-taking government officials rather than bribe-giving transnational
corporations became the UNs primary focal point. Furthermore, the em-
phasis in the stated rationales for fighting corruption also changed in this
period; instead of citing economic development objectives first, as is evi-
dent in the 1996 Resolution, later Resolutions cite concerns about the social
values of democracy and stability, and the stability of the public sector. The
1999 Resolution puts society, democracy, and morality first, prior to devel-
opment or the integrity of the public sector (UN General Assembly, 1999: 1,
preamble, para. 23). Further, in the Resolutions of 2001 and 2002 the pri-
vate sector is touted as (or exhorted to be) an agent of universal principles
and norms (UN General Assembly, 2001: 1, 2002: 1, para. 5). All in all, these
Resolutions simultaneously signal a normative embrace of the virtues of
capitalism, buffered by commitments to democratic governance an atti-
tude consistent with ideological tone of the Washington consensus of the
late 1990s, but tempered by the UN General Assemblys rhetorical efforts
to put the welfare of peoples onto the international governance agenda.
The potential contradiction between the value of social stability and that
of open markets and economic growth is conveniently overlooked.
In December of 2003, UN delegates adopted a new Convention Against
Corruption in Merida, Mexico. The UN Convention, when it enters into ef-
fect, will have the legal force that General Assembly resolutions do not, so
the Convention represents a significant consolidation of the anti-corruption
consensus in the international community. It contains a couple of notable
developments that take it beyond previous UN anti-corruption texts: a
clear articulation of the need for multilateral measures to combat corrup-
tion, including provisions for extradition and confiscation of assets, and the

explicit extension of anti-corruption efforts to the private sector. The latter

point was a stumbling block in the negotiations for some time; while the
private sector was not the object of scrutiny in the 19982001 Resolutions,
it has recently become more so, perhaps in the wake of the latest round of
corporate corruption scandals in Europe and the United States. This em-
phasis also dovetails with the emergence of Transparency Internationals
Bribe Payers Index (BPI) to complement the Corruption Perceptions Index
(CPI). The UN Convention also reinforces the OECD Convention Combat-
ing Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in prohibiting the tax-deductibility
of bribes, which also puts some of the burden of anti-corruption efforts on
the private sector (the BPI, CPI, and OECD treaty are discussed later). In
short, the push to make government the bad guy has been tempered by
renewed attention to corruption in the private sector.
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The language of the new UN Convention is also more overtly moral-

istic than previous articulations, and it draws together all the threads
of the governance and development discourse into a coherent bundle
when in the preamble the parties note their concern about the serious-
ness of problems and threats posed by corruption to the stability and
security of societies, undermining the institutions and values of democ-
racy, ethical values and justice and jeopardizing sustainable development
and the rule of law . . . (UN, 2003: 1). The language soars beyond the
need to create proper conditions for markets and attract foreign invest-
ment, to present a holistic vision of a just, democratic, healthy, law abiding
The transnational dimension of corruption and the need for multilateral
cooperation in fighting it is explicitly acknowledge in the preambles as-
sertion that . . . corruption is no longer a local matter but a transnational
phenomenon that affects all societies and economies, making international
cooperation to prevent and control it essential . . . (UN, 2003: 1). The gov-
ernance and development discourses have consolidated into a coherent
package of objectives for the implementation of which the international
community as a whole, represented by international organizations, bears
a right and responsibility.
On their own and considered as policy, the UNs practical efforts at
corruption control have remained weak; General Assembly Resolutions
do not have the binding force of law, and the UN does not have special
enforcement or monitoring mechanisms for its anti-corruption efforts. Par-
ticipation in the UNs Global Programme Against Corruption, under the
aegis of the UN Center for International Crime Prevention, is strictly vol-
untary. The practical effects of the new UN Convention remain to be seen,
as it only entered into force in December 2005. And the UN is of course em-
broiled in its own internal corruption scandals, most recently and notably
the revelation of a major kickback scheme in the UN-administered Iraqi Oil
for Food Program. Despite all that, UN anti-corruption efforts have been
B U K O VA N S K Y: T H E H O L L O W N E S S O F A N T I - C O R R U P T I O N D I S C O U R S E

supported by movement in other areas, and today we find a notable con-

vergence in thinking between the UN, the International Monetary Fund,
the World Bank, and the OECD.

The International Monetary Fund

From 1995 onwards, immediately preceding renewed activity in the UN
General Assembly, economists at or associated with the IMF began pub-
lishing work arguing that corruption had detrimental effects on invest-
ment and economic growth (Ades and Di Tella, 1997; Camdessus, 1998;
IMF, 1997a; Mauro, 1995, 1997; Rose-Ackerman, 1997; Shleifer and Vishny,
1993; Tanzi, 1995; Tanzi and Davoodi, 1998; Vogl, 1998). This work com-
plemented the growing attention to governance issues on the part of IMF
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officials. In September 1996, the IMFs Interim Committee adopted a Dec-

laration of Partnership for Sustainable Global Growth, which identified
promoting good governance in all its aspects, including ensuring the rule
of law, improving the efficiency and accountability of the public sector, and
tackling corruption, as essential elements of a framework within which
economies can prosper (IMF, 1996). In 1997, the IMFs Executive Board
adopted Guidelines Regarding Governance Issues (IMF, 1997a,b). Fund
involvement in governance, through policy advice and technical assis-
tance, focuses on two spheres: (1) improving the management of public
resources through reforms covering public sector institutions (e.g. the trea-
sury, central bank, public enterprises, civil service, and the official statistics
function), including administrative procedures . . . and (2) supporting the
development and maintenance of a transparent and stable economic and
regulatory environment conducive to efficient private sector activities (e.g.
price systems, exchange and trade regimes, banking systems and their re-
lated regulations) (IMF, 1997b).
Macroeconomic impact constitutes the primary criterion for IMF in-
volvement with governance issues. Given the growing body of literature
concerning the impact of governance on economic growth, this still leaves
considerable scope for action:
In considering whether IMF involvement in a governance issue is
appropriate, the staff should be guided by an assessment of whether
poor governance would have significant current or potential impact
on macroeconomic performance in the short and medium term, and
on the ability of the government credibly to pursue policies aimed
at external viability and sustainable growth. The staff could draw
upon comparisons with broadly agreed best international practices
of economic management to assess the need for reforms. (IMF, 1997b)
The mechanisms by which the IMF can apply its criteria include exchange
rate consultation discussions with member governments; surveillance via

such measures as Article IV staff reports (Article IV of the IMFs Arti-

cles of Agreement provides for IMF surveillance of member country ex-
change rate policies); Public Information Notices which summarize exec-
utive board discussions; the use of conditionality in the disbursement if
IMF resources; and technical assistance (IMF, 2001). Since 2002, more than
half of the Funds Public Information Notices have contained explicit ref-
erences to governance or corruption, and over two thirds of the Letters
of Intent, where country authorities describe their economic policies to
the Fund, mention corruption (IMF, 2003). In addition, the IMF cooperates
with donor countries, private banks, and other international institutions,
especially the World Bank, in furthering a governance agenda.
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The World Bank

At the World Bank, governance has become even more central. After he was
appointed president of the Bank in 1995, James Wolfensohn put the corrup-
tion issue on the Banks agenda, and worked with Transparency Interna-
tional to formulate an anti-corruption strategy (Brademas and Heimann,
1998: 20). The ties between Transparency International and the World Bank
are very close. At least four members of TIs Board of Directors formerly
held high level World Bank posts, as did several members of its Secretariat
(biographies are available on TIs website). As with the IMF, the World
Banks attention to corruption is part of a broader governance agenda,
but the Bank has pursued the corruption issue more extensively, at least
in its research and writing. For example, in its World Development Re-
port for 1997, an entire chapter is devoted to Restraining Arbitrary State
Action and Corruption. The primary focus is on how to pursue reform
through changing institutional incentives, but the Report also notes that
Corruption violates the public trust and corrodes social capital (World
Bank, 1997b: 102). Subsequent World Development Reports have followed
In 1997 the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management arm of the
World Bank put out a lengthy report entitled Helping Countries Combat Cor-
ruption: the Role of the World Bank (World Bank, 1997a). This document out-
lines a multi-pronged anti-corruption strategy which includes: Preventing
fraud and corruption within Bank-financed projects. Helping countries that
request Bank support in their efforts to reduce corruption. Taking corrup-
tion more explicitly into account in country assistance strategies, country
lending considerations, the policy dialogue, analytical work, and the choice
and design of projects. Adding voice and support to international efforts to
reduce corruption (World Bank, 1997a: 23). Although the Banks literature
emphasizes the role of institutional incentives, Bank publications regard-
ing corruption now also routinely assert the importance of public sector
ethics (see for example World Bank, 1997a: 17).
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The Banks anti-corruption focus has only intensified recent years, to

the point where one can find, on the World Banks website, the follow-
ing sweeping statement: The Bank has identified corruption as the single
greatest obstacle to economic and social development. It undermines de-
velopment by distorting the rule of law and weakening the institutional
foundation on which economic growth depends (World Bank, 2004). The
Banks wording on the deleterious effects of corruption on the poor is al-
most identical to that of the UN documents. The Bank now identifies the
five core elements of its anti-corruption strategy as: (1) increasing public
accountability; (2) strengthening civil society participation; (3) creating a
competitive private sector; (4) fostering institutional restraints on power;
and (5) improving public sector management. The focus on corruption has
yielded a very comprehensive and sweeping vision of good governance,
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which is presumably what corruption corrodes.

The OECDs Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials
in International Business Transactions was the result of efforts and con-
sultations by a Working Group on Bribery which convened in 1989 and
presented its first recommendations in 1994. The United States played a
significant role in furthering the initiative to develop an OECD instru-
ment, based on US domestic debates about whether the Foreign Corrupt
Practices Act of 1977 (which prohibits US companies from bribing foreign
public officials) was making it difficult for US companies to compete in
gaining access to contracts and other competitive advantages in interna-
tional markets (Pieth, 1997). But US pressure alone cannot fully explain the
adoption of the Convention, if only because if it had been up to the US
alone, such a Convention would have been adopted much earlier. NGOs
and a growing consensus among academics, especially economists, about
the relationship between corruption and economic growth most probably
facilitated the adoption of the Convention. In addition, the corrupt nature
of much of the privatization process that followed the opening up of the
former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to international capitalism surely
helped to bring the Europeans around to the idea that corruption was a
significant problem worthy of concerted counter-measures.
The Convention was adopted on 21 November 1997 and entered into
force on 15 February 1999 (OECD, 1997). As of January 2005, 36 states had
ratified the convention. It requires parties to enact domestic legislation
criminalizing bribery of foreign public officials (including legislative, ad-
ministrative, and judicial officials, whether appointed or elected), and to
impose strong sanctions against this crime. Such legislation and penalties
are required to match those imposed against bribery of domestic public of-
ficials. The Convention further contains money laundering provisions and

lays down accounting and auditing rules designed to further transparency,

and pledges mutual legal assistance and monitoring amongst the parties
in furthering the Conventions goals. Parties who previously allowed for
the tax-deductibility of bribes agreed to end such practices.
Commentators have generally heralded the Convention as a significant
step forward, while noting some shortcomings. Some of the latter include
the criminalization of bribe-offering rather than bribe-soliciting; the exclu-
sion from the definition of foreign public official those members of polit-
ical parties who do not hold office but still have significant influence; and
the lack of a specific, binding time-frame for enacting the required legisla-
tion (Qayyum, 1998: 28). An Anti-Bribery Working Group examines issues
for further action, and attempts to sustain momentum within the OECD
toward implementation and refinement of the regime (Hotchkiss, 1998).
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But as TI notes in a recent Corruption Survey, the budget for the Group is
inadequate to the task at hand (Transparency International, 2004).
Although the OECD Convention highlights a number of instrumental
economic reasons to be concerned about bribery, the Preamble to the Con-
vention clearly articulates moral concerns along with concerns about gov-
ernance, economic development, and international competitiveness. The
Preamble to the OECD Convention uses the term moral in the first sen-
tence: Considering that bribery is a widespread phenomenon in interna-
tional business transactions, including trade and investment, which raises
serious moral and political concerns, undermines good governance and eco-
nomic development, and distorts international competitive conditions; . . .
(OECD, 1997). Currently the OECD is engaged in work on public sector
ethics and corruption which aims to help countries review and reform
their ethics infrastructures (the institutions, systems and mechanisms
they have for promoting ethics and countering corruption in the public ser-
vice, and exchange experience on recent initiatives (OECD, 2004). There is
good reason to be skeptical about the implementation of these grand de-
signs. A survey accompanying the 2002 Transparency International Bribe
Payers Index showed that a majority of multinational corporations based
in OECD countries are not even aware of the treaty and the relevant im-
plementing legislation (Transparency International, 2002d). Nevertheless,
the rhetoric of the OECD Convention clearly echoes the turn toward a
comprehensive concern with governance and the ethics of governance as
a legitimate objective of international institutions.

Transparency International
The most visible non-governmental player in the anti-corruption move-
ment has been Transparency International, a non-profit organization orig-
inally based in Germany, with regional chapters and field offices prolifer-
ating world-wide. TI characterizes itself as a broad civil society movement
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(Transparency International, 2002a), but it cooperates actively with gov-

ernments and international organizations, as well as business groups, to
bring public attention to and combat the problem of corruption. Probably
TIs most well-known public output is its Corruption Perceptions Index,
which ranks countries according to levels of corruption as perceived by
international business persons, public officials, and general public opin-
ion. The Index is a poll of polls which gathers information on perceptions
from polls conducted by various research institutes (Lambsdorff, 2002).
More recently, TI commissioned Gallup International to gather data from
business leaders in 14 leading emerging market economies in order to gen-
erate a ranking of 19 leading exporting countries in terms of the degrees to
which their corporations are perceived to be paying bribes abroad (Trans-
parency International, 2002b). Thus, TI has begun to focus on the supply
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side as well as the demand side of the international bribery equation, and
the publication of two Bribe Payers Indices (in 1999 and 2002) has shown
which wealthy countries are perceived to host corporations most likely to
pay bribes, as well as which economic sectors are perceived as the most cor-
rupt. In the 2002 BPI, Russia, China, Taiwan, and South Korea were the host
countries whose corporations are perceived as most likely to pay bribes to
secure contracts, but OECD countries (and signatories to the OECD anti-
bribery convention) such as Italy, Japan, the United States, France, and
Spain were also perceived to host corporations highly likely to pay bribes;
the fact that US corporations are perceived as having a relatively high
propensity to bribe raises questions about the efficacy of the Foreign Cor-
rupt Practices Act. The worst sectors are, unsurprisingly, the construction
and arms industries (Transparency International, 2002c). The BPI evidence
suggests that the OECD country efforts to combat corruption may either be
interpreted as embodying weak implementation, empty rhetoric, or double
standards. By paying lip service to anti-corruption efforts OECD countries
have made themselves vulnerable to public disapproval, especially when
NGOs such as TI take up and publicize the cause, but so far that seems to
be the extent of it.
TIs operations focus on bringing together and disseminating research
and information on corruption, publishing codes of conduct, holding con-
ferences, and networking with private and public-sector parties concerned
about corruption. TI can thus be seen as a moral entrepreneur, actively
publicizing and preaching its cause (Nadelmann, 1990). TI has gained the
acceptance and cooperation of the IMF and World Bank insofar as these
institutions have worked closely with TI to develop good governance poli-
cies. But much of TIs work has also been concentrated at the grass-roots
level, with a proliferation of national chapters organizing actions targeted
toward specific national and local communities. This is in recognition of
the idea that: In order to be meaningful and hold promise of real change,
the debate on corruption must be held internally, within the community

in which it is taking place. If it is driven by the outside, this debate will

have less impact and is less likely to lead to lasting change (Cote-Freeman,
As the remainder of this essay argues, TIs grass-roots approach may well
be in tension with the efforts put forth through international institutions,
insofar as those institutions draw primarily on the economic discourse on
corruption, take the ends of modernity for granted, and neglect issues of
political agency and the substantive, normative dimensions of the concept
of public good.

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Although the evidence just presented shows that ethical terms and refer-
ences to good governance are peppered throughout the key anti-corruption
documents put out by institutions such as the UN, the IMF, the World
Bank, and the OECD, in those institutions, as in contemporary academic
discourse, the dominant rationale for the anti-corruption consensus has
been economic, and to a lesser extent institutional (deploying a thin con-
ception of institutions as incentive structures), rather than normative: the
argument is that corruption hurts economic development either by siphon-
ing off resources and discouraging foreign investment, or because corrupt
elites select public financing projects in order to maximize their opportu-
nities for monopoly rents rather than encourage sustainable growth. The
discourse constituting this rationale articulates a sense of complementarity
between institutional effectiveness and economic performance (Davis and
Trebilcock, 1999; Keefer, 2004; La Porta et al., 1999). Economists and polit-
ical scientists using the methods of economics (especially rational choice
theory) dominate this discursive territory (Keefer, 2004; Rose-Ackerman,
1978, 1999; Treisman, 2000).
The main consensus in recent economic studies is that corruption
hurts foreign investment and economic growth (Ades and Di Tella, 1997;
Kaufmann, 1997; Mauro, 1995, 1997, 2004; Rose-Ackerman, 1997, 1999;
Shleifer and Vishny, 1993; Tanzi and Davoodi, 1998). As Paolo Mauro sum-
marizes: A consensus seems to have emerged that corruption and other
aspects of poor governance and weak institutions have substantial, adverse
effects on economic growth (Mauro, 2004: 1). Although many studies of
corruption have focused on its effects on foreign direct investment (FDI),
and although debate continues among economists as to the harmful or
beneficial effects of FDI (see Kapstein, 2002), economic growth remains the
primary measure of development, and more open markets are widely seen
as the best way to achieve such growth. Although one can find plenty of
references to such governance ideals as the rule of law and its impartial
application and enforcement, and protection of individual rights, in the
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neo-liberal anti-corruption discourse governing institutions are evaluated

primarily on their ability to deliver and sustain economic prosperity con-
ceived of as growth in GDP, although to be fair income inequality often
emerges as an important secondary concern (see the summary in Husted,
1999; Keefer, 2004).
That said, the discourse supporting a world economy of relatively open
markets has always included some discussion of institutional and even
normative underpinnings (Best, 2002). After 1945 the consensus amongst
western industrialized country leaders was that international institutional
arrangements were required to sustain a liberal trading order while al-
lowing states to pursue social welfare policies the embedded liberalism
compromise (Ruggie, 1982). The international economic regimes under-
pinned by the IMF, World Bank, and General Agreement on Tariffs and
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Trade emanated from, reflected, and were underpinned by the domestic

structural conditions prevailing in the Western, industrialized states.
The embedded liberalism compromise as originally envisioned was
never meant to be applied to the Third World (Ruggie, 1982), nor to the
communist countries. After decolonization and the refocusing of IMF and
World Bank lending on the developing world, the context in which these
institutions operated changed radically, and with the recent wave of liber-
alization in the former Soviet bloc it has changed again. Thus, international
institutional mechanisms for currency stabilization and structural adjust-
ment lending no longer seem entirely adequate in a context of diverse
levels of development and institutional heterogeneity amongst the states
that are the main targets of IMF and World Bank lending. But although the
means may have been adjusted somewhat to take account of the changed
theater of operation, the broad ends of these institutions have remained
fairly constant: liberalization and economic growth.
Because of the institutional heterogeneity faced by multilateral organiza-
tions initially created to deal with a more homogeneous group of states, the
economic rationale for curbing corruption is now almost always buttressed
by an institutional rationale, which rests on the need to secure separation of
powers, accountability, and transparency in government (Klitgaard, 1988;
Rose-Ackerman, 1999; Theobald, 1990). In this sense, the anti-corruption
consensus may be seen as an aspect of the broader governance agenda
that has emerged within the IMF and World Bank. But that agenda retains
from its economic origins a technical-instrumental approach to institutions
derived from the methodologies and techniques of economic analysis.
A wealth of literature has emerged in the past decade or so which ap-
plies the techniques of rational choice and quantitative methods to identify
correlations and causal links between various governance variables and
outcomes such as economic growth or income inequality. This literature
is critically, but sympathetically, reviewed by Keefer, who notes that the
most robust finding of the economic literature on governance is that secure

property rights lead to more economic growth, while insecure property

rights result in slower growth (Keefer, 2004). Other studies isolate factors
such as credibility of bureaucratic performance, voice, and accountability,
though Keefer notes that these studies are more likely to face method-
ological problems (such as endogeneity and direction of causality), and
thus present less robust findings than does the security of property rights
hypothesis. Keefer concludes that much work needs to be done in dis-
aggregating the concept of governance in order to refine tests of specific
effects of discrete governance variables on economic growth.
In the policy domain, the economic approach to curbing corruption has
frequently entailed recommendations to cut the size and scope of the pub-
lic sector (Khan, 2002), particularly with respect to privatization and dis-
mantling of state-owned enterprises. But some have argued that cutting
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the public sector can just as easily inhibit as encourage the development
of democratic institutions of governance (Hopkin, 2002; Khan, 2002). In-
ternational financial institutions and big aid donor states may want less
corruption, but by advocating smaller government they are not doing much
to contribute to and may inadvertently be undercutting the positive
development of good government.
The insight that less government is better government can also be de-
rived from an earlier strain of economic and political science literature that
was more sanguine about corruption. Prior to the anti-corruption consen-
sus, corruption was frequently seen as a way for multinational corporations
to gain footholds in developing country markets. With this in mind, schol-
ars have in the past argued (and a minority still do argue) that some forms
of corruption may not necessarily be a bad thing. Corrupt practices may
cut red tape and facilitate the smoother operation of markets, especially
where governments are not subject to checks and balances, accountability,
and transparency, and where they hold disproportionate power over state
resources. Thus, corruption could help rather than hurt development by
allowing investors to elude inefficient laws and deny greedy officials the
proceeds of legal but onerous tax revenues (substituting illegal but presum-
ably smaller side-payments) (Cheung, 1996; Lui, 1996; Olsen, 1998). Samuel
Huntington has further argued that corruption is an inevitable by-product
of the modernization process; hence advocating modernization and anti-
corruption measures at the same is self-contradictory (Huntington, 1987).
Much of this literature thus dovetails nicely with the market-friendly no-
tion that less government is better government, since corruption involves
bypassing the inefficient public sector (Hayek, 1960).
Despite the plethora of economic studies of governance and institutions,
in their methodological individualism and rationalism such studies do
not leave much room for the possibility that politics could be an ethical
endeavor grounded in commitment to a substantive public good. In the
1960s, Joseph Nye defined corruption as follows:
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Corruption is behavior which deviates from the formal duties of a

public role because of private-regarding (personal, close family, pri-
vate clique) pecuniary or status gains; or violates rules against the ex-
ercise of certain types of private-regarding influence. (Nye, 1987: 966)

The liberal-rationalist discourse relies on a boundary between private in-

terest and public good to define corruption. But the public good has little
if any substantive content, and thus lacks the positive normative appeal
that would serve as a source of motivation. Since all rational actors are
motivated by self-interest, how we determine whether or not a selfish act
was corrupt depends ultimately on whether it broke a law (Bratsis, 2003).
A corporate campaign contribution can be distinguished from a bribe only
by reference to a law. The law is treated as an exogenous constraint on
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individual behavior.
But anti-corruption laws vary widely in different societies. Distinguish-
ing between a gift and a bribe requires thick cultural knowledge of the
particular society in question (Husted, 1999; Offer, 1997; Smart, 1993). Fur-
ther, many of the societies at which the new anti-corruption discourse is
aimed do not have clear cut rules delimiting the boundary between public
good and private interest in specific transactions; judging such societies
as corrupt means deploying standards drawn from the more developed
world (de Sardan, 1999; Szeftel, 1998).
As Peter Euben has pointed out in a critique, Nyes discussion of the costs
and benefits of corruption for development carries with it an implicit nor-
mative judgment about the desirability of modernization. A good society
is a modernizing one; a corrupt society is one that inhibits development.
But because the ends of modernity are regarded as inevitable, impersonal,
and/or rational, they cannot themselves be the subject of rational dispute
or subjective prescriptions (Euben, 1989: 244). The dominant values of
modernity become reified. In the anti-corruption discourse, and in the gov-
ernance discourse more generally, this often boils down to valorizing eco-
nomic growth measured in terms of gross domestic product as the end
toward which public officials must strive. This not only inhibits critical
political debate over the ends of the political community, but also leaves
little room for agency as the conscious, willed reproduction of those values
in daily life, and the moral self-restraint that this would imply.
These two problems the reification of dominant (liberal) values and
the neglect of moral and political agency are at the heart of the elisions
and omissions of the liberal-rationalist modes of anti-corruption discourse.
Confronting these problems means bringing politics back into the dis-
course in such a way that it is not treated simply as a market-distorting
or externality-alleviating exogenous constraint, but rather as a process en-
tailing the production of, and struggle over, collective identities and goals
the coercive and consensual process by which political communities are

constructed and maintained. Only by confronting this process and its ir-
reducibly political, normative, and contestable contours can we come to
an understanding of corruption as something more than a transgression of
arbitrary or exogenously imposed rules.
By linking the problem of corruption to the problem of under-
development, advanced industrial countries implicitly and unjustifiably
claim the moral high ground for themselves, and ascribe to the develop-
ing world the status of the moral reprobate while simultaneously mak-
ing vague and possibly unworkable governance demands on developing
country governments and societies. Further, by advocating pressure from
outside as a primary mechanism for curbing corruption, we deny the ca-
pacity and agency of the actors in developing countries to determine for
themselves the contours of political authority and the distinctions between
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public good and private interests, between gifts and bribes, between legiti-
mate and illegitimate patronage. This may arguably be appropriate in some
cases from a purely practical standpoint (as in so-called failed states),
though I believe further discussion is warranted even on this point. But
as a matter of principle, and given that the economic framework of global
capitalism is interwoven with a political framework of nominal sovereign
equality, we should strive to develop anti-corruption discourse in such a
way as to leave the question of the proper goal of political and even eco-
nomic development open to discussion and critique, rather than treating
it as a given.
Finally, pitching the anti-corruption discourse as a diagnosis for un-
derdevelopment also absolves those living in liberal capitalist states from
scrutinizing their own polities in terms of a discourse of corruption. But
there is a long history in political thought of engaging in just such scrutiny
(Arendt, 1958; Habermas, 1989; Pocock, 1975; Shumer, 1979), and as the
lobby for campaign finance reform in the US shows, for example, there
is little reason to believe that critical scrutiny of the health of the modern
liberal polity is no longer warranted.

While there may be a number of institutional ways to check corrupt behav-
ior, anti-corruption efforts ultimately require a vision of good governance
which carries enough moral weight to motivate people, since moral behav-
ior on the part of at least some individual human beings usually the focus
is on public officials, but clearly private actors and community leaders of
all sorts may be involved as well is part and parcel of good governance.
Although Susan Rose-Ackerman is an economist firmly grounded in the
rational choice tradition, even she concludes her systematic discussion of
the political economy of corruption by noting that, institutional incentives
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cannot be expected to substitute entirely for morality . . . (1978: 218). Nor,

presumably, are consistently moral outcomes in the public sphere to be
derived entirely from narrowly self-interested behavior.
Despite the fact that moral signifiers have seeped into international
treaties, the scholarly discourse has lagged behind in explicating the moral
rationales underlying the anti-corruption consensus. Partly this may be due
to a preference for rational choice and quantitative methods in generating
studies of corruption. To sustain the trappings of scientific methodology,
most contemporary studies of corruption, whether articulated by way of
formal models, rational choice theory, or new institutional economics, reify
as institutional constraints or incentives the very values which should, in
any successful anti-corruption effort, be internalized by powerful political
actors and the politically aware publics which scrutinize their behavior.
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Institutions are not just constraints in the external environment faced by

political actors; where they are most legitimate, their norms have been in-
ternalized by those who believe in their legitimacy and who allow their
actions to be guided by such norms not out of fear of punishment but rather
out of belief in their veracity. The subjective and intersubjective dimensions
of values such as public-mindedness, fairness, transparency, accountabil-
ity, and public trust are what render them potent and capable of motivating
behavior. Furthermore, the ability of political actors to articulate and con-
test the meaning and interpretation of concepts such as the public good
suggests that political struggle is an irreducible element of defining corrup-
tion and its counter-part, a healthy polity which pursues the common good
rather than being hijacked for more narrowly clientelistic or self-interested
What if we ground anti-corruption discourse not only in the scientific
liberal discourse concerned with economic growth via the spread of cap-
italism, but also (or alternatively) in the republican discourse of political
liberty and civic virtue? Might this offer us a more substantive language
by which to discuss self-determination, the meaning of public good, and
to address questions of political agency? Without pushing the idea that
Machiavelli can save the developing world, there are nevertheless some
good reasons to evoke republican concepts in the anti-corruption discourse;
there are also limits to such evocations.
Republican in contrast to and as an antecedent to liberal discourse
suggests that the definition of corruption I gave at the outset of this es-
say (use of public office for private gain) does not fully communicate the
sense in which corruption can be thought of as a danger to the political
community. Corruption is a term which, according to Quentin Skinner,
the republican theorists habitually use to denote our natural tendency to
ignore the claims of our community as soon as they seem to conflict with
the pursuit of our own immediate advantage (Skinner, 1990: 304; also see
Arendt, 1958; Euben, 1989; Grant, 1997; Pocock, 1975; Skinner, 1978: 164;

Shumer, 1979). The problem with this, from the point of view of republican
theorists, is that such pursuit of immediate advantage can lead a commu-
nity to ruin. The ruin or corruption of a political community entails a loss
of liberty, and a slide into dependency. In Machiavellis Discourses, which
states the republican position clearly and forcefully, a free state is one in
which people legislate for themselves, with an eye toward the good of the
community as a whole. By contrast, the corrupt state has lost its liberty
and is in a state of dependency and bondage: either it is dependent upon a
foreign power, or in bondage to a tyrant or a governing party which rules
tyrannically only for its own advantage, or it may be subject to the brief
anarchic rule of the mob (Machiavelli, 1950: I xvi). None of these corrupt
forms of rule is stable or secure.
In contrast to the often asocial individualism of liberal discourse (as
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represented by Thomas Hobbes view of human nature), republican the-

orists deploy an Aristotelian notion of human nature as essentially social
and political. Because human beings are social, they value the group to
which they belong. But the group is often in danger, either from external
threat or internal usurpations of power. Maintaining the group as a free,
non-dependent political community demands the exercise of civic virtue.
However it is defined (and different theorists define it differently), civic
virtue entails behavior on the part of leaders and citizens which is geared
toward maintaining a thriving and free political community. To do so,
people must restrain their more narrowly selfish passions. Such sacrifice
is worthwhile because it ensures that citizens will be able to live in lib-
erty, and this includes security of their possessions and families (see the
discussion in Skinner, 1978: Chapters 45).
Civic virtue is thus a moral concept entailing moral behavior, but such
morality is also in the long-term self-interest of the citizen. According to
Quentin Skinner:
Belief in the idea of human flourishing and its accompanying vision
of social freedom arises at a far deeper level than that of mere ide-
ological debate. It arises as an attempt to answer one of the central
questions in moral philosophy, the question of whether it is rational
to be moral. The suggested answer is that it is in fact rational, the
reason being that we have an interest in morality, the reason for this
in turn being the fact that we are moral agents committed by our very
natures to certain normative ends. (Skinner, 1990: 29798)
Those normative ends derive from the value individuals place on the com-
munity. Rather than juxtaposing the requirements of moral behavior and
the necessities of politics, as Machiavelli is commonly accused of doing,
Skinner demonstrates that Machiavelli instead advocates a different sort
of morality different from the Christian virtues which dominated the
moral discourse of his day for those engaged in politics (Skinner, 1978:
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135). Such moral impetus ultimately springs from love of ones country,
the patria of the Renaissance humanists (Skinner, 1978).
Unlike earlier republican theorists, those of Machiavellis time, and es-
pecially Machiavelli himself, were not optimistic about the capacity of hu-
man beings to sustain civic virtue based on love of country. As Machiavelli
. . . men act rightly only upon compulsion; but from the moment that
they have the option and liberty to commit wrong with impunity,
then they never fail to carry confusion and disorder everywhere. It is
this that has caused it to be said that poverty and hunger make men
industrious, and that the law makes men good . . . (Machiavelli, 1950:
I iii)
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Like Machiavelli, liberal rationalist discourse frequently places the burden

of making men good on institutional incentives. But unlike Machiavelli,
current neo-liberal discourse has a very thin notion of institutions; it does
not see them as organic entities capable of being either healthy or corrupt,
according to the character and abilities of the human agents who govern
Republican evocations of the rule of law, the love of liberty, and the no-
tion that arbitrary power must be restrained (most often through a mixed
constitution or, in more modern parlance, a system of checks and bal-
ances), all resonate with the contemporary discourse on governance of
which the anti-corruption consensus is a part. But insofar as that discourse
has remained dominated by a liberal, individualist rationalism, it fails to
adequately articulate and fully explore the necessity of moral and political
agency in the pursuit of collective good.
The articulation of a specifically political morality grounded in the love of
country, of liberty, and of self-government, and the linking of such morality
to the creation and maintenance of good institutions, are two contributions
which republican political thought brings to the discourse on corruption
and governance. For Machiavelli, as already noted, corruption was the
core manifestation of the loss of liberty to dependency on either a foreign
power or internal faction, as well as the symptom of institutions and laws
which no longer worked to preserve the republic either because they
were once good but were no longer appropriate to the circumstances of
a particular state, or because they were corrupt to begin with, or because
citizens and leaders did not use the institutions effectively (Machiavelli,
1950: I xvixviii).
It is worth emphasizing that republican discourse leaves open this latter
possibility of good institutions lacking any life to them that is, lacking
good people to make them work. Again, however elaborate and detailed
the debate may be on proper institutional and legal structure and form,
republican discourse sustains an emphasis on human moral and political

agency, where the terms moral and political may be construed as comple-
mentary rather than contradictory concepts. Here the difference between
republicanism and the liberal discourse is stark, because the latter dis-
course for the most part adopts a Hobbesian view of man as naturally
selfish (which the republicans do not deny) and asocial (which the republi-
cans vehemently deny). It is worth noting as an aside that contemporary
realisms tendency to tout both Hobbes and Machiavelli as founding fa-
thers totally obscures this important distinction between them, and that
Hobbes belongs much more to the liberal tradition than most contempo-
rary international relations theorists allow.
Corruption in republican discourse can also connote a structural condi-
tion, a sickness of the polity which at worst can mean its destruction as
a cohesive whole, or a loss of identity and definition (Euben, 1989: 222).
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Peter Euben points out that one of the most exemplary historical cases of
a polity that has become corrupt to the point of disintegration is Thucy-
dides account of the civil war in Corcyra; the term used in describing this
disintegration is stasis:
Under such conditions religion, family, and morality become in-
struments in their own destruction. Oaths are temporary strategies
adopted only when one is outmaneuvered or outmanned by an op-
ponent . . . Morality and justice are rhetorical diversions which dis-
guise secret hatreds and excuse private revenge . . . Since everyone
is a potential enemy, isolation is the only guarantee against surprise
attack. In the beginning of civil war, men killed their enemies with
the assistance of their party. But as the stasis intensified the number
of potential enemies increased and the number of possible friends
decreased until the only trustworthy friend was oneself and the only
safe party was a party of one. (Euben, 1989: 225)
It does not require a huge stretch of the imagination to apply this picture of a
totally corrupted polity to some of the areas that have been and continue to
be devastated by civil wars in our time. Corruption in republican discourse
thus connotes loss of liberty, self-determination, and identity as a political
entity; the corrupt state may break down, first into warring factions, and
then warring individuals; it is not unlike the Hobbesian state of nature.
The republican discourse thus offers a richer and more resonant con-
ception of corruption than does liberal-rationalist discourse. Richer, in its
conception of institutions as organic entities whose norms are capable of
being internalized, and which are capable of evoking emotional attach-
ment and moral commitment, rather than merely exogenous incentive
structures channeling the activity of narrowly self-interested actors. Cor-
ruption means that the institutions constituting the political community
have decayed and no longer provide liberty and security. More resonant,
in that it evokes the human capacity for moral agency in civic life. Corrupt
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people, and corrupt leaders, have neglected that dimension of action in

favor of more narrowly selfish ends. But republicanism, no matter how
cynical about the possibilities of getting human beings to do good for
their community, still holds forth that possibility as a ground for moral
There are limits to what republicanism can offer the anti-corruption dis-
course, and some accompanying dangers as well. The discourse is not
conducive to the use of scientific and quantitative methods of analysis. It
has little to offer in the way of systematically identifying variables which
might be tweaked to make governance more effective. This is a limit, but
not necessarily a weakness. Republican discourse can be thought of not so
much as a science but as a language through which substantive political
concerns may be critically debated. Rather than offering diagnoses, it of-
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fers fuel for debate and communicative action. Some of the other limits of
republican discourse are more problematic. Grounding political morality
in a love of country can be seen as antithetical to the development of a cos-
mopolitan morality that is dear to the normative liberalism of Immanuel
Kant and his successors (Kant, 1998). Machiavellis advice to leaders does
not include an ethic of caring about what happens to those who live outside
the polity, except insofar as they may pose a threat (in which case they need
to be neutralized). Despite his preference for a republican form of govern-
ment, Machiavelli was not above advocating violence and princely rule to
correct the problem of corruption in certain situations. And finally, republi-
canism is often deeply cynical about the possibility that good, non-corrupt
governance can actually be realized.
This latter problem was to some extent addressed by the Federalists in
the US, who sought to overcome the weaknesses of human nature by con-
structing institutions which would assure the survival of republican values
without requiring the active deployment of republican virtues (Appleby,
1992; Onuf and Onuf, 1993; Shklar, 1990). But that turning point in repub-
lican thought is what fueled the liberal conception of institutions as exoge-
nous constraints on selfish human behavior a conception I have argued
neglects the normative, motivational appeal of a more organic conception
of institutions, one that recognizes their capacity to be internalized as mo-
tivators of moral and political (i.e. civic-minded) human action. One way
in which such internalization works is through that seemingly out-dated
republican notion of love of country; commitment to the public good has
moral appeal if it is underpinned by that sort of civic-minded sentiment.
In the absence of such a normative motivation, moral behavior can only
be induced by the exogenous constraint of institutions, which then raises
the age-old question of who will construct such institutions where they
do not exist already. And that is precisely the problem repeatedly faced
in the anti-corruption discourse and the broader governance agenda in
international political economy.

Rather than treating corruption as a technical problem in need of insti-

tutional engineering by experts enshrined in multilateral institutions, we
could instead consider it a political problem subject to reasoned public
debate and discourse among those who have the greatest stake in it. The
emphasis on self-rule that is a vital element of republican political theory
provides us with the space to reconcile the problem of cultural difference
with the general diagnosis that corruption undermines the health and gov-
ernance of the polity.1 If we ground anti-corruption discourse more firmly
in republican theory, it may come to appear less like an externally imposed
standard and more like an exhortation to leaders to fulfill the promise of
self-determination and full sovereignty. Whether or not such argument
yields more effective results, it is more likely to be perceived as legitimate.
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V. C O N C L U S I O N
The emergence of corruption as a core issue in the governance agenda
of multilateral institutions, and in the academic discourse informing the
policies of such institutions, raises important questions of political agency
and moral action in politics, but up to this point these questions have been
obscured by the technical-instrumental approach to institutions and the
rationalist economic methods deployed in the prevailing liberal discourse
constituting the anti-corruption consensus. Rather than assume that the
ends of modernity can be gracefully bequeathed to the developing world
and transition economies of the former communist countries via the ex-
tension of a global market economy, the anti-corruption discourse would
benefit from an injection of alternative modes of deliberating about what
corruption actually means, and what needs to be done to engage leaders
and citizens in deliberation about the substance of the public good, and the
pursuit of collective ends. That such pursuit involves some self restraint
and sacrifice cannot be plausibly denied. The motivation for such sacrifice
must be normative and come from within individuals and societies, rather
than being imposed from without. Normative motivations in pursuit of
the public good are the result of moral commitments by human beings,
commitments grounded in a devotion to ones political community.
It hardly seems likely that international institutions would be willing to
leave the question of good governance entirely to the patriotism and self-
determination of publics and political leaders in the various countries with
whom they deal. After all, they do not hand out resources unconditionally,
and as we have seen, the democratization process does not always yield
results that are palatable to the west. Nevertheless, the governance dis-
course emanating from institutions like the IMF, the World Bank, and even
the United Nations, is likely to remain relatively anemic and ineffectual (not
to say hypocritical) without the active, committed, self-determining par-
ticipation of the people toward whom the governance agenda is directed.
B U K O VA N S K Y: T H E H O L L O W N E S S O F A N T I - C O R R U P T I O N D I S C O U R S E

That is the point which, in its technical-instrumental rationality, liberal

anti-corruption discourse obscures, and the republican discourse helps to
The practical conclusion of this line of argument, one which bears fur-
ther study, is that externally imposed governance standards will have less
legitimacy, and hence less capacity to motivate actors to follow them, than
will standards which are deliberated and agreed upon by the political
community in question. From this perspective, the grass-roots work pro-
moted by Transparency International in setting up local chapters devoted
to addressing the problem of corruption is more likely to be effective than
is the imposition of conditionality attached to IMF or World Bank loans.
That is not to say that conditionality per se is bad or unnecessary, but that
conditionality geared toward altering governance structures faces difficult
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practical challenges of agency and implementation, as well as the ethical

pitfalls discussed in this essay.
What the republican legacy of the concept of corruption reminds us of is
that public discourse about public good is a crucial aspect of politics, and
that such discursive engagement is an important human resource. This
holds true not only for developing but also for developed countries. Ac-
cording to republican definitions of corruption, not even the developed
world is in a good position to claim that its polities are healthy and vital
rather than corrupt. It may be worth injecting the concerns and language
of republicanism into the anti-corruption discourse so that the problem
of good governance becomes more amenable to communication, delibera-
tion, and debate rather than technical prescription handed down by social
scientists as though it were a cure to all that ails the developing world.

The author wishes to thank Chris Reus-Smit, Len Seabrooke, Greg White,
participants at seminars at the Australian National Universitys Research
School of Pacific and Asian Studies and at the International Studies Associ-
ation Conference in 2002, and two anonymous reviewers, for their valuable
comments on this paper.

1 I owe this insight to one of the anonymous reviewers of this essay.

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