Corruption and Collective Action
ACRN research correspondent Berta van Schoor reviews a paper by Marquette and Peiffer that discusses the potential of principal-agent theory and collective action theory in explaining the persistence of systemic corruption.
In spite of enormous efforts undertaken throughout the last decade to curb corruption in systematically corrupt countries, the achievements made in those countries are very poor. The authors show how the principal-agent approach to corruption has been the predominant theory in corruption research for a long time. This over-emphasis of the principal-agent theory has prompted some scholars to maintain that corruption should rather be framed as a collective action problem. Marquette and Peiffer, however, find that both approaches provide valuable insights. But relying solely on those two theories will lead to missing out an important third perspective, that is, corruption as problem-solving.
The article provides an innovative perspective on corruption by framing corruption not only as a problem, but as a way of solving problems. This new perspective could help in finally forming a broad anti-corruption reform coalition including the private sector and civil society which can undertake coordinated efforts to tackling corruption. The authors underscore that such a broad coalition needs to take into account the respective context in which corruption thrives in order to make anti-corruption reforms work at last.
Abstract: Despite significant investment in anti-corruption work over the past 15 years, most systemically corrupt countries are considered to be just as corrupt now as they were before the anti-corruption interventions. A growing number of authors argue that anti-corruption efforts have not worked because they are based on inadequate theory, suggesting that collective action theory offers a better understanding of corruption than the principal-agent theory usually used. This paper argues that both theories are in fact valuable, but both miss out an important third perspective, which is that corruption can serve important functions, solving difficult problems that people face, especially in weak institutional environments. Effective anti-corruption initiatives are so hard to achieve because they often require insights from all three of these perspectives.
Marquette, Heather; Peiffer, Caryn (2015): Corruption and Collective Action. Research Paper 32; Developmental Leadership Program & U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre.