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ACRN Blog: Reflections from a Research Conference

ACRN contributing editor Nicholas Charron recently attended the APSA (American Political Science Association) annual conference which was held in Seattle on 1 - 4 September 2011. In this post he shares his thoughts on the interesting panels, findings and trends in corruption research from political scientists around the world.

Please note that views expressed in this blog post are those of the author alone and do not represent the position of The Anti-Corruption Research Network, Transparency International, or any of its affiliates.

APSA 2012 - Some Trends in Corruption Research

By Nicholas Charron, Contributing Editor, The Anti-Corruption Research Network

Just last month, I had the pleasure of attending one of the largest annual political science conferences in the world, the American Political Science Association (APSA)'s conference in Seattle, Washington. Although there was a lot on offer from all research fronts, the number of corruption panels was impressively high (seven panels with corruption as the primary focus and over 25 poster presentations), demonstrating the growing interest in corruption research among academics world-wide. 
One panel I found to be particularly interesting, "Party Systems, Clientalism and Corruption", drew a really nice crowd and did not fail in delivering several extremely interesting presentations. In particular, Miriam Golden and Brian Min's paper on 'Corruption and Theft of Electricity in an Indian State" showed empirically that in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, unpaid electric bills and local elections go hand in hand, more or less like a business cycle. In particular, large farm owners reap the benefits of free electricity when incumbents face re-election, largely at the cost of ordinary citizens. In another paper that looks at corruption at the sub-national level, Mariela Szwarcberg presented very interesting data on local politicians who either elect (or not) to redistribute resources to poorer constituents before an election in exchange for votes. In a similar vein, Rebecca Weitz-Shapiro offered a very interesting explanation as to why politicians in Argentine municipalities would choose NOT to engage in clienetatlism, and she focused on the dynamics between electoral competition and poverty rates as the key explanatory variables. Others' papers looked at political institutions, like political parties, in explaining cross-country variation in corruption, such as party congruence (Change and Lee) or party systems in democratic countries (Schletier).

Another panel that was of interest to scholars and practitioners was a roundtable discussion on Bo Rothstein’s latest book - The Quality of Government. The Political Economy of Corruption, Social Trust and Inequality in International Comparative Perspective. Some leading scholars on corruption studies, such as Michael Johnston, Sheri Berman, Nancy Bermeo and Marc Plattner participated in this panel.  The book, which was well received by the discussants, highlights the critical importance of the concept of “impartiality” in both governance and the allocation of public resources.  When resources of political power, the rule of law, etc. is distributed in ways that favour certain groups of people – whether they are of a particular ethnic, religious, gendered or aged background – this distorts growth and development, hinders trust in public institutions and has negative consequences for a number of factors that affect socio economic development. To support his main theoretical argument, that impartiality is the key to good governance, Rothstein points out a number of empirical cases, including an interesting pair wise comparison between Jamaica and Singapore. These two countries were at equivalent levels of development several decades ago, but with Singapore’s commitment to impartiality and the rule of law, it has encouraged investment whereas Jamaica has not.  It is important to note that Rothstein separates impartial institutions from democratic institutions, such as elections.  He argues the former are much more critical to fighting corruption and overall well-being in society than the latter, as is highlighted in the case of Jamaica.  Other chapters in the book highlight the relationship between corruption and inequality, corruption and the overall size of government, and quality of government and social trust in a society.  Overall, Rothstein’s book is strongly recommended and should be considered a ‘must read’, in particular for graduate students interested in this important topic.  

Although there were several others worth mentioning (sorry if I left you out!), a third panel I found particularly interesting was one on ‘Corruption in Transitioning Countries”.  For those researchers with a specific interest in Eastern and Central European countries and their democratic development, some of these papers are definitely worth taking a look at.  First, Tatiana Kostadinova presented some fascinating findings on the relationship between populism and corruption in Eastern European party systems, arguing that these two forces have become a “vicious circle”.  In a more optimistic analysis, Patricia Young argues that “state capture” by large, oligarchic firms in the former communist transitioning countries has been drastically reduced, and shows empirical evidence using the World Bank’s Business Environment and Enterprise Performance Survey (BEEPS).  The primary mechanism highlighted in her analysis is the reform of the banking system and eliminating “soft financing”, which had allowed local oligarchs to penetrate political institutions in the past. 

I would encourage anyone who is interested in some of the latest work on corruption to check out any or all of these papers at: Furthermore, by using the keyword 'corruption' (or clientalism) when searching the program you can also find the many other papers from panels in which this critical research topic was discussed.




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26 Oct 2011

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