Why pay bribes? Collective Action and anti-corruption efforts

This paper suggests that the effectiveness of current anticorruption policy suffers from a focus on the scale of the corruption problem instead of type of corruption that is to be fought. I make a distinction between need and greed corruption. Contrary to the most commonly used distinctions this distinction focuses on the basic motivation for paying a bribe, and whether the bribe is used to gain services that citizens are legally entitled to or not.

Greed corruption is used to gain advantages that citizens are not legally entitled to, build on collusion rather than extortion and can thereby remain invisible and unobtrusive. In greed corruption societies the costs of corruption are divided between a large number of actors and the negative effects of corruption on economic and demo- cratic performance are delayed and diffuse. I subsequently use this distinction to develop three propositions about the relationship between corruption and institutional trust, and the effects of anticorruption policy. Using both cross country data and a case study of a low corruption context, I suggest 

  • That greed corruption can coexist with high institutional trust, and that it thereby may not follow the expected, and often confirmed, negative relationship between corruption and institutional trust;
  • b) That greed corruption may not produce civic engagement against corruption;
  • c) That increased transparency may not produce the expected benefits in low need corruption con- texts, since it can disproportionally alter expectations about the entrenchment of corruption in a society.

In other words, the paper suggest that the balance between need and greed corruption in a society determines the effectiveness of traditional policy measures derived from the logic of principal agent theory, such as societal accountability and transparency, and that the relevance of collective action theory to understand the effects of anticorruption efforts can be extended to contexts where the overall level of corruption is low. 

Links and other languages

Date published
University of Gothenburg