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Treisman: The causes of corruption

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Treisman. 2000. The causes of corruption: A cross-national study. Journal of Public Economics 76 (3):399-457.

Definition of Corruption: "misuse of public office for private gain"

Xs: The Causes of Corruption:

  • Treisman lays out the logic--the official weighs the expected costs against the expected benefits. On the costs side: risk of getting caught and the punishment if you are.
  • "The punishments for criminal malfeasance are obviously relevant. Short of prosecution, miscreants are likely to lose their job... The costs this entails depends upon the benefits provided by that job. ... A high degree of political stability will lengthen officials' time horizon, while a bureaucracy that offers long-term careers with chances of advancement will promise greater future benefits to a low-level bureaucrats than one in which jobs are more insecure and promotion less likely" (404).


  • Importance of the "distant past"--colonial histories were important (British advantage), and the relatively weak effects of current policies (democratization takes decades before if has an impact and economic reforms need to be dramatic before they do).
  • According to Treisman, "the findings suggest why fighting corruption in many countries has proved so difficult. The distant past appears as important as--or more important than--current policy. Democratization has to be radical and long-lived and trade liberalization has to be extensive to decrease corruption much" (401).