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GeoJournal

DOI 10.1007/s10708-015-9656-0

Global geographies of corruption


Barney Warf

Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Abstract Corruption is extremely common through- corruption there is high. Chinese officials are impris-
out the world, with debilitating consequences for oned in a massive anti-corruption campaign. Bribery
economies and societies. Corruption creates and among Nigerian officials is a normal part of doing
accentuates inequality and inefficiency in the delivery business. The government of Brazil rocked by a
of public services, encourages the pillage of natural corruption scandal.
resources, and creates widespread distrust of the state These examplesand countless othersspeak to
among the public. This paper examines the global an insidious set of practices through which govern-
geography of corruption using data from Transparency ment officials use their offices for private gain, as well
International. It defines corruption and its multiple as the publics perceptions and, occasionally, attempts
forms. Next it addresses the causes and consequences. to reign in, the corrupting practice of corruption.
Third it provides an overview of the spatiality of Corruption is extremely widespread throughout the
corruption and its correlations with national wealth, worldalmost all countries exhibit it to one degree or
literacy, inequality, and freedom of the media. It then anotherand has a variety of insidious social, polit-
proceeds to discuss corruption in different countries ical, economic, and environmental consequences.
grouped by five major categories of severity. The Unsurprisingly, the causes and consequences, as well
conclusion discusses the failure of anti-corruption as the type and severity, of corruption vary markedly
campaigns and hints at possible remedies. across the planet.
Curiously, given geographers long standing inter-
Keywords Corruption  Governance  Transparency ests in the state, governance, and development,
corruption has received remarkably little attention in
the discipline. The three existing studies to date are
localized case studies of environmental topics, all
Two successive state assembly speakers in New York drawn from India. Robbins (2000), for example,
arrested on corruption charges. Military officials in investigated corruption and Indian forest manage-
Pakistan suspected of selling arms to militants. The ment. Jeffrey (2002) studied popular protests against
majority of Russians feel that the level of government corrupt sugarcane marketing in India in the context of
the reproduction of caste and material inequality.
Corbridge and Kumar (2002), also focusing on the
Indian case, examined jackfruit trees as a means of
B. Warf (&)
University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA exploring how corrupt linkages transcended the state-
e-mail: bwarf@ku.edu civil society divide.

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Despite geographers silence on the topic, a robust power, and dishonest and fraudulent conduct, typically
literature on corruption has explored its spatiality from through bribery, graft, or extortion. In this sense,
different angles. Treisman (2000) found that corrup- corruption should be differentiated from individual
tion is inversely related to a legacy of British rule and misbehavior or law-breaking. Its primary practitioners
Protestantism, economic development, high levels of are politicians, legislators, bureaucrats, civil service
imports, and democratic political systems. Marquez employees, and military officials. Technically, cor-
et al. (2011) note that there may be a diffusion effect of ruption is by definition illegal, although in different
corruption in which highly corrupt governments infect cultural contexts its legality, and hence acceptability,
their neighbors. Similarly, Goel and Saunoris (2014) range considerably. Not all illegal acts involve
found significant geographic spillovers and contagion corruption because most do not involve the misuse
effects in corruption, and that its severity was linked to of public offices. Corruption is thus inherently both
the size of the shadow (informal) economy. Billger political and economic in nature; at times, public
and Goel (2009) find that corruption resists easy policies that serve an elite few may be corrupt but not
measurement but appears to decline in the face of illegal, as in the case of post-retirement offers of
democratic political environments. employment (e.g., lobbyists) to high ranking civil
No comprehensive overview of the spatiality of servants.
corruption exists to date. This paper aims to rectify this Corruption takes a variety of forms, all of which
omission. The goal is to explicate the uneven spatiality involve the transfer of assets from public to private
of corruption, i.e., to understand how and why it varies hands. It ranges from individual acts such as accepting
so dramatically across the earths surface. It proceeds bribes to petty theft among small groups to grand
in several steps. First, it offers comments on the larceny on an organized, institutional scale, in which
definition and forms of corruption. Second, it turns to elites engineer an entire government to serve their own
the causes and consequences, noting the role of purposes. It may involve the diversion of monies to
national wealth, literacy, inequality, and government private purposes, including foreign bank accounts,
transparency (e.g., regarding the media) as key leading officials to enrich themselves at public
variables. Corruption is also a cultural phenomenon, expense. One of the most egregious cases involved
as perceptions of its legitimacy vary widely. Third, it Mobutu Sese Seko, tyrant of Zaire (now Congo), who
outlines the data used in the empirical analysis, which amassed a fortune of $5 billion, equal to the countrys
are drawn from Transparency International. The entire external debt, before he was ousted in 1997
fourth part summarizes the broad patterns of corrup- (Svensson 2005). Perhaps the most common form is
tion globally, noting the correlations between corrup- bribery, the improper use of gifts and money to obtain
tion and several social and economic indicators. Fifth, favors. In many countries, fees or tea money are
it surveys the geography of corruption by examining euphemisms for facilitating transactions, moving
countries within five broad categories of severity, contracts through a bureaucracy, or not reporting
moving from the worlds most corrupt nations, which crimes. In many cases, bribery is seen simply as the
are failed states, to the opposite extreme of Scandi- cost of doing business, i.e., a normalized part of
navia, where it is essentially absent. The conclusion economic functioning. In Russia, a terminological
summarizes the findings, criticizes anti-corruption distinction exists between mzdoimstvo, taking remu-
campaigns, and points to steps that may alleviate neration to do what a public official is supposed to do
corruption. anyway, and likhoimstvo, taking remuneration for
what the official is not supposed to do (Bardhan 1997).
Other forms of corruption involve graft, embezzle-
The nature of corruption ment, and theft, which may be accompanied by
blackmail or extortion. In hiring, nepotism and
Corruption may be defined in different ways, occurs in political favoritism may occur. Other cases include
varying levels of severity, and takes various forms in the sale of military commissions and siphoning of
time and space, depending on local political cultures monies from inflated payrolls, overinvoicing, and
and institutional frameworks. Broadly, it refers to the selling of licenses and permits, allocations of govern-
misuse of public office for private gains, the abuse of ment contracts, and mining and land concessions.

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Customs inspectors are notorious agents of corruption effective oversight and enforcement of existing laws,
in many cases. Additionally, corrupt judiciaries flout leading to inadequate accountability; corruption thus
the rule of law, refusing to penalize corrupt officials tends to be most common in highly centralized
and minimizing penalties. The purchase of legislative political systems. Bardhan (2006) usefully differenti-
votes constitutes yet another form. All of these ates between political corruption, in which extra-legal
examples share in common the use of public office means are used to gain power, and administrative or
to promote private gains, the abuse of state power, and bureaucratic corruption, in which control over state
exercise of public bureaucratic or financial authority resources is used for private gains. In countries where
for purposes other than they were intended. there is not much difference between political parties
and the state, however, such as Vietnam or China, this
distinction is small.
The causes and consequences of corruption Another common cause of corruption is underpaid
public employees, notably police officers and customs
Corruption is a form of rent-seeking behavior that officials. Goel and Nelson (1989) found that in the US,
occurs when the benefits of the misuse of public power higher salaries were associated with reduced bribe-
exceed the expected costs (i.e., the probability of being taking, although van Rijckeghent and Weder (2001)
apprehended and the penalties that might follow). It discovered empirically that large salary increases are
requires that an official have discretionary power over needed to eliminate corruption.
the allocation of state resources; the greater the power, The ties between globalization and corruption are
the stronger is the temptation to abuse it. Corruption complex and geographically variable. (Lalountas et al.
thus involves avoiding or changing state regulations 2011), using cross-section data for 127 countries,
through the use of political authority; as Jain (2001), found that globalization (in the forms of FDI and
78 argues, therefore, we would expect to find larger import penetration) mitigated corruption in relatively
discretionary powers, and hence more corruption, in developed countries but had no impact on corruption
regulated and controlled economies as opposed to in poorer ones. Corrupt practices such as smuggling or
market economies. The prevalence and severity of black market money exchanges flourish when gov-
corruption are therefore a function of the expected ernment policies are overly restrictive, unduly com-
gains it yields, how much those gains exceed legiti- plicated, irrational, rigid, or unrealistic (such as setting
mate forms of income (e.g., salaries), local cultural official exchange rates too high). Corrupt countries
and political mores, the probability of being caught, tend to have porous borders through which drugs,
and the punishments associated with exposure. weapons, or slaves may be moved easily.
Kitgaard (1998) famously proposed that corruption Corruption owes much to insufficient transparency,
occurs when the gains (monetary or political) exceed as it is typically conducted in secrecy, including
the expected costs, i.e., the penalties multiplied by the backroom deals wherein local elites manipulate the
probability of being caught. In this logic, corruption is state for their own ends. When bribery is mutually
a function of the discretion and power of corrupt beneficial for public officials and those bribing them,
officials as well as the degree of accountability and neither has an incentive to report the payments made.
transparency they face. Greater authoritative oversight For this reason, it is commonly argued that democratic
and penalties should, at least in theory, reduce the societies tend to have lower levels of corruption
magnitude of corruption. because they create mechanisms for accountability
Corruption flourishes in states where important and the enforcement of laws (Moreno 2002). Indeed,
decisions are made out of view of the public, lack an many of the most notoriously corrupt governments
independent media, have a judiciary highly amenable today are profoundly anti-democratic. Countries with
to the influence of power-holders, restrict civil liber- a relatively unfettered media, in which the press can
ties, and where legal channels are not equally available publicize public sector misbehavior, have lower levels
to everyone. In such environments, nepotism, favorit- of corruption (Brunetti and Weder 2003).
ism, and political connections take the place of The geographic variability of corruption also
market-based criteria or meritocracies (Fisman reflects national and cultural differentials in social
2001). Essentially the practice requires lack of norms. As Bardhan (1997, 1330) puts it, What is

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regarded in one culture as corrupt may be considered a A raft of economic studies concludes that
part of routine transaction in another. Interpersonal corruption tends to alarm investors, misallocate
interactions may be monetized, such as with the talent and capital, and retard economic growth
payment of baksheesh in many Middle Eastern and (Shleifer and Vishny 1993; Mauro 1995; Bardhan
South Asian countries. Gift exchanges are often held 1997; Aidt 2003; for an exhaustive and comprehen-
to be a regular part of doing business in many sive summary see Rose-Ackerman 2006). Bribes and
developing countries. But such explanations border on similar payments distort the allocation of public
the tautological: a country is deemed corrupt because resources, leading to a schism between the intended
its culture is corrupt. Gender roles also play a role: and the privately appropriated benefits of capital, as
Swamy et al. (2001) demonstrate that corruption tends when public funds for construction are used to build
to be mitigated when women hold larger shares of luxury homes for government officials. Corruption
political office and high level administrative positions and economic inequality are thus closely related
(see also Goetz 2000). (Gupta et al. 2002). Corruption also reduces legit-
Widespread, endemic corruption has a variety of imate rent-seeking investments, including the intro-
corrosive social and economic effects. Notably, it duction of new products and technologies, for which
engenders despair and resignation, saps the morale of the demand is price-inelastic. Innovators generally
the public, and leads to widespread cynicism and lack extensive political connections and are more
distrust of the government. Corruption undermines the susceptible to demands for bribes than are most
credibility of the state, erodes public confidence, firms. High levels of corruption are thus associated
contributing to what Habermas (1973) famously called with reduced foreign direct investment (Wei 2000;
a legitimation crisis. Habib and Zurawicki 2002). In a sense, corruption
Ironically, at times, when the machinery of gov- raises the transactions costs of economic activities,
ernment moves too slowly, corrupt practices such as reducing efficiency and lowering productivity. Cor-
bribery may actually improve the functioning of the ruption raises the barriers to entry for non-privileged
state. For example, in many countries speed money groups, notably those lacking in political connec-
is used to cut through bureaucratic red tape and reduce tions and funds for bribes and kickbacks. Thus Mo
queues for government contracts (Bose 2004). Indeed, (2001) found that a 1 % increase in the level of
corruption increases the size of the underground corruption reduces economic growth by .72 %. By
economy and the black market. diminishing the quality of governance, corruption
Corruption undermines the efficiency and effec- acts as a sort of tax (Jain 2001), reducing efficiency,
tiveness of government policies. Endemic corruption raising production and transportation costs, lowering
may push an administrative system to the point of standards of living and enhancing inequality.
collapse. It may lead, for example, to shortages of A host of cross-sectional studies of corruption have
medical and military supplies and delays in the yielded inconclusive results about the determinants of
delivery of funds. Bribes may lead to the shoddy corruption (Billger and Goel 2009). One insight into
construction of buildings and infrastructure using this issue may be gleaned from geography: corrup-
substandard materials such as concrete diluted with tions causes, and consequences, may be so contextu-
too much sand, which increases the risk from earth- ally specific that broad, universal conclusions are
quake damage, resulting in unnecessary fatalities, as difficult to achieve. The empirical analysis offered
recent quakes in Turkey and China revealed. Foreign here seeks to highlight the spatiality of corruption by
aid, such as famine relief, may end up being sold on noting its unevenness worldwide, its relations to
the black market, never reaching those it was intended economic development, and correlations with mea-
to help. Nepotistic hiring practices lead to overstaffi- sures of political and economic freedom.
ing of government offices and unqualified personnel.
Corruption also inhibits effective natural resource
management: in a case study of Indian forest man- Data
agement, Robbins (2000) concludes that corruption
selectively stressed some elements of the ecosystem Empirical analyses of corruption are often hampered
and not others. by the difficulty in measuring its severity as well as the

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conditions that may give rise or impede it. For this Results
analysis, data on the perceived relative levels of
government corruption in 2013 were obtained from Table 1 yields an overview of how the magnitude of
Transparency International (http://www.transparency. corruption varies over the world. Only a handful of
org/cpi2014/results), a global non-governmental countries (mostly European, but also including
organization dedicated to monitoring and combatting Canada, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand) have
public and private sector corruption. The group is relatively uncorrupt governments, with CPI numbers
involved in a variety of intertwined activities, of 80 or higher; however, this groups comprises a
including measuring corruption, exposing egregious minuscule 1.7 % of the worlds population. A sec-
cases, offering advice to companies to minimize ondary tier of slightly corrupt states (indices of 60 to
extortion and bribery, and developing tools for com- 79), including several European countries, the United
batting it, such as integrity packs. States, Japan, Botswana, Israel, Taiwan, and the
Perhaps the most noteworthy and well known United Arab Emirates) includes an additional one-
product of this organization is its annual Corrupt eighth of the planet. Moderately corrupt governments
Perceptions Index (CPI) of government malfeasance, (scores of 4059) include a diverse array of European,
issued annually since 1995 as part of a global African, Middle Eastern and a few Asian states such as
corruption report. The most widely used measure of South Korea. By far the largest groupalmost three-
corruption in the world, the CPI is a composite fourths of humanityconsists of very corrupt gov-
indicator based on surveys and interviews with public ernments: 82 states with scores ranging between 20
and private sector officials in each country and expert and 39 account for more than 5.2 billion people. By
assessments by 13 sources, including the World Bank, this measure, corruption is the norm in most societies
Transparency Internationals Bribe Payers Survey, in the world. Finally, a small group of 14 states with
African Development Bank, the World Justice Project, scores below 20 may be said to be extremely corrupt;
the Bertelsmann Foundation, Freedom House, Polit- this group includes failed states such as Somalia,
ical Risk Services International, and The Economist Afghanistan, and Yemen, which are incapable of
Intelligence Unit. A minimum of three of these units delivering basic public services, as well as several
contributed to the assessment of corruption in each with long histories of extreme poverty (Haiti), war
country; most were evaluated on the basis of seven to (Iraq), and totalitarian governments (Uzbekistan,
eight sources. Importantly, the index assesses the Turkmenistan, and North Korea). Fortunately, this
extent of corruption in a country, not its impacts. group subsumes less than two percent of the worlds
Statistical analyses of the inputs into the corruption population.
index were conducted by the European Commission Figure 1 represents this distribution in more geo-
Joint Research Center in Italy. Scores were normalized graphically sensitive terms using the categories
on an ordinal scale of zero (most corrupt) to 100 (least deployed in Table 1. Clearly most countries in the
corrupt). world exhibit moderately high to severe levels of
Obviously any quantitative measure of a phe- corruption. The worst offenders (scores under 20) are
nomenon as elusive as corruption is problematic. found primarily in Africa and the Middle East;
The CPI, therefore, should not be regarded as a notably, all the states in this group are predominantly
precise, absolute measure, but judged in relative or Muslim, with the exceptions of Angola and North
qualitative terms. As a broad indication of the level of Korea, and, in the Western hemisphere, Haiti and
severity of government malfeasance, it suffices, and is Venezuela. The second-most corrupt group (scores 20
the best available measure. More nuanced approaches to 39) include almost all of East, South, and Southeast
use several indices, including risk assessments. In this Asia, with the exceptions of Japan, South Korea,
analysis, grouping countries into categories of severity Singapore, and Malaysia, as well as most of Africa and
of corruption helps to avoid giving the impression of a broad swath of Spanish-speaking countries in Latin
an undue level of precision; rather, these groupings America. The third-most corrupt group (scores 4059)
serve to paint a broad picture of the degree to which includes wealthier countries in the developing world,
the public sector is compromised. including Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, Saudi Arabia,

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Table 1 The worlds Corruption index Population (millions) % of world pop.


population distribution by
degree of state corruption, Least corrupt C80 118.6 1.7
2014
Slightly corrupt 6079 854.4 12.0
Moderately corrupt 4059 694.2 9.7
Very corrupt 2039 5210.2 72.9
Extremely corrupt B20 267.7 3.7
Total 7145.1 100.0
Source calculated by author

Fig. 1 Distribution of transparency international corruption scores, 2014

Table 2 Transparency international corruption score correlations with several variables that are hypothe-
correlations sized to have a causal relationship (all five variables
GDP per capitaa .77 are significant at the 95 % confidence level). Recall
% Change GDP 2013 -.32 that in this index, a higher score indicates less severe
Gini coefficient -.34 levels of corruption. The correlation between corrup-
Literacy rate .49 tion and GDP per capita (measured on purchasing
Freedom house score -.60 power parity basis) is .77, indicating that national
a
wealth tends to moderate corruption: the most corrupt
Purchasing power parity
countries are typically poorer ones. Thus, some of the
Source calculated by author
most severely corrupt states are to be found in Africa
and Central Asia. The corruption index is also
and several Balkan states. The fourth-most corrupt inversely related to change in per capita GDP in
cluster (scores 6079) includes the United States, 2013, indicating that less corrupt countries experi-
Japan, most of Europe, and, notably, Botswana, enced higher rates of growth than did more corrupt
Africas least corrupt country. Finally, the least ones; whether this relation indicates that corruption
corrupt (scores 80 and above), and smallest, group inhibits growth or that growth inhibits corruption
includes Canada, the Scandinavian states, Australia, remains unclear. The corruption index is also inversely
New Zealand. related to the Gini index of economic inequality,
It is readily evident that corruption is more hinting that more severely skewed national distribu-
widespread and serious in relatively poorer countries. tions of income tend to foster more corrupt environ-
Table 2 presents the Transparency International CPIs ments. This observation likely reflects the relative size

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of a countrys middle class, which is a significant force dynasty has resorted to a variety of tools to retain
in the preservation of transparency and demands for authoritarian control (Byman and Lind 2010), effec-
good government. Not surprisingly, the corruption tively eliminating meritocracies and sowing the seeds
index is positively associated with literacy, itself for a political system highly susceptible to cronyism, a
closely associated with economic well being. After all, view supported by interviews with refugees.
an illiterate population can hardly be consistently African states are particularly prone to severe
aware of corruption. Finally, corruption is also corruption, with low average incomes, low literacy
inversely correlated with the widely used Freedom levels, and numerous repressive governments. In
House index of political freedom (www. Somalia, which has effectively lacked a functional
freedomhouse.org). A non-governmental organiza- government for two decades, the government consists
tion, Freedom House assesses countries on the basis of essentially of spoils obtained in a Darwinian struggle
electoral freedoms, political pluralism, and civil lib- for power and survival (Menkhaus 2007). Sudan and
erties, including the number of political parties, degree South Sudan are governed by militarized kleptocracies
of corruption, human rights abuses, autonomy of in which patronage systems leave few funds for social
minorities, media censorship, and tolerance of politi- services (Ismail 2011; de Waal 2014). Similarly,
cal discussion. This measure ranges between 1 and 7 prolonged conflict in Angola over its oil and diamond
score (1 = most open). The significant, inverse cor- wealth, including tribal wars waged by contending
relation with corruption indicates that it is most severe factions of the elite class, have rendered the state there
in politically repressive environments, notably those unable to contain systemic and widespread corruption
without an independent media, one of the prime (Malaquias 2001). Eritrea, obsessed with security
guarantors to mitigate corruption. since its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, is so
corrupt that there is severely inadequate funding for
public bureaucracies and minimal provision of ser-
Regional geographies of corruption vices by civil servants hampered by low salaries and
morale (Habtom 2014; Tronvoll and Mekonnen 2014).
Profound spatial discrepancies in the severity of Several Muslim states in the Middle East are
corruption may be seen across the globe. Because extremely corrupt, particularly those that suffered US
corruption is so deeply intertwined with local eco- invasions and sectarian conflicts. The New York Times,
nomic, political, and cultural circumstances, there is for example, documented in detail the cesspool of
no one-size-fits-all model, although economists corruption in Afghanistan, leading to insecure borders,
have tried mightily to construct one, without success armed forces that sell weapons to the Taliban, and
(Jain 2001; Aidt 2003). Rather, corruption must be widespread graft and abuse of foreign aid (Shane et al.
understood contextually, in light of the institutional 2010; Rosenburg and Bowley 2012; Walsh 2014).
and political dynamics that both enable and constrain Similarly, Iraq has endured overwhelming corruption
its appearance. Five groups of countries are examined following the American invasion in 2003, hampering
here based on the severity of corruption present there the governments efforts against the Islamic State (al-
(using categories deployed in Fig. 1 and Table 1). Ali 2014; Kirkpatrick 2014). In Turkmenistan, corrupt
officials prosper from the blossoming Central Asian
Most corrupt (scores \20) trade in opium and heroin (Peyrouse 2012).

More than 267 million people live in a handful of Very corrupt (scores 2039)
countries deemed to be the worlds most corrupt.
Typically, these are war-torn states in which govern- By far the largest group of countries, encompassing
ment institutions function poorly, opening numerous 5.2 billion people or 72 % of the world, can be
opportunities for graft and misuse of foreign aid. North classified as very corrupt. This category includes
Korea and Somalia share the dubious distinction of China, Russia, India, most of Southeast Asia and
tying for the worlds most corrupt states. In both Africa, and a large swath of Latin America. Unlike
countries, the state apparatus is either non-functioning extremely corrupt governments, very corrupt ones still
or serves only a tiny elite. In North Korea, the Kim manage to function and provide state services, if

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sometimes only minimally; others are dictatorial but blurring the boundaries between the personal and
are nonetheless effective. professional worlds (Gold et al. 2002). Guanxi and
China has a long and colorful history of corruption corruption tend to be deeply intertwined (Luo 2008),
that continues today. Under the Ching dynasty, often with demoralizing results. For this reason,
magistrates were granted an allowance called yang- Chinese corruption has led, among other things, to
lien yin (money to nourish honesty). Chinas corrupt real estate practices (Zhu 2012), shoddy
Transparency International score was 36, indicating construction of schools, a thriving opium trade in the
widespread and severe corruption; however, Hong south, and mismanagement of public revenues. Ko and
Kong earned a respectable 74. A sizeable literature on Weng (2012) argue that several factors have led to
corruption in China indicates that it is systemic and structural changes in Chinese corruption, including an
institutionalized, reaches the highest levels of govern- emphasis on a merit-based civil service system and
ment, and has flourished over time, propelled in part better monitoring of government expenditures, trans-
by the countrys enormous economic growth (John- forming the practice from an administrative issue to a
ston and Hao 1995; Kwong 1997; Sun 2004; Wede- transactional problem between the public and private
man 2012; Gong 2002). Corruption there takes spheres.
numerous forms, including Russia, particularly since the disintegration of the
Soviet Union in 1991, has experienced high and often
graft (tanwu), bribery (xinghui), and misappro-
debilitating levels of corruption (Cheloukhine and
priation of public property (nuoyong gongkuan
King 2007). While corruption certainly existed in the
wu). along with seeking illicit benefits for
Soviet Union, neoliberal reforms in the 1990s greatly
relatives and friends; neglecting official duties;
exacerbated the problem, notably the selling of state-
nepotism and favouritism; shirking; retaliation;
owned assets to politically connected private investors
making false accusations; filing false reports;
at bargain basement prices (Black et al. 2000).
boasting and exaggerating; banqueting at public
Whereas corruption in China is compatible with rapid
expense; running unauthorized businesses; prof-
economic growth, the opposite is true in Russia
iteering; housing irregularities; living lavishly;
(Larsson 2006), largely because in the latter corruption
engaging in improper sexual relations; forming
is organized more often along quasi-state apparatus
cliques; gambling; whoring; excessive spending
lines, revenue collection is more centralized, leading
on marriages and funerals; engaging in supersti-
to different forms of rent seeking. In part this
tious activities; smuggling; selling state secrets;
difference arises from varying legacies of centralized
engaging in insider stock trading, engaging in
planning, notably the Communist Partys loss of
real estate speculation and fraud; evading taxes;
power in Russia but not in China (Andvig 2006b),
engaging in financial fraud; making illegal and
notably control over state assets. Levin and Satarov
irregular bank loans; and diverting and selling
(2000) argue that the Russian state has facilitated
disaster relief goods (Wedeman 2004:897).
rather than hindered corruption by securing power for
Notably, corruption varies geographically within the reigning oligarchy rather than promoting national
China; provinces that are relatively less corrupt and development. The severe and endemic nature of
better governed have succeeded more often in attract- Russian corruption has led to problems in banking
ing foreign direct investment (Cole et al. 2009). (Weill 2011), higher education (Nerntsova 2008), and
Countries with active anti-corruption campaigns tend law enforcement (Gerber and Mendelson 2008).
to have higher rates of GDP growth (Wu and Zhu Within Russia, corruption varies in intensity, being
2011). strongest in economically and demographically stag-
Chinese corruption extends well beyond the state to nant areas (Dininio and Orttung 2005). Not surpris-
permeate business relations as well. Guanxi (con- ingly, the Russian public views its own government as
nections) is a well known and long-standing Chinese incorrigibly corrupt (Rose and Mishler 2010).
practice that refers to reliance upon interpersonal ties India, too, suffers from severe corruption (Guhan
to facilitate actions, resolve problems, and improve and Paul 1997). Quah (2008) notes that while anti-
access to resources, including friendships and corruption campaigns there extended to the period of
extended family relations that may last a lifetime, British colonial rule, its Central Bureau of

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Investigation has been so ineffective that he deems (Plummer 2012), and Kenya (Mwangi 2008). Indeed,
eradicating corruption to be an impossible dream. part of the resource curse of many African states
India is essentially the only country in which corrup- seems to be corrupt, indifferent, and ineffective
tion has been examined by geographers, who tend to governments (McFerson 2009).
work at the local level (Robbins 2000; Jeffrey 2002; Parts of Latin America similarly exhibit dispiriting
Corbridge and Kumar 2002). Sun and Johnston (2009) levels of corruption (Seligson 2006). Venezuela is the
note that while democracy is often upheld as an most egregious case in this regard, in which petroleum
antidote to corruption, Indias severity in this regard is exports under the Chavez government have created a
roughly equal to that in decidedly undemocratic political system as corrupt as any found in similar
China. Moreover, Peisakhin (2012) asserts that trans- economies in Africa or Central Asia (Corrales and
parency, another much-touted remedy for corruption, Penfold 2007). Systemic and widespread corruption
can be ineffectual when the gap between privileged throughout the region has depressed the sales of firms
bureaucrats and the poor is great, as in the case in (Gaviriia 2002), lowered land productivity and helped
India. Thus, Shah (2009) concludes that Indian to foster deforestation (Bulte et al. 2007), and under-
corruption is part of a broader moral economy, not mined the legitimacy of many regimes there (Seligson
simply the political economy, and that the rural poor 2002). Mexican corruption has led to distrust of the
often eschew the state as hopelessly corrupt. Similarly, state, accelerated emigration to the US, and helped to
Pakistan has experienced deeply entrenched and fuel the violence swirling around drug cartels (Morris
debilitating corruption that have rendered the govern- and Klesner 2010; Ionescu 2011).
ment ineffective in providing services, maintaining
law and order, or combating Islamist militants (Khan
Moderately corrupt (scores 4059)
2007). Islam (2004) attributes Pakistani corruption to
its collectivist administrative culture and masculinist
Roughly 10 percent of the worlds people live under
adherence to hierarchy. These observations under-
governments that may be described as moderately
score the point that corruption is not simply an
corrupt. Typically these are states with a growing
economic phenomenon, but deeply embedded in
middle class, rising standards of living, and high levels
moral and cultural values as well.
of inequality. In this context, corruption seems to
In Indonesia, widespread nepotism and corruption,
accompany rapid economic and social change (And-
particularly under the Suharto regime, have fostered
vig 2006a). Examples include neoliberalizing states
illegal logging in Kalimantan (Smith et al. 2003),
such as Turkey (Bedirhanoglu 2007), South Africa
increased the uncertainty of doing business (Kuncoro
(Pillay 2004), Brazil (Flynn 2005), and Malaysia
2006), suppressed dissent (Robertson-Snape 1999),
(Siddiquee 2010. In such contexts, corruption is
and hampered economic development (Collins 2007).
frequently exposed by a watchdog media and politi-
Micro-economic evidence suggests that corruption
cally contested, often by modernizing elites eager to
leads to missing government expenditures, a practice
court foreign investment.
that can be reduced through enhanced auditing (Olken
2007).
Outside of notoriously corrupt countries such as Slightly corrupt (scores 6079)
Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan, much of Africa can also
be deemed to be severely corrupt. Nigeria, for Countries in which corruption is visible but unusual
example, has been widely cited as a state enveloped include the United States, South Korea, and many
by a withering scourge of corruption (Fagbadebo West European states, which together comprise one-
2007; Smith 2007; Ologbenla 2008; Agbiboa 2012), eighth of the worlds people. All are wealthy democ-
which has deeply destabilized the government, led to racies with high rates of literacy. In such contexts,
inadequate provision of services such as electricity, corruption, when exposed, is treated as scandalous and
hampered foreign investment, and helped to fuel is not normalized. Moreover, the severity of, say,
insurgencies such as Boko Haram. Similar conditions bribes in wealthy countries is laughable when com-
apply to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Matti pared to the organized keptocracies found in the
2010), Uganda (Tangri and Mwenda 2003), Ethiopia developing world

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The United States is not immune to corruption confidence, reduces tax revenues, increases inequality,
(Glaeser and Goldin 2006). During the Gilded Age facilitates black market activities and smuggling, and
of the nineteenth century, widespread corruption of encourages the growth of organized crime. There can
state legislatures was the norm by business interests. be no doubt that corruption impairs the health of the
The urban party machines such as Tammany Hall global economy, the worlds peoples, and the planets
systematically purchased votes and awarded munici- environment. Corrupt governments allow elites to
pal contracts on the basis of favoritism, practices plunder resources and enrich themselves at public
largely abolished during the Progressive Era. Con- expense; typically it is the poor who bear the greatest
temporary American corruption exists too, including costs.
the legalized pay-to-pay system of campaign The severity of corruption varies enormously
finance (Teachout 2014); moreover, the boundaries among countries, and often within them (as studies
between bribery and lobbying are often tenuous. At the from China, Russia, and the US attest). The most
local level, corruption decreases investment and severe levels of corruption tend to be in poorer
growth among the 50 states (Johnston et al. 2011). countries that have highly centralized political sys-
While American political culture frowns on domestic tems, low levels of literacy, violent civil conflicts, and
corruption, it is particularly incensed by the misuse of lack an effective independent media, such as Eritrea
monies overseas: the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices and North Korea. Conversely, the lowest levels are
Act forbids American companies from making pay- invariably found in rich, democratic societies with
ments to foreign officials. high rates of literacy and a free press, notably Canada
In Europe, corruption tends to be very rare in and Scandinavia. The nature and impacts of corruption
Scandinavia, modest in the western parts, and more also vary as well: it means quite different things to an
severe in Eastern Europe and the Balkans (Fig. 1). Italian business executive and a Javanese peasant.
Italy, of course, has a well deserved reputation for Such observations should refute simplistic one-size-
persistent corruption scandals and an entrenched fits-all models of corruption that ignore geographic
patronage system, which have comprised the coun- contexts.
trys rate of economic growth (Del Monte and Papagni Most countries undertake periodic anti-corruption
2001, 2007). Spain experienced a relatively severe campaigns. In a rare geographical contribution, Brown
crisis of corruption during its last building boom and Cloke (2004) situate this phenomenon within the
(Jimenez 2009; Jimenez and Villoria 2012) that has broader context of neoliberal governance, including
extended to the highest political offices. France, too, economic liberalization and the institutional reforms
has seen its share of corrupt politicians enrich that accompanied it. Thus, anti-corruption movements
themselves at public expense (Heilbrunn 2005). Even are often funded by external donors, including the
well-run Germany has witnessed decentralized cor- World Bank and NGOs; after all, corrupt actors can
ruption at the municipal level (Maravic 2006). hardly be expected to monitor themselves. Such
undertakings usually have few long term impacts,
Least corrupt (scores [80) and often amount to little more than pogroms or
vendettas against perceived domestic political oppo-
The worlds least corrupt countries comprise less than nents. Typically such efforts amount to little more than
two percent of the worlds population, and include hollow rhetoric, the punishment of a few sacrificial
those in Scandinavia, Japan, Australia and New lambs, and little substantive change (Bukanovsky
Zealand, and Canada. All are very wealthy democra- 2006). In China, episodic crusades to stop it (including
cies and have universal literacy. the latest by Xi Jinping), which may lead to executions
of Communist Party officials, have failed to stem the
tide. Similarly, anti-corruption campaigns have failed
Concluding thoughts visibly in Italy (Wilson 2007), Uganda (Tangri and
Mwenda 2006), Thailand (Mutebi 2008), and Indone-
Corruption is a normal part of doing public and private sia (Butt 2011).
business in most of the world. Corruption erodes the More meaningful measures taken to minimize
efficiency of public bureaucracies, undermines public corruption include: well defined career paths for

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public officials, with frequent rotations of staff among low land productivity in Latin America. Journal of Envi-
offices; a fiercely independent media; encouragement ronmental Economics and Management, 54(3), 277295.
Butt, S. (2011). Anti-corruption reform in Indonesia: An obit-
of whistle-blowers; and improved transparency in uary? Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies, 47(3),
government appointments, contracts, and expendi- 381394.
tures. In the long run, the geography of corruption Byman, D., & Lind, J. (2010). Pyongyangs survival strategy:
mirrors that of uneven spatial development. The most Tools of authoritarian control in North Korea. Interna-
tional Security, 35(1), 4474.
effective antidote, therefore, is rising standards of Cheloukhine, S., & King, J. (2007). Corruption networks as a
living, improved literacy, greater equality, and demo- sphere of investment activities in modern Russia. Com-
cratic political reforms. munist and Post-Communist Studies, 40(1), 107122.
Cole, M., Elliott, R., & Zhang, J. (2009). Corruption, gover-
Acknowledgement The author thanks several anonymous nance and FDI location in China: A province-level analy-
reviewers for their helpful criticisms and suggestions. sis. Journal of Development Studies, 45(9), 14941512.
Collins, S. (2007). Indonesia betrayed: How development fails.
Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press.
Corbridge, S., & Kumar, S. (2002). Community, corruption,
landscape: Tales from the tree trade. Political Geography,
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