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Fighting Systemic Corruption: The Indirect Strategy

Journal article
Authors Bo Rothstein
Published in Daedalus
Volume 147
Issue 3
Pages 35-49
ISSN 0011-5266
Publication year 2018
Published at Quality of Government Institute (QoG)
Department of Political Science
Pages 35-49
Language en
Keywords anti-corruption, sweden, war, 19th-century, democracy, culture, reforms, state, norms, Arts & Humanities - Other Topics, Social Sciences - Other Topics
Subject categories Political Science


While attention to corruption and anticorruption policies has increased dramatically in research and in policy, the results of many anticorruption and so-called good-governance programs have so far been unimpressive. I argue that this lack of success can be explained by the reliance on a theoretical approach-namely, the principal-agent theory-that seriously misconstrues the basic nature of the corruption problem. In this essay, I contend that the theory of collective action is a more fruitful foundation for developing anticorruption policies. I suggest that policy measures based on a collective-action understanding of corruption will be much less direct-and ultimately more effective-than approaches derived from the principal-agent theory. Taking inspiration from military theorist Basil Liddell Hart's indirect approach strategy, I argue that decision-makers should focus on policies that change the basic social contract, instead of relying solely on measures that are intended to change incentives for corrupt actors.

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