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Is Corruption in China 'Out of Control'? A Comparison with the U.S. In Historical Perspective

Carlos D. Ramirez

George Mason University - Department of Economics; FDIC, Division of Insurance and Research

December 4, 2012

GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 12-60

This paper compares corruption in China over the past 15 years with corruption in the U.S. between 1870 and 1930, periods that are roughly comparable in terms of real income per capita. Corruption indicators for both countries and both periods are constructed by tracking corruption news in prominent U.S. newspapers. Several robustness checks confirm the reliability of the constructed corruption indices for both countries. The comparison indicates that corruption in the U.S. in the early 1870s — when it’s real income per capita was about $2,800 (in 2005 dollars) — was 7 to 9 times higher than China’s corruption level in 1996, the corresponding year in terms of income per capita. By the time the U.S. reached $7,500 in 1928 — approximately equivalent to China’s real income per capita in 2009 — corruption was similar in both countries. The findings imply that, while corruption in China is an issue that merits attention, it is not at alarmingly high levels, compared to the U.S. historical experience. The paper further argues that the corruption and development experiences of both the U.S. and China appear to be consistent with the “life-cycle” theory of corruption — rising at the early stages of development, and declining after modernization has taken place. Hence, as China continues its development process, corruption will likely decline.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 42

Keywords: Corruption, Newspapers, China, U.S. history

JEL Classification: D73, O57, N42

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Date posted: December 5, 2012  

Suggested Citation

Ramirez, Carlos D., Is Corruption in China 'Out of Control'? A Comparison with the U.S. In Historical Perspective (December 4, 2012). GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 12-60. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2185166 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2185166

Contact Information

Carlos D. Ramirez (Contact Author)
George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )
4400 University Drive
Enterprise Hall MSN 3G4
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States
703-993-1130 (Phone)
703-993-1133 (Fax)
FDIC, Division of Insurance and Research
550 Seventeenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20057
United States

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