Corruption in Autocracies

46 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2011 Last revised: 11 Oct 2012

See all articles by James R. Hollyer

James R. Hollyer

Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota

Leonard Wantchekon

Princeton University

Date Written: October 10, 2012


Corruption is usually depicted in one of two ways: as stemming from a lack of government accountability, or from a lack of capacity. Neither depiction predicts variation in the institutions created by unaccountable leaders to control corruption. If corruption results from moral hazard between politicians and citizens, then unaccountable governments should eschew anti-corruption bodies. If rent-seeking stems from moral hazard between politicians and bureaucrats, all governments should create anti-corruption bodies. We offer an explanation for why unaccountable governments vary in their willingness to create anti-corruption institutions. Autocrats create such bodies to deter ideologically disaffected members of the populace from entering the bureaucracy. Anti-corruption institutions act as a commitment by the elite to forgo the use of patronage, reducing the monetary benefits from bureaucratic office, thus ensuring that only zealous supporters of the elite will pursue posts. We illustrate these arguments with case studies of China, South Korea, and Rwanda.

Keywords: autocracy, corruption, institutions

Suggested Citation

Hollyer, James R. and Wantchekon, Leonard, Corruption in Autocracies (October 10, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

James R. Hollyer (Contact Author)

Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota ( email )

1414 Social Sciences
267 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States


Leonard Wantchekon

Princeton University ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

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