Two Concepts of Corruption

24 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2013

See all articles by Dennis F. Thompson

Dennis F. Thompson

Harvard University - Department of Government; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: August 1, 2013


To combat institutional corruption, we need to distinguish it clearly from individual corruption. Individual corruption occurs when an institution or its officials receive a benefit that does not serve the institution and provides a service through relationships external to the institution under conditions that reveal a quid pro quo motive. Institutional corruption occurs when an institution or its officials receive a benefit that is directly useful to performing an institutional purpose, and systematically provides a service to the benefactor under conditions that tend to undermine procedures that support the primary purposes of the institution. Institutional corruption does not receive the attention it deserves partly because it is so closely (and often unavoidably) related to conduct that is part of the job of a responsible official, the perpetrators are often seen as (and are) respectable officials just trying to do their job, and the legal system and public opinion are more comfortable with condemning wrongdoing that has a corrupt motive. Yet institutional corruption, which is usually built into the routines and practices of organizations, is usually more damaging to the institution and society than individual corruption, which in advanced societies typically consists of isolated acts of misconduct with effects limited in time and scope.

Keywords: Institutional Corruption

Suggested Citation

Thompson, Dennis F., Two Concepts of Corruption (August 1, 2013). Edmond J. Safra Working Papers, No. 16. Available at SSRN: or

Dennis F. Thompson (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Government ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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