Systemic Corruption: Considering Culture in Second-Generation Reforms

48 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2014

See all articles by Roberto Laver

Roberto Laver

Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics

Date Written: June 5, 2014


This paper is about systemic corruption and its cultural drivers. Corruption remains a key obstacle to development and overcoming poverty in the vast majority of nations worldwide. Countries with relatively good governments and high levels of public trust are few. Most countries are afflicted with systemic corruption, where abuse of power, authority and of the public trust cuts across virtually all sectors and institutions. The results of the anti-corruption reforms over the last generation have not been particularly effective. As argued in this paper, the anti-corruption reform agenda emphasizes incentive and accountability-based remedies, whether state or citizen-led, while overlooking cultural “blind spots.” In exploring the cultural influences of systemic corruption, the paper builds on a rich and growing literature on corruption and culture, and the author’s own experience and empirical work. The paper empirically demonstrates how systemic corruption may reflect a conflict or misalignment between formal rules and norms and their underlying value systems. Drawing on empirical evidence across regions, the paper highlights how particular corrupt practices, such as influence trading, favoritism and nepotism, are socially legitimized and accepted in many societies. While not drawing any final or authoritative judgments, the paper concludes with suggestions about “entry points” for a second generation of reforms.

Keywords: Institutional Corruption, Systemic Corruption, Institutions, World Bank, International development, Organizations, Norms, Values, Culture

Suggested Citation

Laver, Roberto, Systemic Corruption: Considering Culture in Second-Generation Reforms (June 5, 2014). Edmond J. Safra Working Papers, No. 45, Available at SSRN: or

Roberto Laver (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics ( email )

124 Mount Auburn Street
Suite 520N
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics