Legislative Powers and Executive Corruption
22 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2015 Last revised: 24 May 2016
Date Written: June 1, 2015
The comparative politics literature is replete with cross-national studies of corruption, though the precise dimensions this term encompasses frequently remain unclear. According to an oft-cited definition by Robert Klitgaard (1998: 4), “corruption equals monopoly plus discretion minus accountability.” Yet this definition really specifies the conditions that are likely to be conducive to corrupt practices rather than corrupt practices themselves. One can readily imagine an unaccountable actor who enjoys monopoly power and discretion not engaging in corrupt practices. He or she may be constrained by habit, ethical beliefs, or fear of shaming. Other conceptions provide what amount to lists of corrupt practices without necessarily offering a rigorous definition of corruption itself. In its “UN Anti-Corruption Toolkit,” the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime distinguishes corruption on two axes — grand versus petty and active versus passive — and identifies a long list of corrupt acts: bribery, theft, embezzlement, fraud, extortion, abuse of discretion, favoritism, nepotism, clientelism, the exploitation of conflicting interests (“conduct creating”), and improper political contributions (United Nations 2004). Such a list points us to the vast array of corrupt practices, but it does not solve the problem of definition.
Clear concepts are of great value. Yet the absence of consensus on a concept’s definition need not prevent us from investigating the phenomenon itself, or preclude exploration of its causes and consequences. If we were so constrained, empirical investigations of subjects like “political culture,” “institutions,” and “democracy,” among many others of interest to social scientists, would not be possible.
Keywords: legislature, power, executive, corruption, democracy
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