Using Institutional Multiplicity to Address Corruption as a Collective Action Problem: Lessons from the Brazilian Case
10 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2016
Date Written: 2016
The academic literature has traditionally framed corruption as a principal-agent problem, but recently scholars have suggested that the phenomenon may be more accurately described as a collective action problem, especially in cases of systemic and widespread corruption. While framing corruption as a collective action problem has proven useful from a descriptive point of view, it has not offered many helpful suggestions for policy reforms. This paper tries to address this gap by suggesting that “institutional multiplicity” (a concept used other areas of research but not in the corruption literature) could be a feasible reform strategy to deal with corruption as a collective action problem. The paper distinguishes between proactive and reactive institutional multiplicity, and argues that the latter's creation of separate institutions could potentially reduce the costs for those who are inclined to engage in principled behavior to deviate from the standard corrupt behavior that prevails in society. This allows for incremental, but potentially very transformative change. Also, institutional multiplicity allows for the creation of new institutions without dismantling the existing ones. It is therefore less likely to face political resistance from interests who benefit from the status quo. We provide some anecdotal evidence to support this claim by analyzing Brazil's recent surge of anti-corruption efforts which could be, at least in part, attributable to the existence of institutional multiplicity in the country's accountability system. In addition to offering a hypothesis to interpret recent experiences with combating corruption in Brazil, the paper also has broader implications: if the hypothesis proves correct, institutional multiplicity could help reformers in other countries where corruption is systemic.
Keywords: Brazil; Institutions; Corruption; Collective action
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