The Limits of Institutional Design: Implementing the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention

Posted: 23 Mar 2004


After years of inaction, negotiations for international anti-corruption arrangements produced four major conventions in the space of just a few years. Yet those conventions have had little discernible impact on the incidence of trans-national bribery. Focusing on the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, this article examines the reasons for both the sudden success of international anti-corruption initiatives and the desultory implementation of the resulting international arrangements. Adopting a game theoretic heuristic, the article explains how unilateral adoption of anti-bribery legislation by the United States changed the game from a prisoner's dilemma to one that other countries had no incentive to modify. Using a combination of direct diplomatic pressure and appeals to the citizens of other countries, the United States succeeded in gaining agreement on the OECD Convention. Yet, in the absence of either change in the payoff structure perceived by other countries or institutionalization of the factors that yielded the OECD agreement, enforcement of the criminal prohibition on overseas bribery required by the Convention has been virtually non-existent. Drawing on a variety of theories of international law compliance - including those outside the rational choice domain - the article suggests broad strategies for altering the relevant payoffs so as to complete the conversion of the prisoner's dilemma into an assurance game. In particular, changing the identity of the agent making the payoff calculus for each country holds promise. The article ends on a more pessimistic note by identifying, in the context of the OECD arrangement, the limits of even optimal institutional design in making international arrangements effective.

Suggested Citation

Tarullo, Daniel K., The Limits of Institutional Design: Implementing the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. Available at SSRN:

Daniel K. Tarullo (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

Harvard Law School
Areeda 335
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-998-1702 (Phone)

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