in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
Corruption—the misuse of public office for private or political gain—has a detrimental effect on a variety of economic and political outcomes. Unfortunately, reducing corruption is a difficult task. Persistent differences exist across and even within countries, which unfortunately appear to be quite sticky, which scholars have referred to as the "corruption trap." This trap can be understood as an equilibrium arising from the inability—and unwillingness—of key stakeholders to coordinate on actions that would reduce corruption. A rich literature has focused on coordination challenges among bureaucrats or between bureaucrats and private actors. We argue, however, for the importance of considering political factors in perpetuating these corruption traps. From this perspective, corruption traps can arise from coordination challenges and breakdowns among and between three key sets of political actors: incumbent politicians, the pool of possible political entrants, and voters. There are challenges faced by each set of actors, their interactions, and ways in which these challenges could potentially be overcome. Three particular processes may help or hinder the ability to break out of corruption traps: (1) collective action and coordination among voters, (2) strategic obstruction by incumbents, and (3) mechanisms of political selection and the availability of non-corrupt challengers.