On the contingent vice of corruption
© 2019 Social Philosophy & Policy Foundation. Printed in the USA. This essay develops a notion of “functional corruption,” adapted from sociology, to note that the harm of corruption appears to be contingent. In a system of dysfunctional institutions, corruption can improve the efficiency and speed of allocative mechanisms of the bureaucracy, possibly quite substantially. The problem is that this “short run” benefit locks in the long run harm of corruption by making institutions much more difficult to reform. In particular, a nation with bad institutions but without bureaucracy may be much more open to reform than a nation with similarly bad institutions but with “efficiently corrupt” bureaucrats. The idea of a “long run” is developed using the North, Wallis, and Weingast conception of open access orders. Corrupt systems are likely to be locked into closed access orders indefinitely, even though everyone knows there are better institutions available.
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