At last, Bo Xilai is going on trial. The case against the former Politburo member brings to a climax the aggressive anti-corruption drive undertaken by the Chinese Communist Party. In fact, the new general secretary Xi Jinping has identified corruption as a threat to the very survival of the party-state. Some political commentators have proclaimed that severe corruption is inherent to China’s one-party system and cannot be contained without anything short of changing the entire political system. Perhaps it is time to examine corruption in the larger historic and intellectual context.
Corruption, in its contemporary form, has been a subject of global attention and scholarship in the last twenty years. Before that, the Cold War shielded rampant corruption behind ideologies. Marcos and Suharto were corrupt but protected by the Western alliance and the same happened on the other side. Since then the amount of research and literature on the topic has been vast. So what have we learned?
First, a global consensus on corruption was formed, without much empirical data, very early in this 20-year period. The consensus went as follows: Corruption happens because of incomplete economic liberalization, lack of political competition, no independent judiciary, no freedom of the press, and a weak civil society. Furthermore, standardized measurement systems were developed to produce single-dimension indexes where corruption is for the most part equated with illegal bribery. According to such indexes, corruption is qualitatively the same across all countries and varies only in quantity. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is the most authoritative among such indexes. Since the root causes are the same everywhere and the severity of the problem can be accurately measured, it was only natural to conclude that there was a standardized prescription, namely, economic liberalization (i.e. privatization), political opening (i.e. multi-party elections), independent judiciary, press freedom, and civil society. Professor Michael Johnston summarizes this development in his book Syndromes of Corruption.
Along with popular “how-to-get-rich” books, a myriad of “how-to” books were issued by respected institutions such as USAID’s Handbook for Fighting Corruption, World Bank’s Helping Countries Combat Corruption, UNDP’s Corruption and Good Governance. But like their commercial cousins, there is only one problem to these “how-to” books: they don’t quite work.
Take the example of Indonesia. Read more on the Huffington Post…