Book chapter: Curbing corruption or promoting integrity? Probing the hidden conceptual challenge by Heywood, P. M. and Rose, J. (2015) in Debates of corruption and integrity.
It is now widely accepted, both by academics and by policymakers, that corruption among public officials seriously undermines the quality of governance. Corruption increases bureaucratic inefficiency, reduces tax returns, challenges political legitimacy, and — fundamentally — is unethical. Corruption — however defined — also represents a major cost: globally, potentially $1 trillion could be ‘lost’ to corruption each year, although estimations of the costs of corruption are inherently imprecise. Given such staggering potential losses, it is unsurprising that there has been a desire to understand and ultimately reduce corruption. That has led to much detailed work that focuses on measuring and evaluating corruption, which in turn has prompted the paying of ever more attention to the issue of precisely how corruption may best be combated. Development aid agendes and financial institutions, in particular, have increasingly insisted that corruption be curbed (Charron, 2011: 71); thus, corruption within development projects is sufficient grounds for the World Bank to suspend project loans indefinitely (see, for example, World Bank, 2010: 11). The ostensible goal is to reduce the rate of corruption to more or less zero. However, regardless of questions about the efficiency of a system that seeks to be completely non-corrupt (see Anechiarico and Jacobs, 1996), it is far from obvious that achieving zero corruption — were such a thing possible — would result in the expected gains in either efficiency or ethics.