The United States and other advanced nations are stepping up their
efforts to combat corruption in poorer, less developed nations by
publicizing the corruption and by punishing their own companies when
they engage in it. The U.S. Congress added a bipartisan amendment to
pending financial reform legislation, requiring oil, gas, and mining
companies to disclose every payment they make to foreign governments,
according to a recent report in The Economist.
But can such efforts stem the tide? My own analysis suggests that before we can deal with systemic corruption we must first come to grips with the fact that it doesn't occur in a vacuum -- it is a symptom of deeply rooted economic and social maladies.
The map above shows how the nations of the world stack up on Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perception Index or CPI, which tracks government bribes, kickbacks, embezzlement, and other forms of public corruption. Topping the list as the world's least corrupt nation is Denmark, followed by New Zealand, Singapore, Finland, Sweden, and Canada. The United States ranks 22nd. The BRIC nations--Brazil, Russia, India, and China--rank in the bottom third of the CPI, even though they are among the fastest-growing nations in the world. Countries like Angola, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq are at the very bottom.
To get a better handle on all of this, my colleague Charlotta Mellander and I compared how a nation's rank on the corruption index compares to its standing on a series of other standard measures--economic development (economic output per capita), the transition to a more highly skilled knowledge economy (human capital levels and the creative class share of the workforce), social tolerance (as measured by Gallup World Poll surveys which track attitudes to gays and ethnic and racial minorities), and the overall level of happiness or life satisfaction (also from Gallup surveys). Note that the CPI ranks countries in reverse order; the higher its score, the less corrupt the country. As always, we caution readers not to make too much of these findings. Our analysis can only identify relationships among variables and in no way implies causation.