A number of developing states today, and in the past, have faced the problem of fighting the corruption that is often endemic to rapid economic growth. But the way they have addressed that problem has varied widely.
In the United States, the government responded by instituting regulatory reform and creating a welfare state. Post-unification, Bismarck-era Germany took a similar path around the same time, and later so did the United Kingdom as well as other Western democracies.
The world's fast-growing, emerging economies of today -- particularly the "BRICS" block of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa -- reveal a diversity of potential outcomes, some far different, and far less sanguine, than the typical Western story.
Russia experienced its own robber barons period in the 1990s under President Borin Yeltsin, in which crony capitalism and oligarchs displaced the old Soviet system. The backlash resulted in a return to authoritarianism under his successor, President Vladimir Putin. The oligarchs were reined in, not by regulatory reform in a pluralistic democracy, but by the iron fist of the Kremlin reasserting its control over the nation; vast resources that had been plundered in the preceding decade.
China, which has remained authoritarian throughout its phase of rapid growth, has responded to bubbling discontent -- a feature of its growing middle class -- by clamping down on dissent, locking up human rights activists, and censoring the internet. Meanwhile, China is fine-tuning its economic model to try and better share the fruits of development, thereby maintaining the political legitimacy of the Communist Party.
India tells a different tale. With a weak central government that lacks the coercive might of either Moscow or Beijing, there is a frenzied grab for scarce resources. In this way, India not changed very much since feudal times. There remains a close relationship between control of resources -- especially land and what springs from it -- and the corresponding economic and political power that they generate.
Ongoing, large-scale protests in the impoverished northern state of Uttar Pradesh -- in which farmers are demanding fair compensation for their land, which the state government acquired for infrastructure development -- demonstrate just how important land is in the Indian political economy.
Elsewhere, in the prosperous southern state of Karnataka, for instance, a "mining mafia" with ties to the state government illegally extracts mineral resources, at great detriment to the environment and local economy, in full view of the public and media, and with the apparent connivance of the authorities.
In the under-developed but resource-rich central and eastern peripheries of the country, by contrast, the land grabbing and resource extraction occur under the cover of a Maoist insurgency, which provided a justification for large development expenditure and an excuse for the subsequent misuse or misappropriation of those funds.