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Corruption and Political Development: A Cost-Benefit Analysis*

  • J. S. Nye (a1)
Abstract

“Private Vices by the dextrous Management of a skillful Politician may be turned into Publick Benefits.”

—Bernard Mandeville, 1714

Corruption, some say, is endemic in all governments. Yet it has received remarkably little attention from students of government. Not only is the study of corruption prone to moralism, but it involves one of those aspects of government in which the interests of the politician and the political scientist are likely to conflict. It would probably be rather difficult to obtain (by honest means) a visa to a developing country which is to be the subject of a corruption study.

One of the first charges levelled at the previous regime by the leaders of the coup in the less developed country is “corruption.” And generally the charge is accurate. One type of reaction to this among observers is highly moralistic and tends to see corruption as evil. “Throughout the fabric of public life in newly independent States,” we are told in a recent work on the subject, “runs the scarlet thread of bribery and corruption …” which is like a weed suffocating better plants. Another description of new states informs us that “corruption and nepotism rot good intentions and retard progressive policies.”

Others have reacted against this moralistic approach and warn us that we must beware of basing our beliefs about the cause of coups on post-coup rationalizations, and also of judging the social consequences of an act from the motives of the individuals performing it. Under some circumstances Mandeville is right that private vice can cause public benefit.

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The author is indebted to Samuel P. Huntington, Leon Lindberg and Robert Erwin for reading an earlier version of this paper.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

K. T. Young Jr., “New Politics in New States,” Foreign Affairs, 39 (04, 1961), at p. 498

Nathaniel Leff , “Economic Development Through Bureaucratic Corruption,” The American Behavioral Scientist, 8 (11, 1964), 814

David H. Bayley , “The Effects of Corruption in a Developing Nation,” The Western Political Quarterly, 19 (12, 1966), 719732

Colin Leys , “What is the Problem About Corruption?Journal of Modern African Studies, 3, 2 (1965), 224225

Ralph Braibanti , “Reflections on Bureaucratic Corruption,” Public Administration, 40 (Winter, 1962), 365371

Robert Packenham , “Political Development Doctrines in the American Foreign Aid Program,” World Politics, 18 (01, 1966), 194235

M. G. Smith , “Historical and Cultural Conditions of Political Corruption Among the Hausa,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 6 (01, 1964), at p. 194

Lloyd Fallers , “The Predicament of the Modern African Chief: An Instance from Uganda,” American Anthropologist, 57 (1955), 290305

Elliot Berg , “Socialism and Economic Development in Tropical Africa,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 78 (11, 1964), 549573

Richard L. Sklar , “Contradictions in the Nigerian Political System,” Journal of Modern African Studies, 3, 2 (1965), at p. 206

Eric McKitrick , “The Study of Corruption,” Political Science Quarterly, 72 (12, 1957), 502514

Albert O. Hirschman , “Obstacles to Development: A Classification and a Quasir Vanishing Act,” Economic Development and Cultural Change, 13 (July 1965), 385393

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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