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Corruption and Political Development: A Cost-Benefit Analysis

  • J. S. Nye (a1)


“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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1 Friedrich, C. J., Man and His Government (New York, 1963), p. 167. See also “Political Pathology,” The Political Quarterly, 37 (January–March, 1966), 70–85.

2 Wraith, Ronald and Simpkins, Edgar, Corruption in Developing Countries (London, 1963), pp. 11, 12. Young, K. T. Jr., “New Politics in New States,” Foreign Affairs, 39 (04, 1961), at p. 498.

3 See, for example: Leff, Nathaniel, “Economic Development Through Bureaucratic Corruption,” The American Behavioral Scientist, 8 (11, 1964), 814; Bayley, David H., “The Effects of Corruption in a Developing Nation,” The Western Political Quarterly, 19 (12, 1966), 719732; Klaveren, J. J. Van in a “Comment” in Comparative Studies in Society and History, 6 (01, 1964), at p. 195, even argues that “recent experience in the so-called underdeveloped countries has most vividly brought home the fact that corruption is not a mass of incoherent phenomena, but a political system, capable of being steered with tolerable precision by those in power.”

4 Gluckman, Max, Custom and Conflict in Africa (Oxford, 1955), p. 135.

5 Bryce, James, Modem Democracies (New York, 1921), Vol. II, p. 509.

6 Leys, Colin, “What is the Problem About Corruption?Journal of Modern African Studies, 3, 2 (1965), 224225; Braibanti, Ralph, “Reflections on Bureaucratic Corruption,” Public Administration, 40 (Winter, 1962), 365371.

7 Nor, by the nature of the subject, is there likely to be. In Pye's words, no single scale can be used for measuring political development”: Pye, Lucian (ed.), Communications and Political Development (Princeton, 1963). See also Pye, Lucian, “The Concept of Political Development,” The Annals, 358 (March 1965), 119; Huntington, Samuel, “Political Development and Political Decay,” World Politics, 17 (04, 1965), 386430; Packenham, Robert, “Political Development Doctrines in the American Foreign Aid Program,” World Politics, 18 (01, 1966), 194235.

8 See Huntington, op. cit., 389.

9 Lipset, S. M., Political Man (Garden City, 1959), 7275.

10 The second part of the definition is taken from Banfield, Edward C., Political Influence (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1961), p. 315.

11 See, for example: Smith, M. G., “Historical and Cultural Conditions of Political Corruption Among the Hausa,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 6 (01, 1964), at p. 194; Fallers, Lloyd, “The Predicament of the Modern African Chief: An Instance from Uganda,” American Anthropologist, 57 (1955), 290305. I agree with Bayley on this point: op. cit., 720–722.

12 Rambo, A. Terry, “The Dominican Republic,” in Needier, Martin (ed.), Political Systems of Latin America (Princeton, 1964), p. 172; New York Times, March 5, 1966. Ayeh Kumi's quoted statement has almost certainly greatly under-estimated his own assets.

13 On the economic problems of “African socialism,” see Berg, Elliot, “Socialism and Economic Development in Tropical Africa,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 78 (11, 1964), 549573.

14 Barbara Ward, addressing the Harvard Center for International Affairs, Cambridge, Mass., March 3, 1966.

15 McMullan, M., “A Theory of Corruption,” The Sociological Review (Keele), 9 (07, 1961), at p. 196; Shils, Edward, Political Development in the New States (The Hague, 1962), p. 385.

16 See Werlin, Herbert, “The Nairobi City Council: A Study in Comparative Local Government,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 7 (01, 1966), at p. 185.

17 Wraith and Simpkins, op. cit., p. 172.

18 Needler, Martin, “The Political Development of Mexico,” this Review, 55 (06, 1961), at pp. 310311.

19 Greenstone, J. David, “Corruption and Self Interest in Kampala and Nairobi,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 7 (01, 1966), 199210.

20 See Nye, J. S., “The Impact of Independence on Two African Nationalist Parties,” in Butler, J. and Castagno, A. (eds.), Boston University Papers on Africa (New York, 1967), 224245.

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

22 Lieuwen, Edwin, Arms and Politics in Latin America (New York, 1960), p. 149.

23 Benham, F. and Holley, H. A., A Short Introduction to the Economy of Latin America (London, 1960), p. 10.

24 Leys, op. cit., at p. 229.

25 Crozier, Brian, The Morning After: A Study of Independence (London, 1963), p. 82.

26 In Pye's, words, the military “can contribute to only a limited part of national development,” Aspects of Political Development (Boston, 1966), p. 187.

27 “Have no fear,” General Mobutu told the Congo people, “My Government is not composed of politicians.” Mobutu alleged that political corruption cost the Congo $43 million: East Africa and Rhodesia, January 13, 1966; Africa Report, January 1966, 23.

28 Crozier, op. cit., pp. 62, 74.

29 For two interpretations, see Martin Kilson, “Behind Nigeria's Revolts”; Wallerstein, Immanuel, “Autopsy of Nkrumah'e Ghana,” New Leader, January 31, 912; March 14, 1966, 3–5.

30 Bretton, Henry, Power and Stability in Nigeria (New York, 1962), p. 79.

31 Hoselitz, Bert, “Levels of Economic Performance and Bureaucratic Structures,” in LaPalombara, Joseph (ed.), Bureaucracy and Political Development (Princeton, 1963), 193195. See also Nathaniel Leff, loc. cit., 8–14.

32 See Tanganyika Standard, May 15, 1963.

33 McMullan, op. cit., p. 195.

34 Higgins, Benjamin, Economic Development (New York, 1959), p. 62.

35 Leys, op. cit., p. 227. See also McKitrick, Eric, “The Study of Corruption,” Political Science Quarterly, 72 (12, 1957), 502514, for limits on corruption in urban America.

36 Mandeville, Bernard, The Fable of the Bees, Vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, by Kaye, F. B., 1924), 37.

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

38 Shils, op. cit., p. 385.

39 McMullan, op. cit., 195; Lewis, Oscar, The Children of Sanchez (New York, 1961).

40 Bayley, op. cit., p. 724.

41 Weiner, Myron, The Politics of Scarcity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), p. 236.

42 Cf. Riordan, William, Plunkitt of Tammany Hall (New York, 1948), p. 4.

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

Corruption and Political Development: A Cost-Benefit Analysis

  • J. S. Nye (a1)


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