Three decades of effort by the contemporary international anti-corruption movement have so far produced indifferent results at best. The problem is not so much bad ideas as that we do not build strong social and political foundations for the good ideas. Instead of pursuing that more contentious and explicitly political path, reformers have persisted in misunderstanding historical examples, treated corruption as essentially the same everywhere, paid insufficient attention to improved measurement techniques and the risks of collective action problems and clung to seemingly powerful but ultimately empty ideas such as “political will” and petty versus grand corruption distinctions. A stronger movement would start by linking reform to citizens’ own interests and quality of life. That approach to reform would be contentious, long term and often indirect, but it would emulate the historical experiences of societies that have had some success at checking corruption.
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