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Better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society’s institutions, including government, corporations and other organizations.




Released on May  07, 2018 @ 21:00 EDT


Released on May 07, 2018

This article originally published on Crime, Law & Social Change 38: 1–32, 2002    Brief overview and excerpts of the articles as follows:

Explaining corruption: An institutional choice approach

Social rules provide the mechanisms that allow the linkage to external and internal worlds. To constructivists, social institutions are individual rules, or sets of rules, established in consonance with material realities. Theoretical explanations emerge from the analysis of the interaction of rules, agents, and material conditions. Constructivists analyze how these interactions constitute or cause individual behavior by providing agents with direction and incentives for action, and how these interactions influence changes to institutions (rules). Onuf’s theory of rules is the foundation of the constructivist analytic frame. Rules tell people what they should do, what they must do, and what they have a right to do. When agents fail to follow rules, other supporting rules bring consequences. Considering their material circumstances, agents follow or disregard rules to achieve their goals. Institutions or regimes are simply patterns of stable rules, while structure is a stable pattern of rules, institutions, and their unintended consequences.

Complex institutions, like corruption, consist of a constantly changing mix of three different types of social rules that perform distinct functions.  First, instruction rules delineate the principles, beliefs, or norms that inform agents of the institution’s purposes. Instruction rules tell agents what they should do. Second, directive rules provide specificity to the instruction-ruled principles, beliefs and norms. Directive rules support instruction rules by telling agents what they must do. In order for directive rules to be effective, they must be supported by other rules (sanctions) that stipulate the consequences if an agent does not follow a particular directive rule. Third, commitment rules create roles for agents. Commitment rules tell agents what they have a right or duty to do. Commitment rules give some agents well-defined powers, while assuring other agents that those powers will not be abused. How well the three types of rules perform their assigned function depends upon their formality and strength. A rule’s formality concerns how well the rule is supported by other rules. A rule’s strength is determined by how frequently agents follow the rule.

The mix of the three different types of rules results in three distinct forms of rule, or methods that govern society. While all three types of rules exist in every society, those societies with a higher proportion of instruction rules are ruled by hegemony. The concept of hegemony used here closely follows the analysis of Gramsci who argues that a ruling class must persuade other classes in society to accept its moral, political, and cultural values, thus making the phenomena of culture and ideology central to the ruling system.

Hegemony refers to the promulgation and manipulation of principles and instructions by which superordinate powers monopolize meaning which is then passively absorbed by the subordinate actors. These activities constitute a stable arrangement of rule because the ruled are rendered incapable of comprehending their subordinate role. They cannot formulate alternative programs of action because they are inculcated with the self-serving ideology of the rulers who monopolize the production and dissemination of statements through which meaning is constituted.

Finally, societies with a higher proportion of commitment rules are ruled by heteronomy. This term is traced to Kant who referred to heteronomy as a condition of not having autonomy.  Heteronomy defines a condition where rational decision-makers are never fully autonomous, and whose decisions toward particular ends are bounded both by societal rules and their material means. Formal commitment rules stipulate promises by some agents, promises that become the rights (i.e., promises kept) of other agents. Ruling elite in societies with strong commitment rules find their autonomy severely restricted.  The emergence of commitment rules is often the unintended consequences of the strengthening (widespread societal following) of instruction and directive rules. Using the above constructivist theory of rules in conjunction with the  institutional choice analytic frame, this paper develops a middle range theory of the causes of corruption.  Researchers concentrate in the middle, between aggregate macro- and detailed micro-concepts, looking for sets of grouped social rules closely associated with the corruption concept. I construct a set of coordinates of socially constructed phenomena (sets of rules) that explain the range of corrupt behavior and the recurrence of consistent patterns of corruption. The resultant interdisciplinary theory applies across the centuries and to differing political and economic systems.

A central theme of this institutional choice analysis is the critical need to generate anti-corruption commitment rules. Without directive rule reform of authoritarian political power structures, the emergence of stronger anticorruption commitment rules in most states is unlikely. Moreover, without reforms to collectivist political cultures, it may be all but impossible to generate anti-corruption commitment rules. A state’s inability to generate commitment rules is the principal reason it is so difficult to arrest endemic corruption. My analysis shows that there are a variety of socially constructed phenomenon that lead to commitment rule construction. Among these phenomena, an empowered civil society playing a vital role in elite accountability emerges as the foundation to building commitment rules.

WikiLeaks Sudbury
May 2018

Michaelw,  Collier (2002). Explaining corruption: An institutional choice approach, Crime, Law & Social Change 38: 1–32.

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Explaining corruption: An institutional choice approach







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