Is corruption in China “out of control”? A comparison with the US in historical perspective
This paper compares corruption in China over the past 15years with corruption in the US between 1870 and 1930, periods that are roughly comparable in terms of real income per capita. Corruption indicators for both countries and both periods are constructed by tracking corruption news in prominent US newspapers. Several robustness checks confirm the reliability of the constructed corruption indices for both countries. The comparison indicates that corruption in the US in the early 1870s, when its real income per capita was about $2800 (in 2005 dollars), was 7–9 times higher than China’s corruption level in 1996, the corresponding year in terms of income per capita. By the time the US reached $7500 in 1928, approximately equivalent to China’s real income per capita in 2009, corruption was similar in both countries. The findings imply that, while corruption in China is an issue that merits attention, it is not at alarmingly high levels, compared to the US historical experience. In addition, the paper articulates a theoretical framework within which the relationship between corruption and economic development can be understood. The model is used to explain the “life-cycle” of corruption in the development process–rising at the early stages of development, and declining after modernization has taken place. Hence, as China continues its development process, corruption will likely decline.
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