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Corruption and Reform: An Introduction

  • Edward L. Glaeser
  • Claudia Goldin

The United States today, according to most studies, is among the least corrupt nations in the world. But America's past was checkered with political scandal and widespread corruption that would not seem unusual compared with the most corrupt developing nation today. We construct a "corruption and fraud index" using word counts from a large number of newspapers for 1815 to 1975, supplemented with other historical facts. The index reveals that America experienced a substantial decrease in corruption from 1870 to 1920, particularly from the late-1870s to the mid-1880s and again in the 1910s. At its peak in the 1870s the "corruption and fraud index" is about five times its level from the end of the Progressive Era to the 1970s. If the United States was once considerably more corrupt than it is today, then America's history should offer lessons about how to reduce corruption. How did America become a less corrupt polity, economy, and society? We review the findings and insights from a series of essays for a conference volume, Corruption and Reform: Lessons from America's History, for which this paper is the introduction that attempt to understand the remarkable evolution of corruption and reform in U.S. history.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10775.

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Date of creation: Sep 2004
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Publication status: published as Glaeser, Edward L. and Claudia Goldin (eds.) Corruption and Reform: Lessons from America’s Economic History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10775
Note: LE DAE
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  1. John McMillan & Pablo Zoido, 2004. "How to Subvert Democracy: Montesinos in Peru," CESifo Working Paper Series 1173, CESifo Group Munich.
  2. Alejandro Gaviria, 2002. "Assessing the Effects of Corruption and Crime on Firm Performance: Evidence from Latin America," INVESTIGACIÓN ECONÓMICA EN COLOMBIA 001902, FUNDACIÓN PONDO.
  3. Di Tella, Rafael & Schargrodsky, Ernesto, 2003. "The Role of Wages and Auditing during a Crackdown on Corruption in the City of Buenos Aires," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 46(1), pages 269-92, April.
  4. Mauro, Paolo, 1995. "Corruption and Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(3), pages 681-712, August.
  5. George J. Stigler, 1971. "The Theory of Economic Regulation," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 2(1), pages 3-21, Spring.
  6. Gary S. Becker & George J. Stigler, 1974. "Law Enforcement, Malfeasance, and Compensation of Enforcers," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(1), pages 1-18, January.
  7. Edward L. Glaeser, 2001. "Public Ownership in the American City," NBER Working Papers 8613, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Rose-Ackerman, Susan, 1975. "The economics of corruption," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 187-203, February.
  9. Edward L. Glaeser & Andrei Shleifer, 2001. "The Rise of the Regulatory State," NBER Working Papers 8650, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Alejandro Gaviria Uribe, 2000. "Assessing the effects of corruption and crime on firm performance," INFORMES DE INVESTIGACIÓN 002031, FEDESARROLLO.
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