Authoritarianism and corruption

Authoritarianism and corruption go together. “Corruption is the misuse of public power for private gain and has become a worldwide problem for economies and social development.” Together, authoritarianism and corruption weaken societies–accentuate existing divisions, create new ones, increase inequality, spread distrust, and make a society less stable and less able to respond effectively and coherently to challenges–like disease, poverty, and violence.

Voters turn to authoritarians who promise stability and often a return to some supposed idyllic earlier time … but usually find the opposite. Authoritarian regimes are inherently “fragile states” where life becomes worse for most people and fear replaces trust and compromise.

Quick bibliography: Articles–classic and recent–about authoritarianism, corruption, and their effects.

Brysk, A., & Mehta, A. (2017). When development is not enough: Structural change, conflict and gendered insecurity. Global Society, 31(4), 441-459. [Cited by]

Despite two decades of rapid global economic growth and social modernization, including increases in gender equity, levels of violence against women remain stubbornly high. Moving beyond conventional liberal views, a growing literature has identified how structural change and conflict associated with economic development can exacerbate women’s physical insecurity. We examine the relationship between development patterns and variation in the Physical Security of Women index—the best available cross-national indicator—to fill the gap in emerging ethnographic, case and survey-based accounts with systematic cross-country assessment. We find that, after controlling for standard explanatory variables, income inequality, urban crowding, corruption, political violence, autocracy and unequal representation of women in politics are associated with more physical insecurity, confirming the relevance of structural change and conflict approaches to development. Correcting the conventional wisdom, high national incomes are associated with greater security for women only if they are well distributed, and the relationship with female labor force participation weakens as women’s work rises. These relationships are robust to the year in which they are measured, and to the introduction of region and time fixed effects. We also demonstrate that gender-based violence has different correlates than generic insecurity.”

Chang, E., & Golden, M. A. (2010). Sources of corruption in authoritarian regimes. Social Science Quarterly, 91(1), 1-20. [PDF] [Cited by]

“We seek to investigate the determinants of corruption in authoritarian polities. We hypothesize that corruption in nondemocratic settings will be greater where the ruling group is personalistic rather than a political party or a military clique and that it will be greater where rulers expect to remain in power longer. We construct a new operationalization of the selectorate theory advanced by Bueno de Mesquita et al.

We use cross‐sectional statistical analysis (OLS) to examine a sample of 40‐odd authoritarian regimes as of 2000.

Our results indicate that personalistic and personalistic‐hybrid regimes are more prone to corruption than single‐party and military regimes and also that rulers who expect to remain in power for longer are less corrupt. Corroborating previous studies, we document that the availability of natural resources and higher levels of institutionalized autocracy are associated with greater corruption and that wealthier countries experience less corruption. Our results are consistent with previous studies, including that of Bueno de Mesquita et al., but because of our reconstruction of selectorate theory in terms of real‐world regime types, they are more easily interpretable.

Our study sheds light on why African countries are so notoriously corrupt. The personalistic authoritarian regimes that have arisen there in the postcolonial period appear especially prone to corruption, whereas military and single‐party dictatorships are less corrupt.”

Chen, D. (2017). Local Distrust and Regime Support: Sources and Effects of Political Trust in China. Political Research Quarterly, 70(2), 314-326. [PDF] [Cited by]

“Political trust is an important indicator of regime support. However, we have yet to fully understand the sources and consequence of varying levels of trust in specific political institutions. Difference in political trust at national and local levels is especially important for understanding authoritarian systems. Focusing on China, this article examines different levels of trust in the central and local governments. Building on existing research that consistently finds high central trust with lower local trust, this article investigates whether the trust sources differ and the consequence on regime support. Using survey data, it finds that national economic evaluation is positively associated with trust at both levels. Perceived corruption at respective levels is negatively correlated with trust. Citizens who use the Internet more tend to trust the central government less, while those who perceive high quality of public services tend to trust their local governments more. However, citizens who trust the central government but distrust their local governments tend to show less regime support. This suggests that instead of simply blaming local governments for incompetency or wrongdoing, citizens’ local distrust weakens regime support.

Huang, H., Serra Boranbay-Akan, & Huang, L. (2019). Media, protest diffusion, and authoritarian resilience. Political Science Research and Methods, 7(1), 23-42. [Cited by]

“Do authoritarian governments always censor news about protests to prevent unrest from spreading? Existing research on authoritarian politics stresses the danger that information spread within the society poses for a regime. In particular, media and Internet reports of social unrest are deemed to threaten authoritarian rule, as such reports may incite more protests and thus spread instability. We show that such reasoning is incomplete if social protests are targeted at local officials. Allowing media the freedom to report local protests may indeed lead to protest diffusion, but the increased probability of citizen protest also has two potential benefits for the regime: (1) identifying and addressing more social grievances, thus releasing potential revolutionary pressure on the regime; (2) forcing local officials to reduce misbehavior, thus reducing underlying social grievances. For authoritarian governments whose survival is vulnerable to citizen grievances, allowing the media to report social protests aimed at local governments can therefore enhance regime stability and protect its interests under many circumstances. We construct a game-theoretic model to analyze the problem and illustrate the argument with examples from China.”

Nisnevich, Y. (2016). Modern Authoritarianism and Corruption. Available at SSRN: [PDF] [Cited by]

This paper focuses on the link between the modern authoritarianism and corruption. Even though corruption plays an important role in Communist regimes, post-colonial dictatorships and authoritarian monarchies, coercion – which is a traditional tool used by authoritarian rulers – remains the basis of these regimes. However, a new type of non-democratic regimes, which we call neoauthoritarian, has emerged since the last quarter of the XX century. The new regimes are based on a dynamic interplay between coercion and corruption. That interplay allows authoritarian rulers to bring to the forefront either coercion or corruption, depending on the current political situation in the country and the political, economic and social issues on the political agenda. In this type of regimes, ruling political-economic groups capture the state and the public authority in the country and use all their instruments and resources to achieve their private goals. This paper presents empirical results showing that the Communist regimes, dictatorships and authoritarian monarchies exist in 33 modern non-democratic states, while neoauthoritarian regimes can be found in 19 states. I show that high levels of corruption are typical of all of these regimes, especially in dictatorships and neoauthoritarian ones. I explain a relatively lower level of corruption in the authoritarian monarchies using Olson’s theory of stationary bandit. In particular, I speculate that the ruling monarchs fight corruption among bureaucrats since they perceive it as stealing their own property that damages the sources of their administrative rent and their revenues. At the same time, the high-level political corruption persists. Finally, I show that dictatorships are on average more fragile than economically elastic neoauthoritarian regimes, although it might be challenging to differentiate between them. All authoritarian and neoauthoritarian regimes, except a few monarchies, are non-stable regimes, allowing me to hypothesize their coming transformations or collapse.”

Tan, X., Liu, L., Zheng, W., & Huang, Z. (2016). Effects of social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism on corrupt intention: The role of moral outrage. International Journal of Psychology, 51(3), 213-219. [PDF] [Cited by]

“Previous research suggested that dominance orientation and authoritarianism may be associated with corruption, but little research has verified this assumption or uncovered its psychological processes. In this article, we examined empirically the relationships between social dominance orientation (SDO), right‐wing authoritarianism (RWA) and corrupt intention and explored the mediating role of moral outrage on these relationships. A total of 677 college students participated in the study and completed measures of SDO, RWA, moral outrage and corrupt intention. Our findings demonstrated that both SDO and RWA were positively associated with corrupt intention. Additionally, moral outrage partially mediated the relation between SDO and corrupt intention and fully mediated the relation between RWA and corrupt intention. Specifically, the results indicated that higher SDO or RWA was associated with reduced moral outrage and increased corrupt intention. This implies that the enhancement of morality and moral outrage may inhibit corrupt intention.“

For additional research about the effects of authoritarianism and corruption, please see the Science Primary Literature Database.

Questions?  Please let me know (engelk@grinnell.edu).

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