Three paradigms for the analysis of corruption


  • Alberto Vannucci Università di Pisa


Parole chiave:

corruption, public ethics, informal institutions, economic approach, neo-institutional paradigm, institutions responsibility, employment


In the last decades a growing awareness emerged of the relevance of corruption as an hidden factor which may negatively affect political and economic decision-making processes. In spite of a lively scientific debate there is no general consensus on a commonly accepted definition of what corruption is.

The A. distinguishes three main paradigms, focusing on different (though not irreconcilable) variables.

The first is the economic paradigm, which usually takes the principal-agent model of corruption as its founding pillar. In this paradigm corruption is considered the outcome of rational individual choices, and its spread within a certain organization is influenced by the factors defining the structure of expected costs and rewards.

A second approach – the cultural paradigm – looks at the differences in cultural traditions, social norms and interiorized values which shape individuals’ moral preferences and consideration of his social and institutional role. These are a leading forces that can push a corrupt public or private agent (not) to violate legal norms.

A third neo-institutional approach considers also mechanisms which allow the internal regulation of social interactions within corrupt networks, and their effects on individuals’ beliefs and preferences. Though the corrupt agreements cannot be enforced with legal sanctions, several informal, non-written rules, contractual provisos and conventions may regulate the corrupt exchange between agent and corruptor.

The A. underlines that corruption is the outcome of a multitude of individual and collective choices which change public opinion towards corruption and its diffusion throughout the state, markets and civil society. There is no univocal recipe to deal with anti-bribery measures, since corruption is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon.

Reforms aimed at dismantling systemic corruption have to be finely tuned against its hidden governance structures, i.e. its internal regulation of exchanges and relationships. Otherwise, a vicious circle may emerge: the more an anti-corruption policy is needed, because corruption is systemic and enforced by effective third-parties, the less probable its formulation and implementation.

Only when official rules are complemented by coherent informal institutions, bottom-up initiatives, they tend to produce the expected outcomes and make anticorruption regulation more effective.

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Come citare

Vannucci, A. (2015). Three paradigms for the analysis of corruption. Labour & Law Issues, 1(2), 1-31.