CORRUPTION CONTROL IS OFTEN NOT WORTH THE EFFORT
"Anticorruption efforts provide excellent political cover for publicofficials," says Frank Anechiarico, the Maynard-Knox Professor of Governmentand Law at Hamilton College, "but they make little sense economically."
Anechiarico and James Jacobs, professor of law and director of the Center forResearch in Crime and Justice at New York University, question the widely heldbelief that corruption should be eliminated no matter what the cost. Theresults of their study are contained in The Pursuit of Absolute Integrity:How Corruption Control Makes Government Ineffective. The book waspublished by the University of Chicago Press in December as part of its"Studies in Crime and Justice Series."
Based on case studies gleaned from anticorruption efforts over the pastcentury and on interviews conducted with over 200 current and former New YorkCity officials, the authors show how the pursuit of "absolute integrity" shapespriorities and leads to delays, frustration, reductions in productivity, andlack of discretion for decision-makers.
An attempt by the New York City Department of Buildings to eliminate "theft oftime corruption" illustrates the point:
"The most recent anticorruption protocol ... requires all field inspectors toreturn to borough headquarters at the end of the day, instead of leaving forhome from the last inspection site. The policy is meant to ensure thatpersonnel do not leave work early. While no one knows how much, if any,corruption has been prevented, there has been a nearly 30 percent reduction ininspector productivity because of the time consumed in returning to the office.This policy perfectly illustrates how the
Progressive vision of virtuous public professionals has been superseded bypanoptic control."
Other examples include the city's inability to rebuild the Central Park iceskating rink or examine its schools for asbestos.
"Our ability to govern is constrained as much by corruption control as by thecorruption itself," according to Anechiarico. "The pursuit of corruption-freegovernment often has as much to do with making government wasteful,unresponsive and bureaucratic as the corruption itself."
"After pursuing the vision of corruption-free government for almost a century,we have the worst of both worlds -- too much corruption and too much corruptioncontrol," say the authors. In some instances, Anechiarico adds, the twinproblems of corruption and corruption control lead to a situation where thelatter becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for the former.
Johns Hopkins University political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg says,"Anechiarico and Jacobs show that current efforts to eradicate corruptionamount to a cure that is far worse than the disease. Those who wish to pursueabsolute integrity should absolutely stop and read this book."
While Anechiarico and Jacobs conducted their research in New York, they saycorruption and corruption control are problems for all levels of governmentthroughout the U.S. The impetus for this project stemmed from the authors'collaboration with the New York State Organized Crime Task Force in a study ofcorruption and racketeering in the New York City construction industry. "TheTask Force's determination to mobilize government in an all-out drive againstcorruption kindled our interest in the effects of the anti-corruption projecton public administration," according to the authors.
"We recognize that corruption has a negative impact on government,"Anechiarico says, "but current effects have not only impeded governmentservice, they have done little to reduce corruption. We suggest how thecurrent anticorruption project may be fine-tuned and how more radical changesin public administration may help.