You hear it all the time: “Big government is the problem.” “We need to reduce the size of the government if we want to eliminate corruption.” As it turns out, just because the government grows in size doesn’t mean that corruption will grow along with it.
From a journal article published last year [Emphasis added]:
This study’s findings suggest that anticorruption policy is regularly hindered by oversimplistic analyses suggesting that “government size” must be synonymous with “corruption,” and that by cutting its government a country is concomitantly reducing the opportunities for the abuse of public office. In contrast with such analyses, this study found no evidence that government size is directly associated with corruption. In fact, the findings presented here indicate that generally the reverse is true. Government size is inversely linked to the level of corruption across nations.
You read that right — the size of the government is inversely linked to the level of corruption across nations. Meaning, as the size of the government grows, the level of corruption seems to go down.
If you had to guess, what would you say would be the most effective way to reduce corruption? There’s a strong hint in the title of the journal article. From the article [Emphasis Added]:
This study’s analysis suggests that an increase in nonprofit sector size should have the greatest anticorruption effect.
This study was done on a global-scale. Here’s a list of some of the countries that were included (there were 50 in all): Argentina, Canada, Denmark, India, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Sweden, and South Korea. The study also looked at corruption at the national level.
Maybe this is a good time to clarify that one can’t actually measure corruption as it happens because by definition, corruption happens in secret. In order to get around this, proxies like “Black Market” activity are used. In this study, the researchers relied on the “Corruption Perception Index.”
Even with studies like this being published, I worry that folks hellbent on “drowning government in the bathtub” will continue to use corruption in the opening salvo. And when pressed to face the facts of studies like this, they’ll explain it away as not being “relevant” to the US. So, I’d really like to see a study that specifically looks at government corruption in the US. Again, I realize the limitations of taking on a research question like this, but I think it would be interesting to look at the level of corruption in local and state governments. In fact, I’m sure there’d be differences in the level of corruption when moving from state to state, but I wonder if the difference in corruption would be negligible or if we might find something substantial. More than that, I’d be interested to see if government corruption is more strongly linked to one party or the other.
Themudo, N. (2014). Government Size, Nonprofit Sector Strength, and Corruption: A Cross-National Examination The American Review of Public Administration, 44 (3), 309-323 DOI: 10.1177/0275074012465791