Corruption risks in a mature democracy : Mechanisms of social advantage and danger zones for corruption

Sammanfattning: Researchers have repeatedly found that corruption has a wide range of negative consequences, not least in developing countries where corruption typically constitutes an endemic part of people’s lives. However, much less is known about the prevalence and effects of corruption in mature democracies. While such states regularly find themselves at the top of anti-corruption rankings, they are not immune to corruption scandals related to, for instance, recruitment to public positions, procurement, the issuance of permits, etcetera.Against this backdrop, some scholars have argued that the size of the corruption problem in mature democracies may be underestimated. One common and underlying argument is that corruption in these settings takes on hidden and ‘sophisticated’ forms that are difficult to expose, hard to prosecute, and therefore, difficult to measure. Accordingly, corruption in mature democracies has largely been downplayed or overlooked, and hence constitutes a blind spot for most practitioners and corruption scholars. That said, when scholars have paid attention to corruption in mature democracies, the tendency has been to focus on theoretical discussions rather than rigorous empirical research. As a result of measurement problems and data limitations, scholars have found it difficult to assess the extent of corruption in settings characterised by more sophisticated forms of corruption.As a means of addressing this research gap, the overarching purpose of this thesis is to apply research strategies that allow us to quantify the prevalence and potential effects of corruption risks at the micro level in the context of a mature democracy – Sweden. This is achieved by employing large-scale administrative data combined with statistical methods that measure corruption risks at the granular level of individuals, firms, and processes. I maintain that the approaches employed in the thesis have at least two advantages vis-á-vis the lion’s share of existing corruption research: 1) it makes it possible to detect corruption risks in areas where the presence of corruption has previously been downplayed or unknown; and 2) it estimates corruption risks at the micro level, which allows for a more granular understanding of variations in corruption risks, between both municipalities and organisations.Ultimately, the results of the thesis show the prevalence of corruption risks in the Swedish public sector in the areas of recruitment to public sector jobs, the rental housing market, and public procurement. Moreover, the thesis also shows that perceived corruption in Swedish municipalities is associated with lower levels of entrepreneurship. In line with a decent amount of previous research, the thesis’s main findings support the notion that subnational variations in institutional quality and impartiality are relevant even in mature democracies.

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