Ben Muse has a useful post that links to several measures of corruption. For example, according to Transparency International, the best scoring countries are Finland, Iceland, and New Zealand. The worst are Iraq, Myanmar, and Haiti. The U.S. is 20th. Seven out of the top ten are Scandinavian (if one may include Iceland and Switzerland in that category–I get all those little northern European countries mixed up). The remaining three are what James Bennett would call Anglosphere countries–those with a heavy influence of British colonization. Only two countries (Luxembourg and Austria) from outside Scandinavia and the Anglosphere manage to break into the top 15.
UPDATE: Tom Donelson looks at the Heritage Foundation/WSJ freedom index from an Anglospheric perspective.
Jan 21 2007 at 11:58am
The Scandinavian countries are: Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. Note that Finland is not part of Scandinavia, but is part of what is called “the Nordic countries”. In no way can Switzerland considered Scandinavian.
Countries like Sweden and Switzerland are not that close each other, neither geographically, linguistically, or culturally. Maybe more useful common denominators would be religion (many of the top 10 countries are mainly protestant; lutheran etc.), size of the country (small countries), and homogenous population.
My theory is that the more multicultural country, the less trust between people and the more corruption.
Jan 21 2007 at 2:12pm
“I get all those little northern European countries mixed up”
As well you might, Arnold. The Scandinavian Peninsula contains only Norway, Sweden and a bit of Finland. Add the rest of Finland and you get Fennoscandia, another geographic construct. Denmark, or at least the Jutland peninsula, is attached to Europe at another point. It becomes part of Scandinavia only if you make that a linguistic/cultural construct–in which case you also add the Faroes, Iceland and Greenland, not to mention Svalbard.
So the lot of them have banded together under the name “Nordic countries”. Estonia has applied to join them, but no way do you get to include Switzerland. (The Swiss may have the attitude and altitude, but not the latitude.)
BTW, re happiness research, did you see the Jan. 17 column in the FT on “Leisure is the vital ingredient in Nordic success”?
Jan 21 2007 at 3:13pm
Well, the founding member of the anglosphere, the United Kingdom, is doing what it can to disprove your theory. The government has basically stopped a criminal investigation into bribes British Aerospace paid to Saudi princes to get the Al-Yamamah weapons contract. They invoked national security, but the fact is the Saudis were getting upset about the investigation (not surprising, the heir to the throne was most likely implicated to the tune of several billion dollars), and threatened to move the contract elsewhere.
When a country doesn’t even have a written constitution, gross abuses like the executive overriding the judiciary are par for the course.
Jan 21 2007 at 7:03pm
In the Bribe Payer’s Index the UK is tied for 6th with Canada, which I’d say is not too shabby. Austria is Catholic and is ranked third.
I myself have occasionally screwed up and called Finland a Scandinavian or Nordic country, but Switzerland is an entirely different story (though German speaking Swiss man Thomas Gabriel Fischer sometimes refers to himself as Nordic, perhaps because it is a cool thing to be in the world of heavy metal).
Jan 21 2007 at 8:45pm
What role does religion play in forming social mores against corruption? A lot of the top 15 is made up of protestant-heavy countries, with the exception of catholic austria and luxembourg and plurality-buddhist singapore and hong kong. Culture is an important part of this and religion has had an integral role in culture (this is coming from an atheist, btw).
Jan 21 2007 at 9:36pm
I just wanted to add that, as far as the role of religion is concerned, it seems to me that it would be more interesting to look at the influence of religion as such on the societies at hand than to compare based on what particular brand of religion they follow (or, which is my point, don’t follow). I think it’s a pretty non-controversial statement that religion plays a much smaller role and exert far less influence on society in Europe than in the United States, and the difference would be even bigger compared to most muslim countries, etc. Being from Sweden, and I think this is consistent with published surveys, I would say that the nordic countries are among the most secularised societies in the world.
Having said that, I think there are much more important factors lurking in the background than the one concerning religion.
Richard O. Hammer
Jan 22 2007 at 8:23am
Corruption exists in the eyes of the beholder, like beauty. To perceive an activity as corrupt requires a contrast, a comparison with supposedly correct behavior within a set of rules. I would argue that one cannot perceive corruption without (perhaps unconsciously) exposing belief in a set of rules, in a source of order.
But what is the origin of the rules? Being libertarian I emphasize the stark contrast between natural law and state law. Many activities which are corrupt in the eyes of the state are tolerable in the eyes of natural civil order.
I have not studied Ben Muse’s work. But I would guess that he accepts the commonplace idea of corruption, the idea that law comes from the state. So I would expect his findings of corruption to be smallest where states are smallest, and greatest where states are greatest. I would expect his findings to run opposite the findings of freedom, compiled in places like Frasier Institute.
Jan 22 2007 at 8:47am
The habit in Scandinavian countries of stealing half or more of people’s money to give out for political purposes would seem to be a more important indicator of corruption than the taking of occasional bribes.
Jan 22 2007 at 10:56am
Victory of Reason- a book by Robert Stark makes some interesting reading on why this may be the case…
It is a commonplace to think of Christianity and rationalism as opposite historical and philosophical forces. In this stimulating and provocative study, Stark demonstrates that elements within Christianity actually gave rise not only to visions of reason and progress but also to the evolution of capitalism. Stark contends that Christianity is a forward-looking religion, evincing faith in progress and in its followers’ abilities to understand God over time. Such a future-based rational theology has encouraged the development of technical and organizational advances, such as the monastic estates and universities of the Middle Ages. Stark contends that these developments transformed medieval political philosophy so that democracy developed and thrived in those states, such as northern Italy, that lacked despots and encouraged moral equality. Stark concludes by maintaining that Christianity continues to spread in places like Africa, China and Latin America because of its faith in progress, its rational theology and its emphasis on moral equality. While some historians are likely to question Stark’s conclusions, his deftly researched study will force them to imagine a new explanation for the rise of capitalism in Western society.
Review from Amazon on the book
Jan 22 2007 at 3:55pm
I’m just gonna assume that the Switzerland thing was a joke.
Jan 23 2007 at 10:06am
I’ve done business all over the world, and my own observation is the two most corrupt places are Mexico and Russia. Within the U.S., hands down Louisiana is the most corrupt place, with Lousiana ranking somewhat better than Mexico and Russia.
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