Good Government
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Good Government

The Relevance of Political Science

Edited by Sören Holmberg and Bo Rothstein

In all societies, the quality of government institutions is of the utmost importance for the well-being of its citizens. Problems like high infant mortality, lack of access to safe water, unhappiness and poverty are not primarily caused by a lack of technical equipment, effective medicines or other types of knowledge generated by the natural or engineering sciences. Instead, the critical problem is that the majority of the world’s population live in societies that have dysfunctional government institutions. Central issues discussed in the book include: how can good government be conceptualized and measured, what are the effects of ‘bad government’ and how can the quality of government be improved?
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Chapter 10: State Legitimacy and the Corruptibility of Leaders

Anna Persson and Martin Sjöstedt


Anna Persson and Martin Sjöstedt [W]hat the prince does the many will also soon do – for in their eyes the prince is ever in view. (Niccolò Machiavelli, as cited in Werner 1983, p. 149) Referring to the powerful position of leaders, there is now a general consensus holding that any theory of the state must ultimately include the role played by the ruling elite. Especially, it has been argued that leaders play a crucial role in the fight against corruption (Klitgaard 1988; Theobald 1990; Harsch 1993; Doig and Riley 1998; Goldsmith 2001; Jones and Olken 2005; Acemoglu and Robinson 2006). This is because, when people evaluate the standard of operating procedures in a particular society, it is likely that the conduct of powerful groups will serve as their main heuristics (Rothstein 2003). That is, there is likely to be what Werner (1983, p. 149) refers to as a “leader–follower spillover effect”. Consequently, in a corrupt system of rule, the “fish” should be expected to “rot from the head down” (compare the German proverb “Der fisch stinkt vom Kopf her”). If the behavior of leaders is allowed to deteriorate, it will simply result “in the administrative equivalent of a permeable membrane through which corruption is diffused in an osmotic manner” (ibid., p. 150). That is, the corrupt behavior of political elites will in time be copied, complemented and reinforced by actors further down the hierarchy, making the situation even worse. Given the importance of the behavior of leaders...

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