Edited by Adam Graycar and Russell G. Smith
Chapter 2: Corruption in the Broad Sweep of History
Marcus Felson Corruption is a product of the interplay between (a) primary human imperatives and (b) an economic and social system trying to control and channel those imperatives. Primary human imperatives include both looking after one’s personal interests and meeting social commitments to friends and relatives. A strong tension is inherent between these primary human imperatives and the larger economic and social system. That tension is strongest with the modern form of economic organization. Hence corruption, despite its ancient presence, becomes especially relevant in a modern world. Although corruption becomes especially an issue as developing nations move towards a modern world, we should not assume that the tension will go away once they are developed. Those aware of Max Weber (1947 ) will immediately recognize the origins of the current argument in his description and analysis of the broad sweep of economic and social history. Weber was perhaps the greatest historical theorist of economic and social life. On the one hand, he gathered vast detail as he studied and described each society. On the other hand, Weber summarized those details within a very general analytical framework. Each society has a prevalent authority system that governs its behaviour, and that authority system is central for understanding it. Weber synthesized information about the broad sweep of economic and social history with three authority systems: (a) traditional, (b) patrimonial, and (c) rational-legal. This chapter explains his general categories, then shows why they help us to understand and conceptualize corruption. Within a traditional system,...
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