Despite significant investment in anti-corruption work over the past 15 years, most systemically corrupt countries are considered to be just as corrupt now as they were before the anti-corruption interventions. A growing number of authors argue that anti-corruption efforts have not worked because they are based on inadequate theory, suggesting that collective action theory offers a better understanding of corruption than the principal-agent theory usually used.
This paper argues that both theories are in fact valuable, but both miss out an important third perspective, which is that corruption can serve important functions, solving difficult problems that people face, especially in weak institutional environments. Effective anti-corruption initiatives are so hard to achieve because they often require insights from all three of these perspectives.
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