Corruption is one of the major roadblocks to fighting global poverty. Too often, money meant for the world’s poorest people ends up in the hands of corrupt regimes. One reason corruption persists is that it's notoriously difficult to track. Politicians don’t often answer truthfully when asked, “How much of your income last year came from bribes?”
There are, however, some innovative economic strategies that can be used to measure corruption, Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel write for Foreign Policy (excerpt only available online), some of which could help reduce the graft and bribery that hinders global development.
Construction, according to Fishman and Miguel, is one area where corruption can have a measurable effect. A classic example of mafia-style graft is when a construction company buys cheaper-than-reported materials to build bridges and roads and splits the left over money with corrupt officials. By using engineers to test which companies used cheaper-than-reported materials, economists could find out which companies were engaging in corruption.
From there, preventing corruption becomes a simple exercise in experimentation. “Just as medical scientists experiment with different ways of treating human diseases,” Fishman and Miguel write, “policy makers can experiment with different solutions to social problems.” Governments should toy with stricter punishments, greater transparency, and other methods in verifiable ways using control groups and basic scientific principles to figure out how best to tackle corruption. The idea won’t end corruption and poverty tomorrow, but it could make global funds for development a little bit safer.
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