Gaming the system? ‘Legal’ corruption in action with Professor Michael Johnston

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

The Transnational Research Institute on Corruption (TRIC) presents a public lecture with Professor Michael Johnston, an international expert in anti-corruption research.

Abstract: A long, inconclusive debate has focused around the question of the standards we should use in identifying or defining corruption. The law, the public interest, and public opinion and underlying social and cultural norms have been the most common approaches.

But interest is growing regarding the notion of legal corruption -- actions that, while remaining within the law (or at least not clearly violating it) and employing, not challenging or undermining, major institutions - create or protect rents and unearned advantages for those engaging in them. Legal corruption also deprives citizens of a voice in important decisions that affect their lives.

Whether we call it "institutional corruption", "influence market" corruption, or by other names, legal corruption is central to issues such as surging inequalities in wealth and income; the growing power of "offshore" economic entities that seem to do business everywhere, yet be regulated nowhere; contemporary "populist" movements and their resentments; and low levels of trust -- not only in government, but in major private institutions as well.
It is also a fact of life in affluent market democracies that receive favorable perception-index ratings while experiencing what many of their citizens regard as corrupt, or corrupting, uses of political and economic influence, and while exporting significant corruption to developing societies.

Conventional anti-corruption tactics largely fail to address legal corruption: indeed, some such "controls" actually strengthen the beneficiaries while weakening society's ability to respond. Checking legal corruption will entail reworking fundamental political processes and relationships -- what I have elsewhere called "deep democratization" - no simple matter as long as would-be reformers must take a stand on political and economic turf already substantially reshaped by wealth, and by those who possess it.