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New book tells the story of global corruption and enforcement

The temptation when writing about corruption is to focus on statistics and policy details instead of people — both the victims and the heroes.

But Laurence Cockcroft leaves math and wonkiness behind (no small feat for an economist) and delivers a great narrative.

Cockcroft’s new book is Global Corruption: Money, Power, and Ethics in the Modern World. It was published this year by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Anti-corruption enforcement was largely off the table during the Cold War, he says, but has since emerged as the key weapon against global organized crime.

His description of crime gangs aligned with governments (and unions) takes examples from Western and developing countries. And his tale of graft busters, from Bobby Kennedy to John Githongo, shows how individuals, against the odds, can turn the tide.

In a blurb for the book, Sir Chris Patten, former European Commissioner and Governor of Hong Kong, said ‘Corruption is a tax on development. . . . Wherever it grows, it hollows out governing institutions and undermines prosperity and stability. Laurence Cockcroft has written a brilliant analysis of its scale and malign results. His book deserves a place on the library shelf of everyone committed to sustainable development in free and plural societies.’

Cockcroft is a founding member of Transparency International and was formerly chairman of its U.K. chapter. He’s also the author of Africa’s Way: A Journey from the Past.

He first saw corruption while working at a training center for small-plot farmers in Nigeria in the early 1960s. After studies at Cambridge University, he returned to Africa as an agricultural economist for the governments of Zambia and Tanzania and later Ghana. He then spent ten years working for a British agribusiness company.

Twenty years after the founding of Transparency International, Cockcroft is still part of it. Convincing successive British governments that bribery ‘is really a threat to a level playing field in international markets’ has been one of the biggest challenges, he says.

His new book should help. It shows graft as both incredibly corrosive and far from inevitable.

Cockcroft rightly casts corruption as a ‘gateway’ crime — a powerful idea that’s gaining acceptance and helping fuel the global anti-corruption movement.

‘The case for combating corruption relentlessly,’ Cockcroft says, ‘ is that it is a force which drives poverty, inequality, dysfunctional democracy and global insecurity. Its most consistent victims are the poor who constitute a majority of the population in low-income countries; its most dramatic victims are the subjects of human trafficking. Its everyday victims are the citizens of many countries where political funding is generated by corrupt means and where their voice is lost in the rush by elected politicians to pay off their backers. Corruption feeds failed states, the trade in nuclear weapons and their components, and the perpetuation of hunger even where harvests are plentiful. Unless checked, its major legacy will be an unjust and unstable world, tipping the outcome of uncertainties about the future in an ever more dangerous direction.’

Global Corruption: Money, Power, and Ethics in the Modern World is available from Amazon here and from the publisher here.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this interesting review on Global Corruption. This may seem to be an unusual question but: Why do we have corruption in the first place? In the setting of a corrupt process, in many parts of the world, both the givers and receivers of cash etc. are not cold, hungry, unwell or unsheltered. So what is driving this? It seems to me that insecurity, based on no good reason is the fundamental here. So, a sort of mental dysfunction then? The genetics of mental disorder is making huge strides at the moment and giving what seem to be important insights into mental functioning at a biochemical level. Hopefully understanding these inroads into neurochemistry and their impact on attitude and behaviour, will help us to understand and cope with, for example, the neuroticism which tends to attach to leadership activity. Leadership quality and selection, after all, being arguably the most important questions.

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