(Newswise) What drives ordinary citizens to corruption? Neither greed nor personal gain, necessarily, but desperation, concludes Kelly McMann, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University and author of the recently released book, Corruption as a Last Resort: Adapting to the Market in Central Asia (Cornell University Press, 2014).
McMann, associate professor of political science and director of the university’s International Studies Program, explores why the masses often turn to paying bribes, using connections or selling political support when legal and moral alternatives—such as seeking help from family members or charitable and religious institutions—are unable to provide the necessary goods and services.
“It’s about survival,” she said.
Corruption as a Last Resort was based on surveys, interviews, and observational studies in the former Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, where individuals had to quickly learn to adjust to life after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
While their newfound freedom was celebrated by much of the world, such drastic changes from a Communist state that provided basic needs to a free-market system, where families had to fend more for themselves, left many residents unprepared for the new economy.
Very quickly, people in Central Asian states felt the realities of unemployment, driving many to illicit means to provide for their families, said McMann.
McMann focused on how corruption played out in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan—two countries that began economic reforms in the early 1990s and have continued to build their free-market economies. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan has maintained a welfare state, she said, and struggles to keep it.
The author describes how religious institutions, charities, entrepreneurs and banks are unable to provide the jobs and credit people require for a livelihood that meets their basic needs. The void encourages individuals to illicitly seek jobs and loans from government officials, through personal connections, bribes, or promises of political support.
“With market reforms that removed the state from the economy, the government hasn’t created institutions to encourage credit markets to thrive and expand,” she said.
But McMann also found that those individuals with relatively affluent kin—a comparatively small number of people—have been able to thrive without resorting to corruption. Economically successful relatives provide them with the jobs, credit, and income they need.
McMann hopes the book provides insight into the roots of corruption to help policymakers establish programs that create new businesses, jobs and other strategies that offer ordinary people alternatives to corruption.
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