An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Summer 2018

Combating Corruption in the Twenty-First Century: New Approaches

Paul M. Heywood

Despite the focus placed on combating corruption over the last quarter-century, practical results have been disappointing. A small number of “success” stories cannot mask the fact that corruption continues to blight the lives of millions of citizens. This essay argues that part of the reason for the broad failure of anticorruption policies is that we have not specified clearly enough what we are seeking to address, and have paid insufficient attention to changes in how and where different forms of corruption operate in practice. Rather than sticking to unrealistic aspirations to “defeat” corruption, this essay argues that we should pay more attention to the positive promotion of integrity, supported by a better understanding of the drivers of individual behavior, particularly how these are more complex than suggested by the incentives-based literature. The final section of the essay outlines some practical measures we can take, underlining the need to focus reform efforts at both supra- and subnational levels in order to help move beyond what has become a sterile conversation about corruption.

PAUL M. HEYWOOD is the Sir Francis Hill Professor of European Politics in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham. He is the author of Values and Political Change in Postcommunist Europe (with William L. Miller and Stephen White, 1998) and editor of Political Corruption (1997), the Routledge Handbook of Political Corruption(2015), and Debates of Corruption and Integrity (with Peter Hardi and Davide Torsello, 2015). He is a Trustee of Transparency International-UK.

Why do we still need to ask how to combat corruption? After all, there has been no shortage of attention devoted to this issue over the last twenty-five years: academic researchers, policy-makers, international financial organizations, dedicated anticorruption agencies, civil society organizations, investigative journalists, prosecuting authorities, advocacy groups and coalitions, and individual champions have all engaged in the fight against corruption. And they have produced no shortage of strategies and approaches to win that fight: the World Bank has recommended “six strategies to fight corruption,” designed to complement a prior “two-pronged strategy,” in addition to “10 ways to fight corruption”; Transparency International identified “5 key ingredients” to stop corruption; while the World Economic Forum has published “5 ways to beat global corruption,” as well as “3 key steps to end corruption.”1  The answers seem to keep coming, but the problem remains stubbornly resistant to resolution. . . .


  • 1See Augusto Lopez-Claros, “Six Strategies to Fight Corruption,” The World Bank, May 14, 2014,; Robert Hunja, “Here are 10 Ways to Fight Corruption,” The World Bank, December 8, 2015 http://blogs; Transparency International, “How to Stop Corruption: 5 Key Ingredients,” March 10, 2016, https://www.transparency .org/news/feature/how_to_stop_corruption_5_key_ingredients; Blair Glencorse, “5 ways to Beat Global Corruption,” World Economic Forum, November 6, 2014, https://www.weforum .org/agenda/2014/11/five-ways-beat-global-corruption/; and Dimitri Vlassis, “3 Key Steps to End Corruption,” World Economic Forum, January 16, 2015, agenda/2015/01/three-ways-to-end-global-corruption/.
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