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Political Corruption Traps*

  • Marko Klašnja, Andrew T. Little and Joshua A. Tucker


Academics and policymakers recognize that there are serious costs associated with systemic corruption. Stubbornly, many countries or regions remain stuck in a high-corruption equilibrium—a “corruption trap.” Most existing theories concentrate on mutually reinforcing expectations of corrupt behavior among a fixed set of bureaucrats or politicians, implying that changing such expectations can lead to lower corruption. We develop models that more fully characterize the political nature of corruption traps by also analyzing the behavior of voters and entrants to politics, as well their interaction with incumbent politicians. We show that corruption traps can arise through strategic behavior of each set of actors, as well as through their interrelations. By linking politician, voter, and entrant behavior, we provide an explanation for why simply trying to change expectations among one set of actors is likely insufficient for eliminating corruption traps.



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Marko Klašnja, Assistant Professor, School of Foreign Service and the Department of Government, Georgetown University, 37th & O Streets NW, ICC-593, Washington DC 20057, USA ( Andrew T. Little, Assistant Professor, Department of Government, Cornell University, 301 White Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA ( Joshua A. Tucker, Professor, Wilf Family Department of Politics, and Director, Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia, New York University, 19 West 4th Street, New York, New York 10012, USA ( The authors thank James Hollyer, Gilat Levy, Tommaso Nannicini, Natalija Novta, Carlo Prato, Milan Svolik, Erik Wibbels, audience members at the 2013 American Political Science Association Annual Conference, the 2014 Midwestern Political Science Association Annual Conference, and the 2016 New York University-London School of Economics Annual Political Economy Conference, several anonymous referees, and the editor of PSRM for helpful comments and suggestions. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit



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Political Corruption Traps*

  • Marko Klašnja, Andrew T. Little and Joshua A. Tucker


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