February 17, 2016

Paul Lagunes, an assistant professor of international and public affairs, will complete his third year as a SIPA faculty member this June. Working in collaboration with Susan Rose-Ackerman of Yale University, Lagunes co-edited the recently released book Greed, Corruption, and the Modern State (Edward Elgar, 2015), a collection of new essays that provide diverse perspectives on how corruption distorts state and market relations.

SIPA will celebrate the book’s publication with a panel discussion on Thursday, February 25. Earlier this month, SIPA News spoke with Lagunes about the book and more.

Tell us about the book.

When she began her work on corruption, Susan Rose-Ackerman pushed us to examine corruption from an economic perspective. This book follows that line of thinking. It brings together perspectives that are cross-cutting, touching on many issue areas and relying on rigorous techniques. Each contributing author, regardless of whether he or she is trained as a political scientist, economist, or legal scholar, specializes in a niche area. As a result, this book can both be a proper introduction to the broad subject of corruption, but can also be relevant to people who specialize in those [niche] topics.

What makes you so passionate about the issue of your research on corruption?

I was raised in Mexico City, so corruption was a common frustration growing up—a frequent topic of conversation at the dinner table. Contemporary scholarship on the subject overwhelmingly shares the view that corruption poses a challenge to economic development, as well as political and economic fairness. Because of corruption, people do not get what they deserve as law-abiding members of society. Instead, people only receive public services if they are willing to pay a bribe or if they are well connected. Corruption holds society back.

Susan Rose Ackerman is your former PhD advisor. What was it like working with her on this project?

Susan is one the premier thought leaders on corruption and anti-corruption. She published her first book on the subject in 1978, and was one of the first scholars to approach the topic, not with a moralizing voice, but with an approach that teases apart the incentives sustaining corruption. She continues to write extensively, and her 1999 book Corruption and Government is part of the canon on corruption and anti-corruption. I cannot emphasize it enough: it’s an honor to get to work with Susan.

What makes this book unique?

Corruption can seep into the economy, government, and society. Therefore, each chapter in this volume is unique, because each is getting at a different issue area. Our chapter authors are the experts on these topics: Ray Fisman on political connections and influence, Kevin Davis on FCPA enforcement, Peter Alldridge on tax evasion, Federico Varese on the criminal underworld, and Tina Soreide on the half-hearted work of some anti-corruption agencies, just to name a few. These are the people that are worth reading.

Additionally, the book provides concrete and timely examples. Stephane Straub’s chapter is about a scandalous corruption case in a large-scale infrastructure project in Paraguay. Fu Hualing analyzes the Chinese government’s current anti-corruption campaign. The authors are also from an array of diverse backgrounds, including Jennifer Bussell from UC Berkley, Kalle Moene from the University of Oslo, Alberto Díaz-Cayeros and Beatriz Magaloni from Stanford, and more from around the world.

Furthermore, I also want to highlight Matthew Stephenson’s chapter that helps us understand what we know and don’t know about relationship between democracy and corruption, finding that the relationship is less straightforward than we would think it is. Sandra Sequeira conducted a field experiment on corruption and trade. Nancy Hite-Rubin writes on corruption and military procurement. Dimitris Batzilis’ work helps us to understand the interplay between corruption and markets.

You also co-authored a chapter in the book, can you tell us a bit about that?

I have a chapter in this volume that I coauthored with Rongyao Huang, a talented and driven former master’s student from Columbia’s Quantitative Methods and Social Sciences program who is interested in urban issues. The chapter explores one of the most significant corruption scandals in New York City’s history. The scheme lasted for more than 30 years [ending in 2002], and cost the city $1 billion in lost tax revenue. It limited what the city could provide during that time in public services, such as policing and schooling.

I understand that SIPA played a role in bringing this book about. How so?

The book project began with a three-day conference in 2014. That event brought together a number of scholars and government practitioners to discuss draft versions of the book chapters. Importantly, that event would not have been possible without Dean Janow’s support. SIPA made the conference possible, and the conference made the book possible.

What’s next for you?

I am currently working on a project with Oscar Pocasangre, a SIPA graduate who is now a PhD student here at Columbia; we’ve coauthored a paper on Mexico’s freedom of information law and we are working to get it published soon. I’m also overseeing a long-term project in Peru that looks at methods to reduce corruption in infrastructure projects. And I am continuing my work on the New York City corruption research project.

— interview by Kristen Grennan MPA ’16