Bhagwati: PRC's Corruption 'Developmental', India's Isn't

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 7/21/2014 01:30:00 AM
Corruption is one of the most studied phenomena given its ubiquity in developing countries. If corruption did not occur on a significant scale in these countries, then they would probably be classified as developed. That said, there are many debates about corruption. At one extreme, there is a "zero tolerance" approach that suggests all forms of using public office for private gain are unwelcome and should be discouraged. On the other hand, others would say that there are different forms of corruption--some of which are potentially beneficial such as "speed money" which hastens the processing of documentation in slow-moving and unwieldy bureaucracies.

It is a perhaps unfortunate sign of its developmental status that India features large as a setting for debates on corruption. In a recent "Lunch with the FT" feature, economist Jagdish Bhagwati explains how Chinese-style corruption is preferable to Indian-style corruption. In effect, the former is efficiency-promoting whereas the latter is not":
I ask [Bhagwati] if he thinks the country can get back on track after several mediocre years. Once there was an idea, now mostly forgotten, that the “tortoise” India could eventually overtake the “hare” – China. “That’s an exaggeration, I think,” [Bhagwati] says. A crucial difference between the two countries is the type of corruption they have. India’s is classic “rent-seeking”, where people jostle to grab a cut of existing wealth. “The Chinese have what I call profit-sharing corruption”: the Communist party puts a straw into the milkshake so “they have an interest in having the milkshake grow larger”.
You can certainly have a debate about whether "developmental corruption" is an oxymoron or otherwise. Those who espouse a "zero tolerance" approach--typically Americans and their acolytes at development banks and other international organizations--would agree. However, a more pragmatic view looks at how corruption relates to how conflicting interests are resolved. If corruption does not engender additional economic activity in a zero-sum sort of setting, then it is not beneficial in the sense most understand it. This is the Indian scenario according to Bhagwati: little growth and much fighting over what resources already exist. However, there is a possibility--admittedly rarer--in which corruption occurs after economic growth has been generated in the absence of significant spoils to quarrel over beforehand. This is the Chinese scenario.