Mass Education, State-Building and Equality: Searching for the Roots of Corruption
The roots of corruption are highly contested. We argue that there is a path dependence across almost a century and a half and present five theoretical arguments for the existence of a causal mechanism between universal education and control of corruption. We show a powerful statistical link between education levels in 1870 and corruption levels in 2010 for 78 countries, a relationship that remains strong even when controlling for change in the level of education, gross national product per capita, and democratic governance. Regime type is generally not significant. We then trace early education to levels of economic equality in the late 19th and early 21st centuries—and argue that societies with more equality educated more of their citizens, which then gave their citizens more opportunities and power, reducing corruption. We present historical evidence from Europe and Spanish, British, and French colonies that strong states provided more education to their publics—and that such states were themselves more common where economic disparities were smaller.
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