Calculating Corruption

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The NGO Transparency International has released its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2013:

This year the US ranked 19th out of 177 countries and territories, with an overall score of 73. Scores range from zero to 100, with a higher score indicating less corruption. While the US score remained unchanged from last year, other countries have improved their performances relative to the US. The UK, for example, which was ranked 17th in 2012 with a score of 74, has now climbed to 14th place. Denmark and Finland share the top spot.

Afghanistan’s score on the CPI also remains unchanged in 2013 – as does the fact that it continues to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to the index. Afghanistan scored an 8 on the CPI this year. This is the lowest score listed on the index, and is shared by Afghanistan, Somalia and North Korea.

Catherine A. Traywick questions the fluctuations:

Myanmar jumped from #172 in 2012 to #157 in the index, the largest single change in this year’s report. This leap in the rankings largely stems from positive perceptions of the country’s democratic reforms as it shifts away from its recent history of authoritarianism. But, as the report notes, those perceptions are not reflective of an actual decrease in corrupt practices, which is all but impossible to measure given the deliberately obscure nature of corruption. …

Lowered rankings for the Philippines, China, and India also suggest that perceptions of administrative and political corruption increase when economies grow, according to the report. Similarly, Libya and Syria’s slide on the index illustrates the effects of political conflict on public perception of corruption risk. With a six point decrease, Spain fell the furthest in this year’s ranking after what the report describes as “a summer blighted by political scandals indicating a lack of accountability and fading public trust.”

Claire Provost casts a more critical eye:

Some have attacked the CPI’s reliance on the opinions of a small group of experts and businesspeople. This, says Alex Cobham, fellow at the Centre for Global Development, “embeds a powerful and misleading elite bias in popular perceptions of corruption” and can lead to inappropriate policy responses. In an article for Foreign Policy, entitled Corrupting Perceptions, Cobham suggested earlier this year that Transparency International should drop the CPI and said it would be more useful to collect better evidence of actual corruption or information about how corruption is or isn’t affecting citizens. “The index corrupts perceptions to the extent that it’s hard to see a justification for its continuing publication,” he said.

Others argue it is simply impossible to relay in a single number the scale and depth of a complex issue like corruption, and compare countries accordingly. “The index gets much-needed attention, but it overshadows [Transparency International’s] other activities and exposes it to criticism,” said the Economist in a 2010 article that dubbed the CPI the “murk meter”.