Democracy, Inequality and Corruption

YouEric Chang from the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University has reviewed Jong-Sung You’s new book from Cambridge University Press, Democracy, Inequality and Corruption: Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines Compared.

In his review for the Journal of Contemporary Asia (DOI:
10.1080/00472336.2016.1208835), Chang says that You’s book challenges the “conventional wisdom” that holds that “weakened democratic institutions and poor economic development contribute to political graft.” It is “the first systematic and analytical study of political corruption in the context of East Asian democracies.”

In fact, Chang considers that through “in-depth historical and empirical analyses of political development, economic growth and corruption in these three East Asian democracies, You points to an alternative driver of political malfeasance: economic inequality.”

You proposes two mechanisms linking inequality to corruption: a widening wealth gap that increases clientelism and limits programmatic politics; and rising inequality that leads to state capture by special interests. Clientelism and state capture undermine accountability and result in widespread corruption. Chang states that “You elegantly employs a comparative historical analysis to test his propositions.”

As with all good books, Chang has some questions, suggestions and criticisms. However, he concludes:

On the whole, this book brilliantly synthesises various theoretical insights into a coherent framework. It represents a major contribution to the study of political corruption in Asia. And given its contextual richness and theoretical innovation, this work should become standard reading for every student interested in political corruption and economic inequality.

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