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 citi- zens 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.
That is from the new paper "Mass Education, State Building and Equality - Searching for the Roots of Corruption," by Uslaner and Rothstein (July 2012).A graph from the paper:
Is Path Dependence Forever?
Our short answer is ―no. We saw in the regression in Table 3 that change in mean school years from 1870 to 2010 shapes the level of corruption in 2010 as well as do historical levels of educa- tion. Three nations with middle-to-low levels of education in 1870 showed the largest increases over time: Finland (10.6 year increase), South Korea (11.8), and Japan (12.2). Contemporary Finland ranks among the four very least corrupt countries at 9.2. Japan is tied for 17th and South Korea is tied for 39th place. These are all much higher transparency scores than we would expect based upon their 1870 levels of education (1.45, 1.11, and .97, respectively).Addendum.
My colleague Eduardo Fernández told me about the Governance Quality Institute, where I found this paper.