Political and economic competition, so goes the broad argument, reduce corruption because competition increases the cost of actors to engage in corrupt practices. It increases the risk of exposure, provides non-corrupt alternatives for consumers, and introduces non-corrupt practices into the political and economic domains. Why then, has corruption persisted in the Central Eastern European countries decades after the introduction of political and economic competition in the early 1990s?
This dissertation asks how and why the emergence of competition in the political and economic domains leads to a transformation of the patterns of corruption. I define corruption as an act involving a public official who violates the norms or regulations of their office, receives some compensation in return, and thus harms the public interest.
I argue that under conditions of a communist past and high levels of uncertainty, the simultaneous emergence of political and economic competition transforms the opportunity structures of actors to engage in corruption. The resulting constellation of powerful incentives for and weak constraints against corruption encourages political and economic actors to enter into corrupt state-business relationships. Finally, the resource distribution between the actors in the corrupt state-business relationship determines the type of corruption that emerges—legal corruption, local capture, or covert political financing.
To test the causal mechanism, I employ intensive process-tracing of the micro-causal mechanisms of eleven corruption cases in Poland and Hungary. Using paired comparisons of cases from the same business sector but at different points in time, the dissertation examines how corruption patterns transformed over time in Poland and Hungary.
The dissertation shows that the emergence of political and economic competition changes the opportunity structures of actors in favor of corruption. Moreover, the new constellation of incentives and constraints encourages political and economic actors to establish corrupt state-business relationships. Crucially, I find that the resource distribution within these corrupt relationships determines the type of corruption emerges—local capture where both sides have concentrated resources that balance each other out, legal corruption when a strong economic actor confronts a fragmented political actor, and covert political financing when a weak economic actor faces a strong political actor.