The Fight Against Corruption Needs Economists

The U.S. Treasury Department Must Make It a Priority

A pho­to-illus­tra­tion of 500 euro notes, January 2001Pascal SITTLER /REA / Redux

Combating cor­rup­tion and klep­toc­ra­cy has tra­di­tion­al­ly been an after­thought in U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy: a goal that most pol­i­cy­mak­ers con­sid­ered laud­able but hard­ly a pri­or­i­ty. That atti­tude is no longer accept­able. In recent years, coun­tries such as China and Russia have “weaponized” cor­rup­tion, as Philip Zelikow, Eric Edelman, Kristofer Harrison, and Celeste Ward Gventer argued in these pages last year. For the rul­ing regimes in those coun­tries, they wrote, bribery and graft have “become core instru­ments of nation­al strat­e­gy” through which author­i­tar­i­an rulers seek to exploit “the rel­a­tive open­ness and free­dom of demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­tries [that] make them par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble to this kind of malign influence.”

Strikingly, one par­tic­u­lar form of finan­cial aggression—covert for­eign mon­ey fun­neled direct­ly into the polit­i­cal process­es of democracies—has increasedby a fac­tor of ten since 2014. Over rough­ly the same peri­od of time, American vot­ers have become high­ly recep­tive to nar­ra­tives about cor­rup­tion, and politi­cians across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum now rou­tine­ly allege that the econ­o­my is rigged and deride their oppo­nents as crooked and cor­rupt. Thus, the needs of U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy and domes­tic pol­i­tics have neat­ly aligned to offer a his­toric oppor­tu­ni­ty for a sweep­ing anti­cor­rup­tion cam­paign that would insti­tu­tion­al­ize trans­paren­cy, resilience, and … 

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Foreign Affairs By Josh Rudolph