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Paul Lagunes discusses new book on corruption, greed

Paul Lagunes, an assistant professor of international and public affairs, will complete his third year as a SIPA faculty member this June. Working in collaboration with Susan Rose-Ackerman of Yale University, Lagunes co-edited the recently released book Greed, Corruption, and the Modern State (Edward Elgar, 2015), a collection of new essays that provide diverse perspectives on how corruption distorts state and market relations.

SIPA celebrated the book’s publication with a panel discussion on Thursday, February 25. Earlier this month, SIPA News spoke with Lagunes about the book and more.

Tell us about the book.
When she began her work on corruption, Susan Rose-Ackerman pushed us to examine corruption from an economic perspective. This book follows that line of thinking. It brings together perspectives that are cross-cutting, touching on many issue areas and relying on rigorous techniques. Each contributing author, regardless of whether he or she is trained as a political scientist, economist, or legal scholar, specializes in a niche area. As a result, this book can both be a proper introduction to the broad subject of corruption, but can also be relevant to people who specialize in those [niche] topics.

What makes you so passionate about the issue of your research on corruption?
I was raised in Mexico City, so corruption was a common frustration growing up—a frequent topic of conversation at the dinner table. Contemporary scholarship on the subject overwhelmingly shares the view that corruption poses a challenge to economic development, as well as political and economic fairness. Because of corruption, people do not get what they deserve as law-abiding members of society. Instead, people only receive public services if they are willing to pay a bribe or if they are well connected. Corruption holds society back.

Susan Rose Ackerman is your former PhD advisor. What was it like working with her on this project?
Susan is one the premier thought leaders on corruption and anti-corruption. She published her first book on the subject in 1978, and was one of the first scholars to approach the topic, not with a moralizing voice, but with an approach that teases apart the incentives sustaining corruption. She continues to write extensively, and her 1999 book Corruption and Government is part of the canon on corruption and anti-corruption. I cannot emphasize it enough: it’s an honor to get to work with Susan.

What makes this book unique?
Corruption can seep into the economy, government, and society. Therefore, each chapter in this volume is unique, because each is getting at a different issue area. Our chapter authors are the experts on these topics: Ray Fisman on political connections and influence, Kevin Davis on FCPA enforcement, Peter Alldridge on tax evasion, Federico Varese on the criminal underworld, and Tina Soreide on the half-hearted work of some anti-corruption agencies, just to name a few. These are the people that are worth reading.

Additionally, the book provides concrete and timely examples. Stephane Straub’s chapter is about a scandalous corruption case in a large-scale infrastructure project in Paraguay. Fu Hualing analyzes the Chinese government’s current anti-corruption campaign. The authors are also from an array of diverse backgrounds, including Jennifer Bussell from UC Berkley, Kalle Moene from the University of Oslo, Alberto Díaz-Cayeros and Beatriz Magaloni from Stanford, and more from around the world.

Furthermore, I also want to highlight Matthew Stephenson’s chapter that helps us understand what we know and don’t know about relationship between democracy and corruption, finding that the relationship is less straightforward than we would think it is. Sandra Sequeira conducted a field experiment on corruption and trade. Nancy Hite-Rubin writes on corruption and military procurement. Dimitris Batzilis’ work helps us to understand the interplay between corruption and markets.

You also co-authored a chapter in the book, can you tell us a bit about that?
I have a chapter in this volume that I coauthored with Rongyao Huang, a talented and driven former master’s student from Columbia’s Quantitative Methods and Social Sciences program who is interested in urban issues. The chapter explores one of the most significant corruption scandals in New York City’s history. The scheme lasted for more than 30 years [ending in 2002], and cost the city $1 billion in lost tax revenue. It limited what the city could provide during that time in public services, such as policing and schooling.

I understand that SIPA played a role in bringing this book about. How so?
The book project began with a three-day conference in 2014. That event brought together a number of scholars and government practitioners to discuss draft versions of the book chapters. Importantly, that event would not have been possible without Dean Janow’s support. SIPA made the conference possible, and the conference made the book possible.

What’s next for you?
I am currently working on a project with Oscar Pocasangre, a SIPA graduate who is now a PhD student here at Columbia; we’ve coauthored a paper on Mexico’s freedom of information law and we are working to get it published soon. I’m also overseeing a long-term project in Peru that looks at methods to reduce corruption in infrastructure projects. And I am continuing my work on the New York City corruption research project.

— interview by Kristen Grennan MPA ’16

Q&A with SIPA Fellow and author Hollie Russon Gilman

Hollie Russon Gilman, a postdoctoral scholar and fellow in technology and public policy at SIPA, is an expert in technology, civic engagement, and governance. Gilman recently published the book Democracy Reinvented: Participatory Budgeting and Civic Innovation in America as part of a series from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center entitled Innovative Governance in the 21st Century. She is currently co-teaching (with Ari Wallach) the SIPA course Technology and the Future of Governance and Public Policy, which expands upon some of the themes in her book.

Of all the civic tech innovations that you mention in your book, why did you choose to focus on participatory budgeting?
I focus on participatory budgeting because it’s an example of one of the most evolved democratic innovations occurring to engage citizens in decisionmaking. It started in Brazil—in Porto Alegre in 1989—and it’s been implemented in over 2,500 localities, coming to the United States with $1 million dollars in one Chicago ward. Now upwards of $50 million dollars are decided by this process in the country.

It’s a process to engage everyday people to identify budget needs in their area and work with government officials to draft viable budget proposals for the community to vote upon. The government, in turn, implements the projects decided by people every step of the way. Participatory budgeting is a useful lens for understanding innovation because it is a successful example of creating an infrastructure for civic engagement.

In the book, you discuss a tension between the perceived inefficiency of governance processes like participatory budgeting with the streamlining of service delivery promised by leveraging new technology. How should policymakers reconcile this tension?
At times we over-value things like ease and efficiency in public policy and undervalue the import of effectiveness. Making governance decisions is not like withdrawing cash from an ATM machine. You want your ATM machine to be there, you want it to be quick, and to be efficient, but there are other norms that are important when you think about democratic governance. For example: legitimacy, transparency, trust, and civic engagement can sometimes be at odds with an entirely mechanized or purely efficient processes. We need to take seriously what it means to do democratic innovation and civic participation effectively, and how digital tools can serve as amplifiers, and not the other way around.

Do you see this as a return to a certain ideal of small government? In the book, you mention Robert Dahl’s conception of democracy as a polis.
Absolutely. In the ideal of the Athenian city-state, it was a very small area. People knew one another. They could talk to each other. Perhaps, somewhat counterintuitively, technology holds the potential to enable re-engagement on a more local level.

We’re seeing these trends—people at the same time being more networked and also being hyperlocal, and investing in their communities, returning to their communities, and wanting to be part of them. Thus, there are questions about how technology could potentially amplify these engagements. think it can, but I think it takes intentionality.

Is there a way to objectively prove your thesis, that democratic engagement improves the governance process?
We definitely need more data. We need further research on these kinds of innovations, and their effectiveness. At the same time, we have to be careful about how we determine metrics. What are we measuring? Is it the number of people participating? Who is participating? Is it just the usual suspects? Diversity can also mean a lot of different things. It can mean your civic background. Are you someone who’s participated before? Are you an English speaker?

There is also a certain variable that’s very important, which is hard to measure. And that’s, do you feel efficacious? Do I, as an individual citizen, living in a polity, feel I am a part of my government? It’s very hard to quantify that. Several democratic governments are facing a crisis of trust in governance institutions. People don’t think their institutions are working for them. They’re very disillusioned on the national scale. Given this democratic deficit, we need further democratic experimentation.

Studying democratic innovation is not necessarily about proving people right or wrong. Rather, it’s about studying emergent phenomena, which—even if they are not perfect—can generate momentum to deepen democratic engagement. When you talk to the individuals who participate, they often talk about what a transformative process it is.  Even if they were frustrated or processes were more costly than expected, they were happy to be a part of the process—and that within itself is transformative.

Sometimes we are scared to open processes up to everyday people because they’re too messy or they’re too complicated. People can understand complex issues if you just take the time to explain them; but we’re so worried about criticism. Government is risk averse. Electoral systems make people risk averse, for due reason, but we need to be able to experiment and take some risks. So that’s why many—but not all—of the book’s innovations are on the local level, where people can have a little more room for experimentation.

Civic tech is more than just adopting new tools; it’s about a shift in mindset, right?
Yes. It’s about pushing the envelope of how we typically do things.  This includes greater experimentation, taking risks, and learning from “failure,” which can be difficult in legacy institutions. There are other reasons why it’s difficult too; if you have public funds, you want to be cautious with how you use those dollars. In the book I discuss opportunities for multi-sector actors to catalyze innovations.  For example, there are opportunities where civil society, industry, philanthropy, or other kinds of resources, like university resources—such as smart SIPA students—could buttress taxpayer dollars.

Could you address SIPA’s Tech and Policy initiative? Why is it important for policy students to learn about technology?
Tech & Policy at SIPA is an exciting new initiative, which includes the Dean’s Challenge grant in addition to new courses, convenings, and research. It’s examining several verticals of how technology can impact public policy. I think for tomorrow’s leaders across sectors, who want to effect change and solve important social problems, technology will be an increasingly important part of the equation. Leaders who can understand people, politics, and institutions, in addition to technology, will be very well equipped to catalyze change.

— interview by Lindsay Fuller MPA ’16

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime

In April authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann visited to speak to at a joint SIPA/School of Journalism event about their best-selling book, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime. The discussion was moderated by Columbia University’s Alan Brinkley and co-hosted by SIPA and the Graduate School of Journalism. You can watch the discussion below:

Alumni in the News

EPPERSONSometimes our alumni make the news, and sometimes they are the news.  Sharon Epperson is a graduate of SIPA and may be familiar to those who watch CNBC.  The following comes from her CNBC profile:

Sharon Epperson, an award-winning journalist and author, covers personal finance, the energy markets as well as breaking business and financial news at CNBC. She appears frequently on NBC’s “Today,” “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams,” MSNBC, and various NBC affiliates nationwide.

Her personal finance book, The Big Payoff: 8 Steps Couples Can Take To Make The Most Of Their Money — And Live Richly Ever After (Collins/HarperCollins), is a finalist for the 2008 Books For A Better Life Awards, honoring works that have “changed the lives of millions.”

You can check out Sharon’s CNBC profile by clicking here.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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