The World Bank Enterprise Surveys are an invaluable source of information on the business climate across both time and space.
In particular, its section on corruption does for businesses what Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer does for individuals – it directly asks them whether they are expected to give bribes to bureaucrats to reach understandings on taxes, get permits, utilities connections, and to “get things done” more generally.
Now in general, people love to complain about corruption. It seems to be universal. Opinion surveys almost always show that perceptions of corruption are getting worse everywhere.
Good news! This isn’t really borne out by the statistics. Things really do seem to be getting better. (I excluded countries with information for just one year).
We have basically seen a halving in corporations reporting they need to grease public officials to “get things done.”
Ergo for dealing with tax officials.
Curiously, though, there was minimal change in the number of firms reporting needing bribes to secure government contracts.
Still, I don’t think that invalidates the general picture.
(1) Paying bribes to tax officials and to “get things done” is a more coercive form of corruption. I imagine many of these are “cough up or we shut you down” scenarios. Securing government contracts is nice, but not a life-and-death issue for most businesses.
(2) Perhaps the lack of change in securing government contracts merely reflects the fact that more and more countries have been opening up open bidding systems, whereas before they would have just been automatically channeled off to the Minister’s business buddies (without bribes).
Here’s an observation from commenter Twinkie to flesh out these statistics:
I remember the days when American defense contractors used to complain about the FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) constraining them in competition against the Europeans in pursuing contracts in less-developed countries (“The Germans can tax-deduct bribes paid overseas!”).
Those days are long gone. It’s not to say that corruption is a thing of the past, but the absolute scale and public acquiescence (or lack thereof) of it have changed dramatically in many parts of the world.
This is evidence for my assumption in Our Biorealistic Future that in the long-term, we can expect institutions everywhere to get better, as different countries adopt established best practices, despite individual cases of backsliding.