Colgate University Professor Michael Johnston has won the 2009 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. The prize is worth $200,000.

The press release describes the award-winning ideas from Professor Johnston’s Cambridge University Press book:

Johnston, a political science professor at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., earned the prize for ideas he set forth in his 2005 book, Syndromes of Corruption: Wealth, Power and Democracy.

Corruption can take different forms depending on a country’s political and economic patterns, Johnston says. The practice of using wealth to seek influence is more common in the United States, Japan and Germany, while forming cartels to protect the elite is more typically seen in Italy, Korea and Botswana.

In Russia, Mexico and the Philippines, countries with liberal economies and weak civil societies, fair market competition is even riskier. But the worst type of corruption — the plundering of society by those who retain absolute power — is nearly always seen in countries with growing economies and weak institutions.

Understanding how corruption develops in a particular country can help stop it more effectively, says Johnston


The Utica Observer Dispatch published a nice story about their local winner and his ideas:

“To have that kind of recognition after working on this since the late Nixon years, it’s sort of a nice experience,” he said.

Johnston’s book looks at different forms corruption takes in different places.

“What we tend to experience is the effort on the part of private parties using money to influence what happens in government,” he said of corruption in the U.S. “In other places, it’s some (individuals) inside government reaching into the economy and grabbing whatever they please,”

Understanding the root causes of corruption in other societies makes it easier to come up with the right solutions, he said.

The Chronicle of Higher Edcation covered the story, as did the local Louisville Courier Journal. This is from the latter:

[Johnston] said in an interview that the idea behind the book grew out of data that examined corruption and how it related to economic development — showing that corruption proved to be “sand in the gears rather than grease on the wheels.”

“It looked like, (as) the relationships got more and more complex and tangled up, the worse a country’s corruption situation was, and it began to make me wonder whether it isn’t … different places having different kinds,” he said.

These are my pithy quotes from the press release:

“Corruption is a pervasive global problem that undermines economic and political systems,”

“Johnston’s approach is particularly useful because it puts forward a practical agenda for reform.”

Disclosure: I chair the Department Committee that overseas the administration of this prize.

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