What comes first, the corrupt chicken or the golden egg? In other words, do robust state budgets for things like construction and highways lead to public corruption, or stem from it?
A new study, released last week, finds that “more corrupt states spend more money on construction, highways and police protections.” This conclusion, however, seems far more correlative than causal. Using data from the Department of Justice between 1976 and 2008, the study found that higher instances of corruption correlate with more spending in certain areas.
During these dates, approximately 25,000 public corruption-related convictions were levied on elected officials, judges and local employees. Florida was among the Top 10 states for corruption rates.
There’s little doubt that “economic development projects are ripe for corruption”, as the study finds. But more questionable is whether corruption itself leads to larger allocations for these types of projects — or if people just exploit the dollars once there.
“The study found that high levels of corruption in a state can shape its budget allocation,” writes Liz Farmer and Kevin Tidmarsh for Governing Magazine.
Further, the study finds that states with greater levels of public corruption spend less, proportionally, on budgets for education, health and welfare. Arguably, these policy areas give fewer (but are by no means absent of) opportunities for bribery, shakedowns and corruption.
Florida’s most recent series of indictments are, of course, in the area of transportation — where billions of dollars, land deals, and more are always at play.
But to assume that the correlation between corruption and these giant cash buckets is causal, rather than a simple “fleas on sh*t” type phenomenon, seems a bit of a stretch — even in Florida.