Imagine if countries were mangoes. A fly landing on a the surface of a mango might say it looks clean and fresh. But from the perspective of the larvae living inside the mango, the fruit might look very rotten. Is the word's leading corruption survey weighted too heavily toward the fly's perspective?
"Thailand became more corrupt under Thaksin" is a common assertion made by residents of Bangkok. Yet the Transparency International data do not support this hypothesis. That doesn't mean it didn't happen, but the figures we have don't show that it did.*
The Transparency International website says "It is a composite index, a poll of polls, drawing on corruption-related data from expert and business surveys carried out by a variety of independent and reputable institutions." It's a meta-analysis. In some years, some surveys are used (for some countries) for other years and countries, other surveys.
Many if not all of the surveys included such as PERC, MIG, WEF (see here for the complete list) seem to rely heavily on perceptions of non-citizens in the countries concerned. A World Bank Survey is included. It polls "teams, experts inside and outside the bank." That's very much an outside-in perspective. The same goes for the EIE (Economist Intelligent Unit) measure -- which is described as a survey of experts. Not surprisingly, several of the composite surveys are very highly correlated.
I have nothing against surveying experts, expats, multinationals executives, NGOs, etc. Yet, many composite surveys that make up the Transparency International corruption index appear to present not differing perspectives, but a variety of snapshots from a similar perspective. We might call that common view "outside-in".
However, one survey, Transparency International's Global Corruption Barometer -- which started in 2003 and surveys actual residents of the countries -- sounds to me like a much-needed complementary approach to measuring the problem of corruption; it would appear to offer a true "inside-in" perspective. Yet, this survey is not included in the TI world corruption index.
The apparent outside-in bias of many of Transparency International's composite surveys could mean that a country that is opening up to international business, investor friendly, globalizing, etc.,** would achieve increasingly favorable corruption survey results from experts, expats, NGOs, multinational business leaders. Yet, such factors contributing to a positive outside-in perspective on corruption may differ considerably from the factors that would be most salient to local citizens had they been polled about corruption.
* See a related discussion on Bangkok Pundit's blog and my previous post.
** A fair description of Thailand under Thaksin? Did Thaksin create a perception among opinion leaders surveyed that Thailand was globalizing to a far greater extent than under previous prime ministers? The answer to this question is important. Because what I'm really asking here is whether the various corruption surveys of experts, multinational businesspeople, and so on, do not amount-- to a large extent -- to poll about how successfully a country appears to be globalizing from the perspective of an elite group, most of whom are outsiders to various local communities. Perhaps a future Transparency International index might find a way to control for this possibility. We need to be sure such surveys are mainly measuring a country's "corruption" and not it's "openness to globalization." Much preferable, to a statistical control, of course, would be to survey citizens at different strata of the various countries. What do the locals say about corruption? Particularly in the case of Thailand, it would be interesting to learn whether the perceptions of corruption among rural residents differ from those of urban residents. (Updated Sept. 25)