In the last decades a chain of scandals fuelled a growing popular awareness of the relevance of corruption as an hidden factor which may negatively affect political and economic decisionmaking in public policies – in terms of growing ineffectiveness and inequality – not only in less developed and authoritarian regimes, but also in advanced capitalist democracies. This article offers a critical review of the three main theoretical paradigms of analysis of corruption, the economic, cultural and neo-institutional approach, focusing on the latter. A typology provides a general scheme of interpretation of the “institutional” equilibria within systemic corruption, which may provide also a guide for anticorruption policies. Reversing the neoliberal logic which recommends a reduction of the State’s role, popular mobilization from below can be considered as the potentially most effective anticorruption strategy in order to break down the robust equilibria of systemic corruption, increasing politicians’ responsiveness to the public expectation of stronger integrity in the public sphere.
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