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Corruption Soars When Politicians are Placed Above the Law, Says New Research from NYU Stern

Vasiliki Skreta_article

By Vasiliki Skreta, Karthik Reddy and Moritz Schularick

There is now hard data to validate the anecdotal evidence that political immunity fosters corruption. In a new study entitled “Immunity,” NYU Stern Assistant Professor of Economics Vasiliki Skreta and her co-authors, Karthik Reddy of Harvard Law School and Moritz Schularick of the University of Bonn, examine the political immunity provisions which exist throughout much of the modern democratic world. The researchers show that the incidence of corruption soars when politicians are placed above the law, and demonstrate the mechanisms behind the phenomenon. This paper represents the first systematic attempt to quantify the strength of immunity protection for politicians and to test its impact on corruption.

The researchers quantify the strength of immunity protection in 74 democracies and verify that the strength of immunity is strongly associated with corruption on an aggregate level. They also develop a theoretical model that demonstrates how stronger immunity protection can lead to higher corruption. The model suggests that unaccountable politicians under immunity protection can enhance their chance of re-election by using illegal means – namely supporting interest groups through lax law enforcement, non-collection of taxes and other forms of favoritism – that will go unpunished due to immunity; interest groups can then in turn provide favorable propaganda, campaign financing and even vote-buying. Furthermore, the researchers’ theoretical model suggests that higher levels of immunity protection also contribute to poor governance because stronger immunity attracts dishonest people to public office.

To speak with Professor Skreta, please contact her directly at 212-998-1432 or vskreta@stern.nyu.edu, or contact Anna Christensen in NYU Stern’s Office of Public Affairs at 212-998-0561 or achriste@stern.nyu.edu.

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Vasiliki Skreta is an Assistant Professor of Economics.