Mungiu-Pippidi argued that, over the past thirty years, fewer than ten societies have managed to achieve good governance. The “success stories” include Estonia, Chile, and Costa Rica but, perhaps surprisingly, do not include those countries which received the highest levels of international aid to target corruption, such as Egypt, Bulgaria, and Ukraine. Those countries, she explained, have actually made the least progress.

Mungiu-Pippidi explored how, with the right balance of conditions, even the most entrenched corruption cycles can be broken. But, she added, this is more complicated than simply removing a few corrupt politicians: “it is easy to change political regimes but difficult to change governance.” Good governance needs a balance between opportunities, often in the form of material resources, and constraints, such as an autonomous judiciary that can be trusted. No anti-corruption agency can function properly without the rule of law.

Today, the anti-corruption industry has begun to go wrong, Mungiu-Pippidi observed. It suffers from the same problem as the development industry: Western societies tell others how corruption should be fought, but their methods are often wholly inappropriate to the societies they are advising. She invoked the example of legal protection of whistle-blowers, which may help in the West but will make no difference in a country where there is no rule of law. Instead of the force for change being external, civil society needs to put pressure on their government and act as a continuous critical monitor of standards.

Christian Caryl, Senior Fellow at the Legatum Institute and Editor of Democracy Lab, moderated the discussion.

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About the Speakers

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi has taught Democratisation and Policy Analysis at the Hertie School of Governance since 2007. She studied political science at Harvard University after completing a PhD in Social Psychology in 1995 at the University of Iasi in Romania. She chairs the European Research Centre for Anti-Corruption and State Building Research and is Chair of Policy Pillar of the EU FP7 five-year research project ANTICORRP. She constantly serves as an adviser on issues of governance measurement and anti-corruption to the European Commission, UNDP, Freedom House, NORAD and World Bank, among others.

Christian Caryl is a Senior Fellow at the Legatum Institute and a Contributing Editor at Foreign Policy magazine, where he edits Democracy Lab, an online publication devoted to countries in transition. (Democracy Lab is a joint venture of Legatum and Foreign Policy.) He is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books. From 2004 to 2009 he headed the Tokyo Bureau of Newsweek. Before that, Caryl served as Newsweek’s Moscow Bureau Chief. After 9/11 he carried out numerous assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Transitions Forum is a series of projects dedicated to the challenges and possibilities of radical political and economic change.