Empirical Studies on Anti-Corruption Situations in East Asia: Focusing on the Correlations among Economic Development, Political Democratization, and Anti-Corruption

Prof. Sang-Hwan Lee

Many scholars accept the hypothesis that developmental dictatorships have contributed to the remarkably rapid economic growth in East Asia during the past decades. The outbreak of the East Asian financial crisis in late 1990s, however, raised questions on the actual validity of the “myth of Asian miracle,” which was used to justify East Asian countries’ authoritarian rule and to rationalize cronyism and corruption during their development period.
On the contrary, the hypothesis that a market-oriented democracy is the best model for economic development is accepted among many scholars in the region. It suggests that even if authoritarian governments contributed to rapid economic growth in the early stages of the East Asian economic development, the strategies for economic growth should be based on market principles and political democratization in the long term.
Market-democracy advocates argue that the fundamental causes of East Asian corruption originate from the immaturity of political democratization. As for the political immaturity related to East Asian bureaucratic corruption, two interpretations are mutually complementary:
First, in the political culture arena, unlike Western countries, the Asian cultural perspective lacks the concept of individualism, in which individuals are seen as socially responsible units in a society. Among the values of Confucianism that form the basic ethical foundations of Asia, frugality, hard work, and fervor for education enabled rapid growth of Asian countries. But the dark side of Confucianism, namely, the patriarchal system, familism and nepotism, justified authoritarian ruling and the state’s strong role. Its values of cronyism and nepotism, combined with authoritarianism, resulted in deepened corruption structures.
Second, from an economic perspective, in the very process of trying to avoid corruption, the excessive governmental regulations and oppression of economic freedom has paradoxically provided a catalyst for corruption. From this view, the assertion that each nation’s economy works within its own unique culture and ideology that can promote or disturb the nation’s economic development is very significant for East Asian countries that under pressures to restructure the economy.
The objectives of this study are first, to empirically examine the causes and results of corruption in East Asian countries, and to compare the empirical results of East Asia with East Central Europe.