Oct 13, 2020 - World

Access money is dominant form of corruption in both China and U.S.

Illustration of suited hand handing money to another suited hand
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Access money — funneling cash to government officials in return for favors — is the dominant form of corruption in both China and the U.S., according to groundbreaking research by University of Michigan political scientist Yuen Yuen Ang.

Why it matters: Until now, international corruption comparisons were largely confined to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which views corruption as a third-world problem through Western eyes.

For her new book — "China's Gilded Age," published in July — Ang measured corruption in four categories:

  • Petty theft (shaking down people for small bribes) ... grand theft (shaking down businesses for large bribes) ... speed money (paying money to get necessary government approvals) ... and access money (paying money to be able to influence politicians).
  • In both China and the U.S., access money was the dominant mode of corruption.
  • China scores 7.6 out of a maximum 10 on the prevalence of access money; the U.S. scores 6.9 out of 10. By comparison, Singapore scores 3.7 and Ghana scores 5.8.

Go deeper: To see "access money" in action, check out this weekend's N.Y. Times investigation (subscription), which found hundreds of examples of businesses attempting to curry favor with President Trump — often with remarkable success — by spending money at his properties.

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