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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.

Go deeper

Jan 19, 2021 - World

Special report: Trump's U.S.-China transformation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump began his term by launching the trade war with China he had promised on the campaign trail. By mid-2020, however, Trump was no longer the public face of China policy-making as he became increasingly consumed with domestic troubles, giving his top aides carte blanche to pursue a cascade of tough-on-China policies.

Why it matters: Trump alone did not reshape the China relationship. But his trade war shattered global norms, paving the way for administration officials to pursue policies that just a few years earlier would have been unthinkable.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
35 mins ago - Economy & Business

Why it's so hard to tax wealth

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The wealth tax that wasn't a wealth tax isn't even a tax, now. The Democrats had a meticulously constructed 107-page proposal to pay for a large chunk of their spending plans with a tax on billionaires, but it died ignobly on Wednesday, the same day it was unveiled.

Why it matters: The dream of a wealth tax will never die as it so neatly generates revenue by reducing inequality. But there are three main reasons why that dream is likely to remain just a dream for the foreseeable future.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
2 hours ago - Health

Public health messaging lessons for the next pandemic

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

"Be first, be right, be credible" is the mantra of public health experts in a crisis. It's difficult to argue that the health community has regularly managed to be any of those three during COVID-19.

Why it matters: A pandemic isn't just a medical emergency — it's also a communications emergency. The U.S. public health establishment, hamstrung by bad data and political interference, has struggled with the latter.