The Olof Palme Lectures: Swedish political scientist Bo Rothstein
Friday 11/05/2018

The Olof Palme Lectures: Swedish political scientist Bo Rothstein "Making Sense of Corruption"

Professor Bo Rothstein gave his lecture “Making Sense of Corruption” at SSE Riga on May 10th, as part of the Olof Palme lecture series, generously supported by the Swedish Institute, in cooperation with the Embassy of Sweden in Latvia. 

The Palme lectures are envisioned as a series of talks held at SSE Riga, open to everyone interested, aimed at providing inspiration and increasing knowledge in the fields of good governance, political ideology and social sustainability.  The topic of Dr. Rothstein’s lecture fits in ideally with the overall aim of these lectures, as corruption is a direct challenge to good governance and social trust, and jeopardizes social sustainability.

In his lecture, Dr. Rothstein talked about his ongoing work at the Quality of Government Institute at the University of Gothenburg, which he co-founded in 2004, and the lecture was based on the research conclusions presented in his two most recent books The Quality of Government and Making Sense of Corruption.  Dr. Rothstein talked about the difficulty of defining corruption, and how in his research he works from the perspective of trying to define what corruption is not.  In his opinion, the opposite of corruption is the impartiality in the exercise of public power. 

Further, he argued that corruption cannot be explained by shortcomings in formal institutions or by cultural differences, rather by something he calls “standard operating procedure”, which are the accepted social practices and norms in a given country.  The lecture outlined the direct link that can be shown to exist between human well-being and control of corruption in societies. 

However, Dr. Rothstein argued that democracy alone is not enough to ensure quality of government and to curtail corruption.  He argued that rule of law has to be combined with a better understanding of the social contact that exists between people and governments, that the social practices and norms have to be changed, if the goal is the eradication of corruption. 

Finally, he offered six institutional devices for combating corruption:  a functional and broad system of taxation; universal education; meritocracy; gender equality, a professional and communicative system for national auditing; and ethics in professional education and training.

Bo Rothstein is the August Röhss Chair in Political Science at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. He is the author of several books, including, most recently, Social Traps and the Problem of Trust.  


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