Despite recent corporate scandals, the United States is among the world’s least corrupt nations. But in the nineteenth century, the degree of fraud and corruption in America approached that of today’s most corrupt developing nations, as municipal governments and robber barons alike found new ways to steal from taxpayers and swindle investors. In Corruption and Reform, contributors explore this shadowy period of United States history in search of better methods to fight corruption worldwide today.
Contributors to this volume address the measurement and consequences of fraud and corruption and the forces that ultimately led to their decline within the United States. They show that various approaches to reducing corruption have met with success, such as deregulation, particularly “free banking,” in the 1830s. In the 1930s, corruption was kept in check when new federal bureaucracies replaced local administrations in doling out relief. Another deterrent to corruption was the independent press, which kept a watchful eye over government and business. These and other facets of American history analyzed in this volume make it indispensable as background for anyone interested in corruption today.
Edward L. Glaeser is the Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics at Harvard University and director of the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government. He is a research associate at the NBER and the editor of the recent NBER volume The Governance of Not-for-Profit Organizations. Claudia Goldin is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University and director of the Development of the American Economy Program and research associate at the NBER. She is the coeditor of three previous NBER volumes including, most recently, The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century.