Ülo Ennuste Economics

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NB! Bo Rothstein 2011

Law&Sociery Review: Book Reviews


The Quality of Government: The Political Economy of Corruption,

Social Trust and Inequality in an International Comparative

Perspective. By Bo Rothstein. Chicago: University of Chicago

Press, 2011. 301 pp. $80.00 cloth.

Reviewed by Ararat L. Osipian, Peabody College of Education,

Vanderbilt University

The Quality of Government: The Political Economy of Corruption, Social

Trust and Inequality in an International Comparative Perspective by Bo

Rothstein suggests that a key feature of quality of government,

based on a specific normative and behavioral criterion, is impartiality

in the exercise of public authority. The author argues that

democracy, which concerns access to government power, cannot be

a sufficient criterion of quality of government because if the quality

of government would be merely equated to democracy, the importance

of the way power is exercised by government authorities

would fall out of focus.

Rothstein does a good job of conceptualizing the quality of

government. Through the review and criticism of several key works

on the quality of governance, he derives the definition of the quality

of government. The author also suggests that the quality of government

cannot be defined solely as the absence of corruption.

Rothstein concurs with Oscar Kurer (2005: 230) in stating that

“corruption involves a holder of public office violating the impartiality

principle in order to achieve private gain” (15). He builds his

argument around the concept of impartiality, which is a truly contested

concept, and suggests that the quality of government as

impartiality can be measured.

The concept of self-interest as the moving force of the marketbased

economy is not as simple as the classics would envision it.

Rothstein rightly points out that, “We should simply sell to and buy

from anyone if the price is right, regardless of family background,

ethnicity, or religion. However, the accepted norm in the private

sphere is that we should not behave according to self-interest

against our family (or clan) members or friends but should pursue

what we, from some other-regarding notion, deem good for all


Book Reviews 457

members of this small group. The point here is that such groups do

not, as with the market, have free entrance but are restricted to

their ‘members’” (20). It becomes obvious to the reader that there

are plenty of natural distortions to the ideal market environment

and market forces. At the end, individuals are not simply economic

agents, but humans as well. Thus, their actions are not only economically

rational, but are based on noneconomic considerations.

This type of bounded rationality relates to the social character of

the economy rather than its classical meaning of rational decisionmaking,

presented by Herbert Simon (1991), where decisions of

individuals or market agents are limited or bounded by the information

they have, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the

finite amount of time they have to make a decision.

The book by Rothstein reminds one of Eric Uslaner’s (2008)

Corruption, Inequality, and the Rule of Law: The Bulging Pocket Makes

the Easy Life, in its appeal to social trust, inequality, legitimacy, and

the rule of law. Rothstein devotes just a small section specifically to

the rule of law, calling it an inherently ambiguous concept (27). He

is not original in his example of Nazi Germany as an illustration of

the ambiguity of the rule of law concept. The author makes a

statement that impartiality implies the rule of law and links it to

procedural impartiality and legitimation.

Rothstein uses a fair amount of quantitative analysis in order to

substantiate his argument. Specifically, he investigates correlations

between the quality of government and major economic indicators,

such as growth rate of real gross domestic product per capita

(45–46), quality of life and social well-being (47), and environmental

issues (51). Such correlations may be interesting, but the idea

itself cannot be considered as original. For instance, correlations

between such indicators as the level of corruption and economic

growth per capita are commonly accepted in the field of development

economics. Nevertheless, introducing some quantitative

analysis in a political science volume is a welcomed addition, which

serves well the illustrative task of the book. While the author’s

discussion of corruption, political legitimacy, and quality of government

in the first part of the book is interesting and brings in some

good analytical points, he does not offer anything new in the second

part. Overall, the book will be of interest to those who want to see

a good work of conceptualization and discussion of fairness, justice,

welfare, and social trust, and their antipodes, such as corruption.


Kurer, Oscar (2005) “Corruption: An Alternative Approach to Its Definition and

Measurement,” 53 Political Studies 222–39.

Simon, Herbert (1991) “Bounded Rationality and Organizational Learning,” 2 Organization

Science 125–34.

Uslaner, Eric M. (2008) Corruption, Inequality, and the Rule of Law: The Bulging Pocket Makes

the Easy Life. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.



November 25, 2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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