The Corruption Smackdown

by Lee Sigelman on December 16, 2008 · 11 comments

in General Politics

Over at Slate, Jacob Weisberg has posted a smackdown between Louisiana and Illinois for the honor of being the most corrupt state in the whole USofA. It’s a good read—simultaneously informative and fun.

However, as Weisberg himself recognizes, there’s reason to think that those who would send Illinois into the lion’s den against the Louisiana corruption juggernaut have got it all wrong. Why pick on llinois? You could save a bundle on travel expenses by inviting a state that’s closer to Louisiana to boogie on down to Baton Rouge for the Big Smackdown. Mississippi should head the list of invitees (Can you see Mississippi from Baton Rouge?), followed by Kentucky and Alabama, in that order, and then by Ohio. Only then, down in sixth place, would you come to poor, unduly maligned Illinois.

Here are the rankings, as compiled by Corporate Crime Reporter, based on Department of Justice statistics; the number for each state is the “corruption rate,” defined as the total number of public corruption convictions from 1997 to 2006 per 100,000 residents.

1. Louisiana (7.67)
2. Mississippi (6.66)
3. Kentucky (5.18)
4. Alabama (4.76)
5. Ohio(4.69)
6. Illinois (4.68)
7. Pennsylvania (4.55)
8. Florida (4.47)
9. New Jersey (4.32)
10. New York (3.95)
11. Tennessee (3.68)
12. Virginia (3.64)
13. Oklahoma (2.96)
14. Connecticut (2.80)
15. Missouri (2.79)
16. Arkansas (2.74)
17. Massachusetts (2.66)
18. Texas (2.44)
19. Maryland (2.31)
20. Michigan (2.14)
21. Georgia (2.13)
22. Wisconsin (2.09)
23. California (2.07)
24. North Carolina (1.96)
25. Arizona (1.88)
26. Indiana (1.85)
27. South Carolina (1.74)
28. Nevada (1.72)
29. Colorado (1.56)
30. Washington (1.52)
31. Utah (1.42)
32. Kansas (1.42)
33. Minnesota (1.24)
34. Iowa (0.91)
35. Oregon (0.68).


King Politics December 16, 2008 at 12:27 pm

Also surprising is that Alaska is not on the list. After all the slandering of that state’s challenged-ethics during the campaign season, I really expected to see it near the top.

Lee Sigelman December 16, 2008 at 12:43 pm

King: The ratings are confined to the 35 most populous states. So Alaska isn’t included. Sorry that I didn’t mention that in the post.

Dubi December 16, 2008 at 1:04 pm

I’m not sure that’s such a good index. What does the number of residents have to do with it? Shouldn’t it measure convictions by the size of the state public sector?
Plus, it seems that some measure of the rank of the public servant convicted needs to be included. That’s why Illinois is so maligned, no? Because of the rank of the corrupted…

Lee Sigelman December 16, 2008 at 1:21 pm

I have no vested interest in the corruption index, so don’t interpret my first response as defensive.
(1) I take your point, but I’m willing to bet that the size of the state public sector is highly correlated with the number of state residents. If that’s so, then your first point doesn’t matter much.
(2) Yes, I think you’re right. On the other hand, not confining attention to top-level positions could do much to tap into the pervasiveness of a culture of corruption.

Thomas December 16, 2008 at 2:33 pm

One may wonder what the statistics look like from the period beginning October 24, 2001 (the date of Fitzgerald’s confirmation as US Attorney). The corruption in Illinois is often said to have extended to the office Fitzgerald now holds, or even higher.

Matt Jarvis December 16, 2008 at 4:28 pm

It’s a fun piece, but I agree with Dubi’s point on the size of the public sector AND with Lee’s point that it likely wouldn’t make any difference.

A different way to doing it would be to total up convictions for a shared set of offices. Every state has a governor, for example.

However, I wonder about a filtering effect, whereby a corrupt LOCAL level yields convictions and scandals at a frequent enough rate to weed out corruption from higher levels. I’m sure somebody who knows a lot more than I do about corruption and political culture could look at this.

Andrew Gelman December 16, 2008 at 6:00 pm

I know you presented these results in an ugly table rather than a graph just to get my reaction. But I won’t bite.

Dubi December 16, 2008 at 9:58 pm

Lee, I agree with both your comments. I just thought it would actually be interesting to check how high the correlation actually is (do long-time Democratic states have roughly the same size public sector as Republican states?); as well as how different weighing of the rank of corrupt officials would reflect on different states.

Plus, who was it in a previous post who said that a perfectly corrupt system would yield zero convictions? That’s worth mentioning too. I think Oregon deserves a deeper look. :)

Vince December 17, 2008 at 1:22 am

It’s not enough for the size of the state public sector to be correlated with the number of state residents – they’d have to be directly proportional (with public sector size equal to population times a constant). For instance, suppose that the relationship between population & public sector size was perfectly linear, but the largest state had ten times the population of the smallest and only twice the public sector size. Then, if the largest state had five times the corruption of the smallest, it would have half the corruption rate even though it had 2.5 times as much corruption per public sector employee.

In fact, the correlation between a state’s 2000 census population and its corruption index score is basically zero, and even slightly (but nonsignificantly) positive: r = .097, p = .58. Other facts I found while playing around with the data: among the “too small to count” states, Rhode Island’s corruption score is about 2.40, Alaska’s 5.79, and North Dakota’s 7.54.

FKvidahl December 23, 2008 at 12:19 pm

As a resident of NJ, I recognize this as a measure of underdeveloped corruption. A truly corrupt system minimizes convictions.

FKvidahl December 23, 2008 at 12:19 pm

As a resident of NJ, I recognize this as a measure of underdeveloped corruption. A truly corrupt system minimizes convictions.

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