Transitions to Good Governance: Creating Virtuous Circles of Anti-corruption

Why have so few countries managed to leave systematic corruption behind, while in many others modernization is still a mere façade? How do we escape the trap of corruption, to reach a governance system based on ethical universalism? In this unique book, Alina Mungiu-Pippidi and Michael Johnston lead a team of eminent researchers on an illuminating path towards deconstructing the few virtuous circles in contemporary governance. The book combines a solid theoretical framework with quantitative evidence and case studies from around the world. While extracting lessons to be learned from the success cases covered, Transitions to Good Governance avoids being prescriptive and successfully contributes to the understanding of virtuous circles in contemporary good governance.

Offering a balanced but always grounded perspective, this collection combines analytic narratives of existing virtuous circles and how they were established, with an analysis of the global evidence. In doing so the authors explain why governance is so resistant to change, and describe the lessons to be remembered for international anti-corruption efforts. Exploring the primacy of politics over economic development, and in order to understand how vicious circles can be broken, the expert contributions trace the progress of countries that have successfully transitioned. Unprecedentedly, this book goes beyond the tests of different variables to showcase human agency on every continent, and reveals why some nations make the best and others the worst of the same development legacies.

This comprehensive examination of virtuous circles of governance will appeal to all scholars with an interest in transitions, democratization, anti-corruption and good governance. Policy-makers and practitioners in the fields of international development, good governance and democracy support will find it an invaluable resource.

Reviews for this publication

“Vicious cycles, where corruption breeds corruption, present special challenges. Nevertheless, some success stories exist. The case studies in this edited volume highlight reforms that created virtuous cycles, where honesty breeds honesty. Nevertheless, the authors caution that reforms may be fragile and incomplete if policies do not shift expectations and behavior sufficiently enough toward a new, less-corrupt status quo.”

Susan Rose-Ackerman, Yale University

Process-tracing report on Taiwan

Since Taiwan became democratic in 1992 and especially after the change in ruling parties in 2000, the passage of new laws and the reform of existing ones have defined more clearly than ever what constitutes “corrupt” behavior and legal changes have followed international norms. Moreover, since the change in ruling parties, judicial independence has been guaranteed and anti-corruption agencies have been strengthened considerably. Despite the fact that there is still corruption and that the institutional configuration of Taiwan’s anti-corruption agencies is far from optimum, these are major achievements.The present report explains these achievements by analyzing the impact of two turning points in Taiwan’s history, democratization and the change in ruling parties, on agency in Taiwan’s anti-corruption reforms. It does so by applying the methodology of process-tracing which investigates the historical developments around these two “critical junctures” in Taiwan’s history while taking into consideration enabling and constraining factors “inherited” from the authoritarian era. The analysis primarily draws on interviews conducted with former and present officials, judges, and investigators in October 2014.

Understanding governance virtuous circles: who succeeded and why

Why do some societies manage to control extraction of public resources in favour of particular interests, so that it only manifests itself occasionally, as an exception (corruption), while others societies do not and remain systemically corrupt? Is the superior performance of the first group of countries a result of what they do, or of who they are?

ERCAS is hosting a conference at the European Academy in Grunewald, Berlin from 8-12 July 2015 that will address these questions. The conference, ‘Understanding Governance Virtuous Circles. Who succeeded and why’ is part of the EU FP7 research project ANTICORRP: Anticorruption Policies Revisited: Global Trends and European Responses to the Challenge of Corruption. Our researchers have identified seven countries (Uruguay, Estonia, Chile, Costa Rica, Taiwan, South Korea and Georgia) as the most successful in achieving control of corruption in the past 25 years. We would like to address why and how these countries have been successful and what lessons can be learned from them.

Spaces are extremely limited, but the conference will be live tweeted and a conference report will be published by Cambridge University Press.



  • Dr. Mart Laar (ex-prime Minister, Estonia) (by video)
  • Prof. Robert Klitgaard (Claremont Graduate University)
  • Prof. Larry Diamond (Stanford University)
  • Mr. Philip Keefer (World Bank)
  • Prof. Michael Johnston (Colgate University)
  • Prof. Adam Graycar (Australian National University)
  • Prof. Eric Uslaner (University of Maryland)
  • Prof. Ryan Saylor (University of Tulsa)
  • Dr. Mark Plattner (Journal of Democracy)
  • Dr. Natalia Matukhno (Centre for the Study of Public Policy/School of Government and Public Policy)
  • Dr. Martin Mendelski (University of Trier)
  • Dr. Mark Pyman (TI Defense and Security UK)
  • Dr. Daniel Buquet (Universidad de la República de Uruguay)
  • Prof. Bruce Wilson (University of Central Florida Costa Rica)
  • Prof. Patricio Navia (Universidad Diego Portales/New York University)
  • Prof. Paul Felipe Lagunes (Columbia University)
  • Dr. Valts Kalnins (Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS)
  • Dr. Alexander Kupatadze (University College London)
  • Dr. Marianne Camerer (University of Cape Town)
  • Dr. Halyna Kokhan (UNDP Ukraine)
  • Dr. Anastassia Obydenkova (Harvard University)
  • Prof. Christian Göbel (University of Vienna)
  • Dr. Yong-sung You (The Australian National University)
  • Dr. Mihaly Fazekas (Corvinius University of Budapest)
Agenda Virtuous Circle Conference – Current as of 05 July 2015.


Conference papers:


Helpful documents:



Background paper on Taiwan

Corruption has been on the top of Taiwan’s political and social agenda since at least the early 1980s. In many opinion surveys over the years, people have named it the most pressing political issue. Taiwan’s democratization in 1992 did not improve the situation – some observers even argue that corruption has worsened because of the need to finance election campaigns, to win votes and to gain influence in the now-powerful legislature.Since the first change in ruling parties in 2000, the situation has gradually improved. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) initiated tough anti-corruption regulations, strengthened anti-corruption organizations and cracked down hard on corruption and organized crime. The Kuomintang (KMT), which came to power again in 2008, continued this policy. Several high-profile corruption scandals in the last years mask the fact that Taiwan’s governance has improved markedly in the last decade. Not only have anti-corruption regulations been passed and are rigorously enforced, but also anti-corruption units in the government were strengthened. However, cultural factors such as the importance of personal relations in Chinese society and the habit of giving gifts not only to friends, but also to strategically important persons like doctors, teachers or business partners make it difficult to completely root out corruption.

Control of Corruption: the Road to Effective Improvement. Lessons from Six Progress Cases

In the last two decades, the emergence of an international good governance agenda has fostered the implementation of anti-corruption efforts in several countries. Nevertheless, recent assessments of those efforts reveal that the vast majority of initiatives have not produced concrete positive results. Only a few countries have made considerable progress in reducing corruption, and there is still limited knowledge about what has determined their positive experiences. This paper attempts to contribute to this discussion by engaging in a comparative analysis of six countries that have improved in terms of control of corruption. These countries are: Uruguay, Estonia, Botswana, Taiwan, South Korea and Ghana. The framework for analysis is based on a model of corruption as a function of power discretion, material resources and legal and normative constraints (Mungiu-Pippidi, 2010). Additionally, particular attention is paid to the role of political agents as drivers of change, with a focus on political leaders, civil society, media and enforcement institutions.