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Corruption and Reform

Lessons from America’s Economic History

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.

396 pages | 1 halftone, 20 line drawings, 33 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2006

National Bureau of Economic Research Conference Report

Economics and Business: Business--Industry and Labor, Economics--Government Finance, Economics--History

History: American History

Table of Contents

I. Corruption and Reform: Definitions and Historical Trends
Corruption and Reform: Introduction
Edward L. Glaeser and Claudia Goldin
1. The Concept of Systematic Corruption in American History
John Joseph Wallis
2. Limiting the Reach of the Grabbing Hand: Graft and Growth in American Cities, 1880 to 1930
Rebecca Menes
3. Digging the Dirt at Public Expense: Governance in the Building of the Erie Canal and Other Public Works
Stanley L. Engerman and Kenneth L. Sokoloff
II. Consequences of Corruption
4. Corporate Governance and the Plight of Minority Shareholders in the United States before the Great Depression
Naomi R. Lamoreaux and Jean-Laurent Rosenthal
5. Water, Water Everywhere: Municipal Finance and Water Supply in American Cities
David Cutler and Grant Miller
III. The Road to Reform
6. The Rise of the Fourth Estate: How Newspapers Became Informative and Why It Mattered
Matthew Gentzkow, Edward L. Glaeser, and Claudia Goldin

7. Bank Chartering and Political Corruption in Antebellum New York: Free Banking as Reform
Howard Bodenhorn
8. Regime Change and Corruption: A History of Public Utility Regulation
Werner Troesken
IV. Reform and Regulation
9. The Irony of Reform: Did Large Employers Subvert Workplace Safety Reform, 1869 to 1930?
Price V. Fishback
10. The Determinants of Progressive Era Reform: The Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906
Marc T. Law and Gary D. Libecap
11. Politics, Relief, and Reform: Roosevelt’s Efforts to Control Corruption and Political Manipulation during the New Deal
John Joseph Wallis, Price V. Fishback, and Shawn Kantor
Author Index
Subject Index

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