From Petty Corruption to Criminal State

A Critique of the Corruption Perceptions Index as Applied to the Post-Communist Region


  • Bálint Magyar Financial Research Institute, Budapest
  • Bálint Madlovics Financial Research Institute, Budapest

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Offering a decent database easily applicable to cross-country comparison, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) has been widely used as a variable for showing the level of corruption. However, surveys of its sources are based on presumptions which mainly apply to bottom-up forms of corruption, namely free market corruption and bottom-up state capture, and therefore it is insufficient for assessing the state of a country plagued by top-down types of the former. We provide an analytical framework that distinguishes four levels of corruption and draws on the experience of the post-communist region. Using this framework to analyze the CPI’s survey questions, we explain why the index provides a blurred picture of the region. ‘Big data’ evidence for top-down corruption in Hungary is also presented, signifying the need for a more refined index.