Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 16 > Issue 3

Political Corruption Cycles in Democracies and Autocracies: Evidence from Micro-data on Extortion in West Africa

Jasper Cooper, Department of Political Science, University of California, USA, jaspercooper@ucsd.edu
Suggested Citation
Jasper Cooper (2021), "Political Corruption Cycles in Democracies and Autocracies: Evidence from Micro-data on Extortion in West Africa", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 16: No. 3, pp 285-323. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00019175

Publication Date: 13 Jul 2021
© 2021 J. Cooper
Elections,  Bureaucracy,  Comparative political economy,  Comparative politics
Petty corruptionbureaucracyelectionsautocracy


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In this article:
Extortion in West Africa 
Elections in West Africa 
Estimating Political Corruption Cycles 
Main Results: Evidence for Political Corruption Cycles 


Using two large cross-national micro datasets on extortion and commodity flows, I provide evidence of corruption cycles around elections in five West African states. In democracies but not in autocracies, police and other officials extort bribes that are 30% higher in the buildup to elections. These cycles occur on the intensive margin — the price at which bribes are set — rather than on the extensive margin — the total number of agents extorting. When incumbents lose, prices remain abnormally high. When incumbents win, prices return to normal levels. I find no evidence of political cycles in the composition, quantity, or direction of commodity flows, and scant support for the idea that politicians use extortion for illicit campaign fundraising. Traditional political business cycles also do not appear to explain corruption cycles in this context. Rather, I argue that corruption cycles may result from independent decision-making by bureaucrats who need to insure against the uncertainty of future leadership.