Most Corrupt States
Monkey Cagers John Sides and Lee Sigelman rank the states on corruption and, as expected, Louisiana is at the top. Surprisingly, Illinois is a relative piker, coming in 6th place but only 61 percent as much corruptitude:
Matt Yglesias is convinced. The problems, however, with the rankings are manifold.
The measure being used is “the total number of public corruption convictions from 1997 to 2006 per 100,000 residents.” Only the 35 most populous states are included in the study, which was compiled in something called the Corporate Crime Reporter in October 2007.
Is this really what we mean by “most corrupt”? I don’t think so. As Claire Suddath notes in TIME’s “Brief History of Illinois Corruption”:
Blagojevich is the sixth Illinois governor to be subjected to arrest or indictment — seventh if you count Joel Aldrich Matteson (governor from 1853-1857), who tried to cash $200,000 of stolen government scrip he “found” in a shoebox.
Surely, governors count for more than low profile local officials?
And why divide by the size of the population? Every state has precisely one governor, two senators, one secretary of state, etc. regardless of population. It’s true that large states have more Members of Congress and tend to have more local officials. But, again, adding them in muddies the waters unnecessarily.
Beyond that, the use of “convictions” as a measure is problematic. Lewis Grizzard used to joke that it was hard to find 12 people in Louisiana who thought stealing was a crime. It’s not implausible that states and localities with more political corruption have a higher threshhold of tolerance for bad behavior, excusing minor graft as “just the way it is” and willing to punish only those whose crimes exceed the norm.