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Context is key to fixing corruption, says Grawemeyer world order winner

The best way to end corruption is to first examine its underlying causes, says the winner of the 2009 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.

Context is key to fixing corruption, says Grawemeyer world order winner

Michael Johnston, winner of the 2009 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order

Michael Johnston, a political science professor at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., earned the prize for ideas he set forth in his 2005 book, Syndromes of Corruption: Wealth, Power and Democracy.

Corruption can take different forms depending on a country’s political and economic patterns, Johnston says. The practice of using wealth to seek influence is more common in the United States, Japan and Germany, while forming cartels to protect the elite is more typically seen in Italy, Korea and Botswana.

In Russia, Mexico and the Philippines, countries with liberal economies and weak civil societies, fair market competition is even riskier. But the worst type of corruption — the plundering of society by those who retain absolute power — is nearly always seen in countries with growing economies and weak institutions.

Understanding how corruption develops in a particular country can help stop it more effectively, says Johnston, whose work was chosen from among 50 nominations.

“Corruption is a pervasive global problem that undermines economic and political systems,” said Rodger Payne, a UofL political science professor who directs the award. “Johnston’s approach is particularly useful because it puts forward a practical agenda for reform.”

The Grawemeyer Awards at UofL awards $1 million each year — $200,000 each for works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology, education and religion. Winners of the other Grawemeyer Awards also are being announced this week.

About Michael Johnston

Michael Johnston is Charles A. Dana Professor of Political Science at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., where he also directs the university’s Division of Social Sciences.

Listen to podcast interview with Michael Johnston from Colgate University

He joined Colgate in 1986 as an associate professor. Before that, he taught political science at University of Pittsburgh, first as an instructor and later as an associate professor.

A Fulbright Senior Specialist since 2006, Johnston has done extensive consulting throughout his career in the field of public policy. Among the organizations he has assisted are the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, World Bank, World Resources Institute and U.S. Agency for International Development.

He has held visiting scholar appointments at the University of Glasgow, University of York, University of Durham and Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Spain and also was as an external examiner for Hong Kong University’s Graduate Program in Corruption Studies.

Director of the Colgate University Research Council from 2003 to 2004, he was a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., from 2002 to 2003 and a Colgate Presidential Scholar the same year. From 2000 to 2001, he directed Colgate’s Center for Ethics and World Societies.

His Grawemeyer award-winning book, Syndromes of Corruption: Wealth, Power and Democracy, published by Cambridge University Press, has been translated into Chinese, Arabic and Romanian. He has written or edited five other books and many book chapters and articles about corruption.

Johnston earned doctorate of philosophy and master’s of philosophy degrees in political science from Yale University in 1977 and 1974, respectively. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., where he graduated summa cum laude in 1971.

For more information, contact Rodger Payne at 502-852-3316 or by e-mail.

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