Gender equality, corruption and meritocracy

Gender equality, corruption and meritocracy

BSG-WP-2017/018

In this paper, Bo Rothstein presents the following arguments:

  • Corruption in its various forms is a serious social illness.
  • Democracy is not a safe cure against corruption.
  • Increased gender equality seems to be one important factor behind getting corruption under control. Impartiality in the exercise of public power, not least when it “translates” into meritocratic recruitment and promotion in the public administration, has a powerful effect for lowering corruption.
  • While some aspects of impartiality are central for gender equality, research results are mixed. Some show that impartial principles promote gender equality, others show that gender bias exists also in many processes designed to be impartial.

Going from these results to policy recommendations is thus fraught with many difficulties. One is how to handle problems of legitimacy in the implementation process for various forms of preferential treatment of discriminated groups. Since these problems are impossible to handle, we may be in for a “Churchillian” argument. Like representative democracy, meritocracy may be a far-from-ideal solution for lowering corruption and thereby promoting human well-being, but it may be the least bad of existing alternatives.

About the author

Bo Rothstein is Professor of Government and Public Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford