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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Centralization and corruption

Variable relationship:

When the state holds the right to manage natural resources (Centralization), and this is coupled with commons users that have low levels of political power (Commons Political Power) and governing agency with unaccountable leaders (Leadership Accountability), then the governing agency may seek to advance its own interests at the expense of resource conditions (Condition Effect) and the interests of local users. The literature on government failure mentions agency problems as the most important reason behind governments working poorly (Acheson 2006). That is, the problems of governments stem, in the main, from the behavior of politicians and government officials who opt to serve their own interests rather than those of the public (Shleifer and Vishny 2002). These activities can range from voting for the interests of constituents in ways that do not serve the public at large to outright bribery. Corruption is a particularly serious problem in Third World countries (Wade 1982; Baland and Platteau 1996)

Scientific Field
Component Type(s)
Government Agency


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
CentralizationProximate independent variableWhen central governments hold and control property rights over natural resources; this provide an opportunity for corrupt government actors to capture rents from those resourcesHighly centralized
Commons political powerModerating independent variableWhen resource users have limited political influence; opportunities for corruption tend to be higherLow
Leadership accountabilityModerating independent variableWhen governing agencies are unaccountable to resource user opportunities for corruption tend to be higher. Low
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeIn the presence of corruption, governing agences advance their own interests at the expense of resource conditionsWorsened

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
Centralized conservationcontradictory
Failure of centralized controlrelated
Critique of fortress conservationrelated
Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM)related
Political decentralization and fitrelated
Accountable leadershiprelated
Leadership accountability

Related Studies


Baland, Jean-Marie, and Jean-Philippe Platteau. 1999. "The Ambiguous Impact of Inequality on Local Resource Management."  World Development 27 (5):773-788.


Acheson, James M. 2006. Institutional Failure in Resource Management. Annual Review of Anthropology 35 (1): 117-134.


Shleifer, Andrei, and Robert W Vishny. 2002. The grabbing hand: Government pathologies and their cures: Harvard University Press.


Wade, Robert. 1982. "The system of administrative and political corruption: Canal irrigation in South India."  The Journal of Development Studies 18 (3):287-328.