The political origins of Mexico’s corruption


Tuesday, April 23, 2019, 12:00pm


CGIS South, S250, 1730 Cambridge Street

Speaker: Viridiana Rios, Ph.D. in Government, Harvard University

Moderator: Steven Levitsky, Professor of Government, Harvard University

In contexts where corruption is widespread, why do some incumbents choose to not be corrupt? My research argues that party loyalty is a major influence to reduce corruption and test this argument using fine-grained data of 12 billion dollars audited to 3,601 local incumbents over a period of 16 years. Contributing to an unsettled and vibrant debate about the influence of partisan politics in corruption, our data allow us to test three possible mechanisms that could be driving political actors to limit the misappropriation of public resources during their tenure: insurance mechanisms, according to which incumbents reduce corruption to avoid prosecution; party loyalty, where corruption diminishes to protect political cliques from public discredit, and ideological incentives, where corruption diminishes because it is part of the programmatic agenda of incumbent’s party. We find the greatest evidence in favor of party loyalty. Our results suggest the existence of a corruption political cycle in which party loyalty modulates corruption according to a tradeoff between accessing illegal resources and protecting the image of the party. Only when partisan loyalty is combined with low resource requirements does corruption diminishes.

Viri Ríos is a visiting assistant professor at the department of government at Harvard University. She studies the political economy of violence and corruption in Latin America. Her work (i) shows how party alignment changes the dynamics of corruption and determines levels of criminal violence, and (ii) estimates how criminal violence and corruption affects emigration, media coverage, and inequality. She has published at The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Justice Quarterly, the Latin American Research Review, the Latin American Politics, and Society, to name a few. Her most recent book The Missing Reform (ed.), published by Woodrow Wilson Center Press, explores the role that rule of law has on Mexico's policy outcomes. She is from Mexico. There, she was honored to be appointed by the Senate as a member of the National Anti-corruption Commission. When she's not researching human lawbreaking, you can find her in Mexico City's Roma Norte neighborhood scolding her dog "Mueble" for repeatedly violating the "no dogs in the public fountains" ordinance.