Cockcroft praises the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group -- "the best show around at the moment," he calls it -- for its efforts to establish global standards to combat tricky issues like secrecy jurisdictions. (That the group even exists is a tribute to the work of international corruption fighters who have just opened their annual meeting in Rio de Janeiro this week. And yes, Cockcroft is in attendance.)
Ultimately, he says, anti-corruption campaigns will do best to focus on a few key areas. First of all, governments and aid donors need to realize that the size of the informal sector in many economies is a prime driver of corruption. Giving grassroots entrepreneurs incentives to come out into the light and legalize their operations can help.
Next, as the examples of both the U.S. and India demonstrate, distorted political finance regulations can have enormously destructive effects, since political parties tend to reward their donors by skewing legislation or awarding contracts -- with hidden costs to everyone else. Cockcroft insists that it's also vital to acknowledge the scale of the links between politicians and organized crime in many parts of the world.
The international community also needs to push for robust global regulations on multinational corporations. Cockcroft offers cautious praise for the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention (though he notes that the recent Wal-Mart scandal in Mexico, where the U.S. company is alleged to have bribed dozens of officials to speed up the process of obtaining approval to open stores, suggests that the challenge remains formidable).
Perhaps the most reliable remedy of all, though, is publicity. Reporters in many parts of the world now have more latitude to expose misdeeds. Social media are offering new avenues for smoking out bribe-takers. And the rise of multiparty systems and non-government organizations creates more space for activists to make their worries known.
Above all, it's important to remember that solutions do exist, and that they can work when citizens and policymakers are capable of mustering the political will. Dismissing corruption as an unavoidable attribute of certain cultures is not only needlessly demoralizing -- it's also intellectually lazy. "Cultures are not fixed in time," Cockcroft points out. "Cultures are always dynamic." Moreover, he says, "In all of these countries where corruption is endemic, you always have people who are fighting it." He's right on that point, too. Maybe it's time for the rest of us figure out how to help.