, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 2829-2846
Date: 25 Mar 2012

Trust and corruption: The influence of positive and negative social capital on the economic development in the European Union

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Abstract

Why are the Scandinavian countries in the European Union significantly richer than Southern/Eastern European countries? We try to answer this question from an empirical social capital perspective. In particular, we are interested in the interplay of social trust as a positive and corruption as a negative manifestation of social capital. The opportunities to provide answers by multivariate modelling are, however, limited by several problems related to small sample size and low degrees of freedom. Regarding these problems, we test the interrelating influences between positive and negative social capital by applying a path model that accounts for Granger-like causal effects. Our empirical results, referring to a sample of up to 25 EU countries, show that corruption might harm poor European countries but is not able to affect social trust. However, corruption in itself means that resources end up in the wrong places and not in socioeconomically optimal investments. There is, therefore, a direct damaging effect of corruption on wealth. This implies that economic actors have to invest higher transaction and control costs which will bind resources to non-productive purposes and thus destroy economic wealth. Most remarkable is that the augmentation of positive social capital could work as an effective counterforce to corruption, even if it does not compensate for the economic loss caused by corruption. Thus, adding the social capital perspective may contribute to understanding present day variation in the wealth of European nations by the damaging effect of corrupt activities and/or the positive force of social trust.