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Are democracies less corrupt than other forms of government? The desire for reelection constrains the greed of politicians. The protection of civil liberties and free speech, which generally accompanies democratic elections, makes open and transparent government possible. In contrast, nondemocratic states are especially susceptible to corrupt incentives because their rulers have the potential to organize government with few checks and balances. But this contrast is too sharp. One need look no further than municipal governments in the United States to find a number of well-established corrupt systems that compare quite well with autocratic systems. Recent payoff scandals have implicated elected politicians in many countries. Clearly, democratic forms do not always succeed in checking corruption. Thus it is worthwhile asking which features of democratic government help limit self-dealing and which contribute to corruption.

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