The Man Fighting Global Corruption

Peter Eigen, founder of Transparency International, gave the keynote address during the 30th Social Research Conference on Corruption, Accountability, and Transparency. Photo by TEDxBerlin/ Sebastian Gabsch.

Peter Eigen, founder of Transparency International, gave the keynote address during the 30th Social Research Conference, “Corruption, Accountability, and Transparency.” Photo by TEDxBerlin/ Sebastian Gabsch.

An usher gestures to a growing —if idle—crowd. “Don’t be shy!” she says. “File into the front. Our speaker wants it to feel like a rock concert.” An odd analogy, given that the atmosphere in Tishman Auditorium is reserved and formal, and the event is a two-day conference on the effects of global corruption.

The speaker, however, is a rock star of sorts: He’s Peter Eigen, a world-renowned economic development leader and the founder of Transparency International. His speech, “International Corruption: Organized Civil Society for Better Global Governance,” kicked off the 30th annual Social Research conference, “Corruption, Accountability, and Transparency,” held by the Center for Public Scholarship at The New School.

For nearly two hours, Eigen discussed the growth of corruption in the public and private sectors, particularly in business dealings between developed and developing countries. “Corruption never really goes out of style,” Eigen began. “But what we’re facing at present is a problem of failed governance across the globe.”

According to Eigen, as globalization has intensified and multinational corporations have amassed greater power, nation-states have lost the ability to maintain and monitor the global system. Other actors must therefore rise to fill the leadership void. “An organized civil society can fix the problem of failed governance,” said Eigen. Civil society has the means to connect the private and public sectors, promote transparency, and limit closed-door dealings.

Thus began the two-day symposium, in which corruption was examined from both contemporary and historical perspectives and solutions to the problem were proposed. Other conference participants were James Jacobs, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger Professor of Constitutional Law and the Court and director of the Center for Research in Crime and Justice at New York University School of Law; Michael Johnston, Charles A. Dana Professor of Political Science at Colgate University; Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Professor of Democracy Studies at the Hertie School of Governance; and Susan Rose-Ackerman, Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence (Law and Political Science) at Yale University. Topics discussed included money and politics, the development of corruption, labor unions, and the philosophical underpinnings of corruption.

Published in conjunction with the event was the latest edition of Social Research: An International Quarterly, one of The New School’s longest-running journals. The New School for Social Research has produced the scholarly journal, which explores society’s most pressing intellectual questions and concerns, for nearly 80 years. Since 1988, the journal has been published along with a series of conferences on the same topics, with the goal of broadening public discussion and understanding of these critical issues.

The Center for Public Scholarship’s next event, part of this year’s fifth and final Public Voices lecture series, will be held on December 5. Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, will moderate a panel discussion on surveillance in the United States. RSVP to cps@newschool.edu.

Visit the Center for Public Scholarship website for more information on the corruption conference.