\”For as long as I can recall, sociologists and economists have made a connection between levels of corruption and prosperity. For a long time this seemed to be borne out by the rankings. Squeaky-clean societies such as Sweden, say, had high per-capita GDPs.\”
Erm, might be worth finding out what economists actually say about corruption really.
1) Yes, corruption is bad, it reduces economic efficiency and thus makes a place poorer than it would otherwise be (all that rent seeking etc).
2) However, over prescriptive regulation and a throttling bureaucracy are also bad for growth because they reduce economic efficiency (all that rent seeking etc.).
Which leads to the conclusion that *if* the bureaucracy and the State are too prescriptive then corruption, by by passing that logjam, increases economic efficiency even given the costs that corruption itself imposes.
For example, a general conclusion often reached is that corruption was the only reason the Soviet state of the 70s and 80s worked at all: it added to living standards. At the other end a place like Sweden is a very liberal and open economy (no, really, it is, whatever the tax levels) and thus corruption would be a diminution of economic efficiency because there isn\’t that bureaucracy stifling activity.
Where you put Italy on that scale is of course up to you…..but a number of the studies of the subject have said that at least mused that the Mafia style corruption of Southern Italy is an increase in efficiency, not a decrease.