At the international level and in the general public, corruption is acknowledged, in particular, by the work of Transparency International (TI). A major impetus to raise awareness about corruption is the wide range of empirical research and rankings of corruption indices, which comparatively assess levels of corruption in the world and publish new reports every year on the most corrupt countries in the world. The first index to make headlines worldwide, which is also the best-known case to date, is the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) that was first published by TI in 1995 and measures the perception of corruption. In addition, the Bribe Payers Index (BPI), which is a ranking of the countries whose companies are willing to pay bribes in developing countries also appeared in 1999. The Global Corruption Barometer (GCB), which TI has published since 2006, is intended to provide a more comprehensive picture of corruption in a large region. Since 1996, the World Bank has presented the Worldwide Governance Indicators that are measured in six dimensions. The sixth dimension named Control of Corruption also measures the degree of corruption on a global scale. Therefore, there is no shortage of measurement of corruption and attention to the issue.
However, the underlying corruption concepts are often relatively out of focus in public debates, as well as in the respective indices and, hence, remain rather intuitive and conceptually unclear due to the absence of an underlying theory.
In this paper, the corruption concepts used in broadly collected empirically measured corruption indices are examined from the perspective of a pragmatist economic ethics, in order to determine how corrupt action is conceived and what contribution these concepts can make to the fight against corruption. At the same time this analysis will also allow us to draw conclusions for corruption research on the one hand and economic ethics on the other.
To this end, (section 2), criteria of a pragmatist economic ethics will be identified and concepts of corruption are to be investigated with their aid. In the third section four central international corruption indices will be considered in light of the previously developed criteria. In the last section (4), a number of conclusions are drawn for a pragmatist economic ethics of corruption.