Britain's imperial heyday saw the purchasing of Parliament seats in so-called rotten boroughs. Robber barons rose up alongside the US economy, touching off the Progressive Era. Today, other so-called BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – have seen a similar story.
Russian oligarchs ran off with state property during the 1990s transition from communism. In China, last month's bullet-train crash sparked corruption concerns among the middle class.
"It makes them angry that [officials] build a high-speed rail line and it is flawed, [or they] buy a condo and find that it's poorly built," says Andrew Wedeman, a China expert at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "They think when incomes go up, quality of life should go up."
China emerged from the Cultural Revolution with a defunct judiciary. In a decade, courts were hearing cases of complex financial corruption, says Dr. Wedeman, author of the forthcoming book "Double Paradox: Rapid Growth and Intensifying Corruption in China."