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March 31, 2011 11:00 PM   Subscribe

"The paper puts forward a small but novel idea of how we can cut down the incidence of bribery. There are different kinds of bribes and what this paper is concerned with are bribes that people often have to give to get what they are legally entitled to. I shall call these 'harassment bribes'. Suppose an income tax refund is held back from a taxpayer till he pays some cash to the officer. Suppose government allots subsidized land to a person but when the person goes to get her paperwork done and receive documents for this land, she is asked to pay a hefty bribe. These are all illustrations of harassment bribes. Harassment bribery is widespread in India and it plays a large role in breeding inefficiency and has a corrosive effect on civil society. The central message of this paper is that we should declare the act of giving a bribe in all such cases as legitimate activity [PDF]. In other words the giver of a harassment bribe should have full immunity from any punitive action by the state."

"The main argument of this paper is that such a change in the law will cause a dramatic drop in the incidence of bribery. The reasoning is simple. Under the current law, discussed in some detail in the next section, once a bribe is given, the bribe giver and the bribe taker become partners in crime. It is in their joint interest to keep this fact hidden from the authorities and to be fugitives from the law, because, if caught, both expect to be punished. Under the kind of revised law that I am proposing here, once a bribe is given and the bribe giver collects whatever she is trying to acquire by giving the money, the interests of the bribe taker and bribe giver become completely orthogonal to each other. If caught, the bribe giver will go scot free and will be able to collect his bribe money back. The bribe taker, on the other hand, loses the booty of bribe and faces a hefty punishment."

"In the scheme I am suggesting one problem that will open up is that public servants may be vulnerable to blackmail and false charges of bribe-taking. We could try to plug this loophole by increasing the punishment for blackmail and false accusation. What all this underlines is the fact that there is nothing fool-proof in economic policy design."

Background reading source: Corruption in India ("As of 2010, India is the ninth-most corrupt country in the world, with about 54% of Indians paying a bribe in the past year, according to a global survey by Transparency International.")
posted by vidur (37 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Heh. I wonder how much he paid to get this article published. Because when it's an academic journal, it's not bribery, right?

But it is an interesting proposal.
posted by GuyZero at 11:07 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


What bribe? She didn't give me any bribe. Show me a receipt. All I have here is the cash I brought with me to buy a gift for my ailing Vijay Uncle.
posted by zennie at 11:21 PM on March 31, 2011


It's an interesting suggestion. It does seem to open up the floor for people to offer bribes wholesale, though, and in other situations than harassment bribery. In particular, it seems like it might cause problems for law enforcement, since anyone with money who is arrested can simply try throwing money at the arresting officers without even having to worry about encountering an honest officer and making their problem worse. I suppose you could make some kinds of bribes legal and others not, but that seems like it could get really confusing.

It seems like there might be other good ways to deal with corruption, such as sting operations. In places with endemic corruption, I'd suggest the government form an entire branch of the police designed to do nothing else. Hook up all of their operatives with hidden cameras to collect evidence and keep them on the straight and narrow, send them into bribe-prone situations, and allow them to levy massive fines on anyone caught requesting or accepting a bribe. Hell, it should pay for itself.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:22 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder how much he paid to get this article published. Because when it's an academic journal, it's not bribery, right?

The author is the Chief Economic Advisor to the Indian government. This working paper is hosted on the website of the Finance ministry of India.

Incidentally, a counter view by an Indian civil servant who blogs. He has blogged about corruption before.
posted by vidur at 11:26 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


All I have here is the cash I brought with me to buy a gift for my ailing Vijay Uncle.

Hmm. Interesting. And here I have a series of numbers that matches exactly with the serial numbers of the notes you have. What a lucky coincidence! All right then, off you go.

But seriously, folks interested in this should read the entire paper (shouldn't take long). The quotes in FPP are not a proper summary.
posted by vidur at 11:33 PM on March 31, 2011


I did read it. I'm just not sure it is a practical solution. And as the author points out, it opens up a bit of a problem for the "serial bribe giver" who's not being coerced but using their wealth to increase status. Maybe if you actually separate the "non harrassment" bribes by law... but I wasn't clear whether that was being proposed.
posted by zennie at 11:49 PM on March 31, 2011


Surely this will have the reverse effect and encourage people with money to start throwing bribes around more freely - as if they need any more slack from the law. It certainly isn't going to do anything to protect the real victims of the harassment described. If you really want to help the victims you get them to report the bribery demand before they've had to pay it and you enable swift intervention to ensure they don't suffer for their honesty.
posted by londonmark at 11:50 PM on March 31, 2011


Who enforce this new law and how much do they charge?
posted by doctor_negative at 11:56 PM on March 31, 2011


Who -will-
posted by doctor_negative at 11:57 PM on March 31, 2011


The reasoning is simple.

If it's simple, then why do you have to tell me that it's simple? It should be self-evident.

I've decided that the axis of my crankiness as I age will be useless word padding like this. Every time someone prefaces an explanation in print with "let me explain", I'll strangle a hobo.
posted by fatbird at 12:02 AM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


What if whoever you bribe doesn't deliver? Will you bribe the bribe police? Giving in to bribery surrenders society to lawlessness. People are generally good but when they're not, you can just bribe your way around if you have the money.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 12:07 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Will you bribe the bribe police?

Who bribes the bribers?
posted by dirigibleman at 12:24 AM on April 1, 2011


I've decided that the axis of my crankiness as I age will be useless word padding like this. Every time someone prefaces an explanation in print with "let me explain", I'll strangle a hobo.

Do we really need to know that you've decided this? Why not just start with: "The axis of my crankiness..." Your decision is implicit, why pad out the sentence unnecessarily?

Signed, A Worried Hobo.
posted by chavenet at 1:04 AM on April 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


What we need is transparency in the market of bribery. Open competition will drive down the price of bribes.
posted by Damienmce at 1:05 AM on April 1, 2011


Heh, that civil servant two cubes over will make you pay 3x what I charge, and he doesn't even guarantee your operating license! His brother will come calling in 2 days asking for more money, I PROMISE. I however will do you AND your cousin, plus provide insurance...

oooooh now that's something, once we get the transparent market setup, we can add an insurance market!

On a more serious note, it was found that reliability in corrupt practices made a big difference in the economic impact of corruption. In some asian countries, bribes are a one-stop shop and you're assured that the officials will follow up. If you pay a bribe then you need to return to an official to make sure they carry through, or you get hit with second or third obstacles, then entrepreneurship gets sapped from the economy. So his idea is to increase accountability among bribe takers. Its actually a clever idea.
posted by stratastar at 1:26 AM on April 1, 2011


In the overall scheme of things, I don't understand what a bribe is.

When getting a drink at a bar, the staff will always keep going to the guy who is giving bigger tips.
Is that a bribe? No...because it isn't a public official.
BUT...the management at the bar/restaurant kind of uses the "tips" system to get out of paying employees what they deserve...and leaves it to the "discretion" of the customer. Not a bribe...but you get better service when you complement their regular wages with "tips".

The same goes for public officials in many countries. The problem isn't that people are willing to bribe them...its that they aren't being paid properly. I mean this goes for public servants behind a gate, counter.

As for the rich officials taking bribes...well they're just dicks.

Wow this goes everywhere.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:45 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The proposed change wouldn't allow people to start offering bribes to cops willy-nilly because "not getting arrested when you've done something wrong" is not a service you are entitled to and therefore offering those bribes would remain illegal.

Come on, people. This wasn't even behind a link. The details are right there in the above-the-fold text of the post.
posted by No-sword at 2:04 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


zennie, sorry. I didn't that vibe from your first comment, so I thought I'd drop in a note that my quotes don't summarize the whole paper.

Back on topic: the test of a public policy change can't be "is the new policy perfect?". It has to be "is it better than the existing policy?" and "will we be able to make further changes to it at a later stage?".
posted by vidur at 2:44 AM on April 1, 2011


And as the author points out, it opens up a bit of a problem for the "serial bribe giver" who's not being coerced but using their wealth to increase status.

This is what I thought of immediately, too. On second thought, I wonder if a change such as this would render public officials (i.e., potential bribe-takers) less likely to take bribes in the first place since it opens them up to loss of the bribe as well as other penalties.

Then on third thought it seems to me that the potential bribe-takers, as a group, could easily set up incentives against serial bribe-givers turning them in, in much the same way that they have now set up incentives for giving bribes in the first place.
posted by gauche at 4:36 AM on April 1, 2011


I feel like the author hasn't taken the long-term effects of reporting a bribe on the bribe-giver.

Suppose a bribe is offered and the official accepts. Under the new law the bribe-giver would have two options:
a) Keep quiet: The bribe-taker doesn't get his money back but now the bribe-taker is under some obligation to the bribe-taker, and in the future bribes might not be necessary at all. The bribe-giver develops a reputation among the bribe-taking community as someone who will not tell tales. More influence accrues to the bribe-giver.
b) Report the official: The bribe-taker gets his money back but now the bribe-taker hates his guts. He tells all the officials he knows to be corrupt that the bribe-giver is an untrustworthy person and to not accept bribes from him (as who is corrupt and who is not generally tends to be an open secret as mentioned above). Soon the bribe-giver can't get anything important done for love or money and his influence decreases.

In a society with as widespread corruption as in India, why would anyone pick option b?
posted by peacheater at 5:58 AM on April 1, 2011


Maybe if you actually separate the "non harrassment" bribes by law... but I wasn't clear whether that was being proposed.
How could you tell the difference?
What if whoever you bribe doesn't deliver? Will you bribe the bribe police? Giving in to bribery surrenders society to lawlessness. People are generally good but when they're not, you can just bribe your way around if you have the money.
I don't think you understand what's going on. Giving a bribe would be illegal, but taking a bribe would not be. In fact, you could probably recover your bribe whether or not you got what you were looking for.
posted by delmoi at 8:07 AM on April 1, 2011


Giving a bribe would be illegal, but taking a bribe would not be.

In fact, the author is suggesting precisely the opposite of that.
posted by bardophile at 8:33 AM on April 1, 2011


Do we really need to know that you've decided this? Why not just start with: "The axis of my crankiness..." Your decision is implicit, why pad out the sentence unnecessarily?

No it isn't.

I might have discovered it about myself in anger management class.
posted by fatbird at 9:06 AM on April 1, 2011


zennie, sorry. I didn't that vibe from your first comment, so I thought I'd drop in a note that my quotes don't summarize the whole paper.

My first comment was rather poorly done.


> Maybe if you actually separate the "non harrassment" bribes by law... but I wasn't clear whether that was being proposed.

How could you tell the difference?


I don't really know. Seems to me that there could be a difference between being paying extra for goods or services already owed to you (by law, by contract, etc) and paying for a special favor not owed to you.
posted by zennie at 9:17 AM on April 1, 2011


Maybe if you actually separate the "non harrassment" bribes by law... but I wasn't clear whether that was being proposed.

How could you tell the difference?


Oh that's not the part that is difficult. e.g. you go to get an electrical connection for your new house. Or to get the title to your new house registered. There is no doubt about the legitimacy of your request. But you will have to pay a bribe to the official in charge to get him to do his job. This is entirely different from bribing the electric company's lineman to give you an undocumented connection so that you can avoid billing, for example. The differences are usually pretty obvious. It becomes extremely difficult to go about your legitimate daily business in places like India and Pakistan if you are unwilling to bribe the concerned officials.
posted by bardophile at 9:53 AM on April 1, 2011


In fact, the author is suggesting precisely the opposite of that.
Somehow I typed the opposite of what I was thinking. That's why the next sentence is "In fact, you could probably recover your bribe whether or not you got what you were looking for." The point is, bribery wouldn't be legal, rather only one side would be punished.
posted by delmoi at 9:57 AM on April 1, 2011


This is being implemented in Florida.
posted by Xoebe at 11:34 AM on April 1, 2011


Damienmce: What we need is transparency in the market of bribery. Open competition will drive down the price of bribes.

Indeed, it's already gone down to 0 in some instances. I find this approach less distasteful than the one proposed in the OP, but have no idea on its relative efficacy.
posted by Challahtronix at 11:40 AM on April 1, 2011


Technically, aren't they talking about extortion? Bribery goes the other direction, no?
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:13 PM on April 1, 2011


The easiest way to end bribery is to increase transparency.

So if you're going to a public office to get some permit or other, that public space should be video'ed and audio recorded.

With cameras and digital memory being so cheap these days, it'd be a cinch to implement.

In fact, it doesn't even require government fiat. How about just having a sign on your chest. "I am videotaping this entire transaction, ASK ME FOR A BRIBE AND YOU GET TO BE ON YOUTUBE"
posted by storybored at 2:35 PM on April 1, 2011


Mental Wimp: Bribes can be extorted. From the Free Online Law Dictionary [emphasis mine]: bribery The offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties.


storybored: 'Cheap' is relative. The post is about India, where a lot of the people who would pay bribes would be too poor to own a camera or an internet connection. They might even need to bribe someone to get an internet connection.
posted by bardophile at 11:17 PM on April 1, 2011


In fact, it doesn't even require government fiat. How about just having a sign on your chest. "I am videotaping this entire transaction, ASK ME FOR A BRIBE AND YOU GET TO BE ON YOUTUBE"

Yeah. If people could afford cameras, and were able to do that without being punched in the face and having their camera confiscated, that might be a plan.

Ceetainly, there are currently individuals capable of taking that challenge.

One of the problems with covert (non-sing-bearing) surveillance is, much of the time, the person expecting the bribe doesn't ask. They wait, and they stall.
posted by zennie at 5:27 AM on April 2, 2011


Thanks, bardophile. I had mistakenly assumed that when an official required a personal payment for doing a duty, it was called extortion and when someone offered a personal payment , it was bribe. It seems to me that the proposal in the OP would only influence extorted bribes, not the other kind.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:22 PM on April 2, 2011


I Paid a Bribe seems like an interesting site, and was mentioned in the paper as a good place to get a view of bribery in India.

I find it odd that people would find this policy "distasteful." The person paying the bribe in these situations is pretty much in a lose-lose situation (pay the illegal bribe, or lose whatever legitimate claim they were making, which may well have been a source of large investment or livelihood), and the law as it stands gives them no recourse. Changing the law so it does not penalize people who are being coerced into illegal activities seems morally right, and aligning the interests of the law and those who are victims of corruption seems like a potentially more effective policy than one that creates "partners in crime" out of victims and abusers.
posted by carmen at 7:53 AM on April 3, 2011


the law as it stands gives them no recourse.

Actually, from what I understand, the author is simply making more explicit something that the law already implies. It seems that right now, you have to get the authorities involved beforehand, i.e. refuse to pay the bribe, go to the authorities to get a sting operation going, etc.

The real problem is one that has been pointed out: The issue is not that the authorities don't have ample knowledge of corruption. There is nothing, other than lack of will, preventing the authorities from going after corrupt officials. This new proposal does nothing to address that core problem. Since it doesn't address that core problem, the person who reports the bribe-giver is still going to be hit with that double-whammy of being out of money and being in the bribe taker's bad books, with all of the attendant consequences of being in their bad books. e.g. The power company lineman asks for a bribe before he is willing to take a look at whatever has caused a power outage in your neighbourhood. You refuse to pay, and you report him. He has a good enough network that no one bothers to prosecute him. Now the next time you have a power outage, what are you going to do?

As far as the "creating partners in crime" thing goes, I think that's disingenuous or naive of the author. The claim implies that there IS secrecy in all this. That's simply not true. It's untrue enough that the officer who doesn't take bribes is a rarity.

I'm reminded of a story a colleague of mine told me about her brother/cousin, who works in Customs. He was the supervising officer at the Lahore airport and a traveler came home with goods on which duties were due, and didn't want to pay. So the traveler tried to talk to the customs inspector about "working out an arrangement." The inspector takes the traveler to where you can see the staff parking lot and points out a beat-up old Suzuki FX (800cc car, last manufactured in 1988, the classic "I have no money but I need a car" car in Pakistan), badly in need of a paint job and some body work. "Vo gaari dekh rahe hain aap?(You see that car over there?)" the inspector says. It's the worst car in the lot, so there's no chance of him not seeing it. "Vo humaarai afsar sahib ki gaari hai. Hum aap ki koi madad nahin kar sakte (That's the boss's car. There's nothing we can do to help you.)"

Whether or not you believe the story actually happened the way it was told to me, the point is: government officials who don't take bribes are the stuff of legend.
posted by bardophile at 12:55 AM on April 4, 2011


When I was managing international installs for a large ISP, there were certain countries where it was just assumed that nothing would happen on their end until someone local showed up at the local Telecom offices, and took some clerk or manager out to a long, expensive lunch, during which time the bribes would take place. Having to budget for this really, really grated on me, but the locals always seemed to justify it as the cost of doing business. The exception to this was when the recipient of a high-speed internet connection was a member of the ruling class, wealthy, or otherwise influential locally -- they could always get the last mile connections done fast -- or maybe they were paying the bribes themselves.
posted by Blackanvil at 1:18 PM on April 4, 2011


Some discussion over at Bruce Schneier's blog.
posted by vidur at 1:08 PM on April 5, 2011


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