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Winnipeg ‘chocolategate’: Does a box of treats come with strings attached? (theglobeandmail.com)
44 points by pseudolus 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 23 comments



"But even token gifts such as a box of chocolates or a coffee mug can have a surprisingly large (albeit subconscious) effect. Trinkets and baubles – small gifts of all kinds – help to establish a friendly relationship between the gift-giver and the gift recipient. As one researcher astutely observes, people who don’t recognize the power of small gifts are precisely those most likely to be influenced, because their defences are down."

I firmly believe in this.

Every year for Christmas I give out $1 scratch-and-win cards to any and all of my co-workers I know that are around for the holidays, and personal Christmas cards to all of the higher ups, including the CEO. It costs me around $100, but I feel like over the course of the year I get way more than $100 in good will from the recipients.


The example doesn't include money, by it reminds me of a different viewpoint that I have about politics.

My belief is that "corruption" is the normal state of traditional government. Previously I had considered this mainly to be about money, but the article makes me think that social factors may play a strong role as well.

Basically, my idea is that it is not realistic to expect people to disregard their social networks and potential profits in the service of the public. It is a nice idea in theory, but it seems that it has been proven that social dynamics and money are stronger motivators than the public good. And that in many circumstances, possible criminal or moral repercussions are not a sufficient deterrent to breaking the public trust.

In my opinion the situation can be improved by better integrating technology into the structure of government, money and society. I think we need more advanced and technical forms of government and money.


> Those who see no ethical problem with small gifts to public servants should try imagining how they would feel if they were litigants in a civil trial and discovered that the judge trying the case had accepted even a free cup of coffee and a doughnut from the other party to the case. [...]

> Similarly, elected officials owe their unbiased judgment to the people who elected them. By accepting gifts, even a token gift such as a box of chocolates, they put at risk the impartiality of their judgment, thereby undermining their ethical obligation as public servants.


The example of the judge is an instructive one, although a little extreme. Due to the immense power vested in judges, even the tiniest perception of bias must be avoided.

For instance, we might find it a bit troubling if the judge in a case is golfing with one of the lawyers on the weekend while the trial is ongoing, even if no gift or consideration is involved. Judges must also take care not to comment publicly on politics and thereby threaten their independence from the executive and legislative branches of government.

In contrast, in the Winnipeg city council example the gift is from the mayor to council members - all of them. They are all elected officials, including the gift-giver, and they work together on a daily basis. In fact, they might in the normal course of their jobs declare open allegiance or opposition to the positions of another member. Unlike a judge, who is sworn to impartiality and must exercise her judgement solely based on the facts before her, politicians are elected by the public based on their express declaration of partiality to a particular set of viewpoints. If we learned that the Mayor golfs with certain city council members who are known to oppose his policies, we might commend him for reaching across the aisle and fostering dialogue.

So while elected officials must be free from bribery, I don't think it's appropriate to apply the same standard with respect to token gifts that we would apply to a judge who acts as a finder of fact within an adversarial system.


Giving a present was not only from the mayor: "A local business was similarly benevolent to councillors, distributing boxes of chocolates."


>The example of the judge is an instructive one, although a little extreme. Due to the immense power vested in judges, even the tiniest perception of bias must be avoided.

You can avoid being subject to a judge by not violating the law.

You cannot avoid being subject to the law.

If you think the "tiniest perception of bias must be avoided"for judges (who interpret the law), then the same extends to those who write it.


If you think the "tiniest perception of bias must be avoided"for judges (who interpret the law), then the same extends to those who write it.

Actually it’s not just his thoughts, it’s the ethical guidelines on the books. The same standards don’t exist for city councils, for obvious and easily comprehensible reasons.

https://www.uscourts.gov/judges-judgeships/code-conduct-unit...


> You can avoid being subject to a judge by not violating the law.

It’s cool that you live in that wonderful country where no one gets thrown into jail unjustly. Unfortunately I live in the United States of America, which is not that country. I have spent three days in jail for something I didn’t do. It is also probably true that everyone violates laws during the day – we simply have too many laws to avoid this from happening.


Even if you want to apply judicial ethical standards to city lawmakers, then a member of city council giving a token gift to another member of city council is most analogous to a judge on a panel giving a token gift to another judge on the same panel which... would probably be OK?

Legislators do not sit in personal, unilateral, legally binding judgement of each other, which is why their personal relationships are not analogous to that of a lawyer and a judge as the original article suggested.


The underlying fallacy is that there's such a thing as an unbiased, impartial human being in the first place.


This is pure sophistry. What is relevant is the degree of impartiality. Nobody is looking for perfection.


It’s not a fallacy, it’s an ideal, a goal to be strived for while accepting human limitations. No one can perfectly design and build a house, but we don’t shrug and say “Perfect right angles are an illusion, enjoy your crooked house.” Besides, there are laws around this concerned with something called *the appearance of impropriety” which is to be avoided by judges, elected officials, and others. You can legitimately get yourself in deep muck, not only by being improper, but by merely seeming to be (to a reasonable person standard).


Sometimes I think this stuff gets way, way, way overblown. Maybe not in the case in the article but let me give you something that happened this week to me.

We've had food trucks out to my office for 3 years and change now. Wednesday it was communicated to us from corporate that we've been supporting something in direct violation of 'company solicitation policies'. That's right, by inviting a food truck out every few weeks, using our own money, on our own time, to buy food to eat on our lunch breaks we are supporting solicitation... facepalm

We get 30 minutes for lunch, we have 2 freezers and 3 microwaves for 100-something people. The closest fast food place is 7 minutes or so away depending on traffic, just walking to your car after clocking out eats up a minute plus. We aren't allowed to eat at our desks.

Are you fucking kidding me? Calm down, we aren't be coerced or bribed by someone selling us overpriced food.


Just have a method of anonymizing the gift giver's identity? That way they can still feel appreciated for their past actions without knowing exactly whom the gift came from.


Unfortunately this would have an added effect of allowing malicious gifts.

On the other hand if someone were to inspect the gifts, that person could (but wouldn't have to) be eager to disclose the identity of the giver.


> How could anyone reasonably suppose that the impartial judgment of city councillors (or anyone else) could be seduced by a gift of such paltry value?

Reminds me of a line in Mitch Albom’s excellent basketball book, The Fab Five: “If you think people aren’t impressed by cakes and liquor, you must be from the suburbs.”


This article has quite a few cringe worthy writing snippets in it. I find the use of leading trick questions to be a terrible habit.

> Common sense would seem to agree with her ruling. How could anyone reasonably suppose that the impartial judgment of city councillors (or anyone else) could be seduced by a gift of such paltry value?

> And yet [...]


If there are no strings attached.... there's no reason to send the gift.


How about as a token of appreciation for their past rather than future behavior?


By rewarding someone for certain past actions you are definitely influencing what their decision would be in a future similar behavior.


That wasn't the claim or my point. The question was whether there's a reason to send the gift, not whether there might be an undesired side effect.


I think that's why this is a problem, because reasonable people can absolutely give a gift without needing to get anything back. In western culture in particular, the expectation of getting something back for a gift is considered crass and impolite. In direct contrast to that, it's also often considered crass not to acknowledge a gift with another gift, thanks, or kindness - so western culture is already pretty inconsistent on how we view gifts.

Also, my apologies, I actually do agree with you that the vast majority of gifts are given without an expectation of payoff - but crafty people can (and absolutely do in the political setting) abuse this to game the system. My comment was more meant to highlight that gift giving is never a one way street, even if that is the high-minded intent.

Aside, to see the inconsistency really well spelled out, look at any tax system that has separate rules for gifts and the qualifications that have been codified to try and prevent the abuse of that system.


Prayer changes the prayer, not the imagined recipient.




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