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Ask HN: How does the US manage to have no bribery at lower levels?
74 points by dev12345 on Oct 29, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 72 comments
I moved to US from India about 9 years ago. I appreciate all gov departments being corruption free ( as far as interaction points are concern). India is far from it, I do believe it's part of evaluation and India will be like this one day. but just wondering how it happened here?

A mixture of cultural norms and legal norms. As to cultural norms, I'll give an example. Go to a Starbucks and note how people don't crowd around the bar area where the drinks come out. People will stand in a wide circle around the bar, because nobody wants people to think that they're not waiting their turn. This attitude is indoctrinated from elementary school, where teachers chastise kids for cutting in line or not "playing fair." That same attitude inhibits corruption. Taking a bribe isn't "playing fair." It's shameful and socially ostracized in a way that it isn't in India or Bangladesh (my family is Bengali). In India, everyone will crowd around the bar because appearing like you're "looking out for yourself first" is much more socially acceptable.

As for legal norms: bribery and kickbacks are prosecuted strongly in the U.S. The federal government being separate from the state governments means that federal prosecutors have no inhibitions about going after state and local government officials. Moreover, low-level things like bribery are easy to prosecute because it's easy to prove that money changed hands.

This reminds me of a great study about the relationship between cultural and legal norms in looking at corruption. Because of the UN, nearly every country has a diplomat in New York, and because of diplomatic immunity, none of them are responsible for their parking tickets. So you effectively had to rely on their own cultural norms about how to behave with your car, rather than legal enforcement. They found that there was a strong correlation between the number of parking tickets issued to diplomats from a country and independent measures of corruption in that country, showing that the norms really were an important part, and carried over even into a different environment.

You can find the whole paper here: http://www.nber.org/papers/w12312

there was a strong correlation between the number of parking tickets issued to diplomats from a country and independent measures of corruption in that country, showing that the norms really were an important part, and carried over even into a different environment.

That makes sense, in the same way that you'll find that Americans tend to tip even in countries where tipping is not customary. The real question is how did those cultural norms start in the first place?

So what does it say that US diplomats have the most unpaid congestion charge in London?


Since the article only quotes total amounts owed (US diplomats owing 7.2 million out of a total of 67 million), it probably just says the US sends more diplomats to the UK than most other countries.

The notion that federal, state, and local executive branch authorities are independent is taken for granted in the US but I believe is unusual from a global point of view.

I believe de Tocqueville had a lot to say about this in 'Democracy in America' but I couldn't quickly find a pithy quote.

Indeed. There are plenty of cases of local and/or state level corruption in the US, but there is also the FBI who has the responsibility of tracking that corruption and prosecuting offenders.

In the US, there are "the police who watch the police": the FBI. But their powers are relatively limited in scope... the FBI does not do routine traffic stops, or patrol neighborhoods. So even if the FBI were corrupt, the typical citizen wouldn't come across them very often.

Is there a local Mayor or Governor who is accepting bribes or illegal kickbacks? Call the FBI on them. Is there a local police officer who is giving trouble? Are the local courts too corrupt to prosecute the officer?

Then prosecute him in Federal Court, for federal corruption crimes.

Similarly, FBI Agents are still subject to the rules of the towns and states that they go under. Even if the Feds were corrupt... the State Attorney can prosecute any FBI Agent that oversteps their bounds.

"In Europe a criminal is an unhappy man who is struggling for his life against the agents of power, while the people are merely a spectator of the conflict; in America he is looked upon as an enemy of the human race, and the whole of mankind is against him." Although it should be noted that people lived in much smaller towns two centuries ago. http://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper/DETOC/1_ch05.htm

I think that bribery is too pervasive to be based on cultural norms. I take it as a sign of disorganization and lack of professionalism in government and institutions, which is a sign of weak rule of law and a weak ability to govern. Establishing order and predictability in society is the core function of government, and that's incompatible with officials not taking their jobs seriously and accepting bribes.

It's a self-perpetuating cycle, whether for better or for worse: children in the US grow up expecting professionalism in government, and children in most other countries learn not to expect it.

I agree and would like to add 2 more point ...i.e "population" and "education" .... countries with high population has high corruption because gap between rich and poor increases along with heavy unbearable weight on providing food, housing, education and other infrastructure ....

same goes with literacy rate: highly literate society has low corruption ...

There have been really bad failures in parts of the US at various times in the past. One county had unfair elections until its young men came back from fighting WW2. http://www.behindbluelines.com/2013/01/09/the-second-amendme...

This is a very popular topic in development economics, and there's a rich literature looking at India specifically and developing countries more generally, but there isn't one definitive theory on the origins of corruption. Here's a quick primer from the World Bank that goes over a number of potential causes: http://www1.worldbank.org/publicsector/anticorrupt/corruptn/...

Outlining a few, in no particular order, that are probably relevant to your comparison between the US and India (although I don't know India as well): 1) Public sector employees in the United States are relatively well compensated, such that they don't need to supplement their income with bribes, and the fear of losing their job is a significant deterrent.

2) There are laws that prevent politicians from firing civil servants and giving the jobs to their supporters (this was not the case 200 years ago), so patronage networks are less powerful.

3) There are relatively effective checks on large scale corruption through independent layers of law enforcement agencies and a separate judicial system.

4) The state has relatively less control over the lives of ordinary citizens, so there are relatively fewer opportunities to extract rents.

5) There is a very engaged, sophisticated civil society in the US with interests in keeping the rules of the game consistent and fair. Significant corruption will cause a significant backlash from these stakeholders.

6) The institutions in the United States are more established, and have spent more time developing the necessary checks, balances, and management norms that keep them free from corruption.

7) Cultural norms play an important role. There is a theory that knowing the rules of the game and consistently applying them is more important than the level of corruption. In many countries, corruption is simply "the way things are done."

I think corruption is closer to the natural state of man and doesn't need any explanation. What needs an explanation is how do you get from a natural state of disorder to a society and government that function like clockwork? There's obviously no easy answer, because few countries have done it.

> natural state of man

why on earth would you assume a static natural state given what we know about evolution?

Evolutionary psychology is one of my pet peeves.

The notion that evolution determines complex human behaviors like corruption presupposes that humans are guided to a large extent by instinct. What else is a genetically-coded behavior, if not an instinct? You have to accept a world where people think they are selecting a course of action based on situations, but, actually, our orders come silently through instinct, whispering in our ear, calling all the shots, enlisting us to concoct situation-based fictions to cover the tracks.

Instinct exists in animals, for sure, but we aren't very close to working out the mechanisms for how genes code for proteins that code for behaviors. How to make a protein that encodes bribery is way beyond our knowledge. I don't think there's any doubt that humans can do things that are not literally written into DNA, so why create such a large role for instinct, which we have almost no understanding of?

I think corruption comes from disorder, which is the form things take by default. Self-seeking doesn't need an explanation, because everyone needs to take care of themselves just to exist. People looking out for themselves is an invariant, what varies is how they go about it.

I agree that an assumption of some kind of context-free "natural state" is silly, but I don't think it's what we know about evolution that motivates this. Evolution "says" there probably aren't purely genetic complex differences between people, and that's probably true over long time scales in terms of human history.

I didn't mean my reference to a natural state to be taken so literally. In this kind of literature, you see lots of references to the Hobbesian jungle, but I don't think many people think it's a scientific concept to be taken literally.

Yeah, that probably came off a little harsher than I meant it.

"There are relatively effective checks on large scale corruption through independent layers of law enforcement agencies and a separate judicial system."

...unless you have money. then you're untouchable. i.e. the financial industry.

I know you think you're being smart, or cute, or whatever, but this is completely off topic and irrelevant to the conversation at hand.

There have been prosecutions of financial industry wrongdoers in the United States recently, with some convictions. I personally think that more prosecutions are warranted, but prosecutions of complicated criminal schemes take time.

We had a discussion a while back on this piece: http://ftp.iza.org/dp5584.pdf titled "The Empire Is Dead, Long Live the Empire! Long-Run Persistence of Trust and Corruption in the Bureaucracy". It discussed how European communities once under the rule of the Habsburg empire were, many decades later, very much lower-corruption places than very similar places that were not. The paper is relevant to your interests.

"Do empires affect attitudes towards the state long after their demise? We hypothesize that the Habsburg Empire with its localized and well-respected administration increased citizens’ trust in local public services. In several Eastern European countries, communities on both sides of the long-gone Habsburg border have been sharing common formal institutions for a century now. Identifying from individuals living within a restricted band around the former border, we find that historical Habsburg affiliation increases current trust and reduces corruption in courts and police. Falsification tests of spuriously moved borders, geographic and pre-existing differences, and interpersonal trust corroborate a genuine Habsburg effect. "


Previous discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2618993

Yeah but the US and India, which the OP is comparing were both part of the British Empire.

Indeed former British holdings span all extremes of corruption from the Sudan to New Zealand and every flavor in between.

It's helpful to remember that the British took very different methods of governance among different colonies at different times. They very much used different means depending upon the local situation and what they were trying to get out of a colony. Also colonies that were populated by British people (US, Canada, etc.) have a very different cultural and social heritage than the colonies where Britain showed up in a pre-existing society with established norms.

1. Bribery absolutely exists at the lower levels of US agencies, it is just less prevalent than it is elsewhere. The people at the DMV or IRS are not going to blatantly ask for a bribe, but from time to time you can hear news of some low-level worker being arrested for accepting payments for illegal transactions.

2. Auditing is strong. It is hard to spend "off the books" money in the US, except in very tiny amounts. This is such a serious problem for criminals that the mafia has been known to play the lottery as a form of money laundering.

3. Government salaries are sufficient for the things bribes might buy elsewhere: your own apartment, a functioning car, the cost of children, an occasional vacation, etc. The incentives to take bribes are lower here.

[EDIT: Also worth mentioning is that the incentives to give bribes are lower. You do not need to bribe anyone to get a passport, a plane ticket, permission to buy or sell a car, etc. It is only when you start looking at things that most people never deal with that you will start seeing bribery: permits to build large buildings, exemptions from environmental rules, etc.]

[EDIT: Example for point 1:


"This is such a serious problem for criminals that the mafia has been known to play the lottery as a form of money laundering."

I wanted to comment on this that if you are referring to what I think you're referring to, it's not quite how you make it seem. The expected yield on a lottery ticket is somewhere in the magnitude of 50-70%, meaning: if you buy a lot of tickets, you will probably get a net yield of something between those numbers. However, the large amounts of tickets you have to buy / check / redeem do not make this a viable laundering strategy. You'll leave traces if you do this at scale, for example if you bought the owner of a local bodega to get you tickets 'wholesale', like boxes at a time; then the lotteries will easily spot patterns of sellers doing unusual transactions.

What I think you are referring to, is the (alleged) practice of criminals paying above-market prices (in cash) for casino chips or lottery tickets. Let's say you win $100. For a criminal, if he pays you $110 for that ticket, he has a laundering cost of only 9%, because he can redeem that ticket as 100$ in clean money. 9% is quite cheap; it's not uncommon to account for 30, 40% in costs when laundering money. And since lotteries and casinos are about big amounts, you only need one such transaction to launder sizable amounts. As the original winner, you end up with more than you won, but you can spend it only on holidays, restaurants and other cash-friendly activities.

(all examples are ignoring taxes etc, for which you'd have to correct to make the numbers work in reality)

you can hear news of some low-level worker being arrested for accepting payments for illegal transactions

This does happen, but it might be worth distinguishing two kinds of low-level bribery: 1) clerks can be bribed to look the other way on something, or even assist in it, usually "out-of-band" when you've meet them elsewhere and arranged a plan; or 2) clerks must be bribed by slipping them some cash to get legal things done.

The U.S. has almost none of #2: if you legitimately have business with a government office, you can just follow the official rules, file your paperwork, and it'll get processed in line. In some countries you're expected to slip in a $20 with the paperwork, or it will never get processed, while doing so in the U.S would probably either not help, or actually delay your paperwork as the clerk figures out what additional paperwork they need to file about this unexpected cash. It's completely unexpected and usually unwelcome to do that kind of "cold" bribe, where you just slip someone you've never met some money; they might even suspect you of being a cop.

Both are bad, but in somewhat different ways; #2 is particularly influential on corruption perceptions, because regular people run into it when doing mundane things.

> from time to time you can hear news of some low-level worker being arrested for accepting payments for illegal transactions

The fact that you hear about low-level workers taking bribes shows how profoundly uncommon it is.

Many reasons in my opinion (having lived in both countries)

1. Income disparity: Gov. officials are mostly lower middle class even from Indian standards. So they are probably making a few thousands Rupees which is not quite there with the cost of living there specially in cities. Some people however are so rich that they can easily pay the bribe which gets the job done in no time. Again, there are efforts to bridge this gap but not easy for a country of the size of India. In the US, income disparity b/w rich and poor is not that bad (even though it seems like the gap is increasing b/w the so called super rich and rest)

2. Enforcement of law: In India, there is pretty much a law for everything like any other developed country but the enforcement is almost none. So people taking bribes are less scared and more confident that no one is going to do anything. Yes people are trying to fix that but it's a long haul.

3. Resource availability: Most basic resources like cooking gas etc. are a big pain to get. Lot of smaller cities/towns and villages still rely on getting cooking gas cylinders from the vendors etc as one example. There is no integrated pipeline. Thee is a fight for pretty much everything even when you have the money. It is changing as well but not there yet.

4. Mentality: Indians are brought up seeing bribery as part of a life. Most of them don't even realize how bad it is until they get exposed to more developed countries like the US etc. So there is this saying "chalta hai" which literally translates to "it's ok to do this".

Hong Kong, today one of the least corrupt places, was a few decades ago one of the MOST corrupt. What changed? They set up an independent commission to investigate and prosecute corruption and made it independent of most of government. Things were dicey for a while, but eventually corruption all but disappeared in daily life. The United States has as one of its founding principles that powers must be separated, so here if you do take a bribe, there are multiple independent agencies that can come after you, and most importantly, send you to jail and take away your ill-gotten wealth. This simply doesn't exist with equivalent force in India.

Oh, btw, please spare me the bs about Anglo-Saxon moral superiority. The history of India and indeed the world is replete with so many broken Anglo-Saxon promises that this is simply a joke. There's a reason it's called "perfidious Albion".

IANA Sociologist! However, I think culture, history, and habit are more important than economics in generating the phenomenon you describe. It will be difficult for any polity to transfer from one corruption regime to another.

My theory is that in USA big corruption drives out little corruption. We have the systems in place for massive transfers from the public to the bureaucracy, to government vendors and their lobbyists, to the "elect". (Which transfers are "leaky": lots of money is extracted at each step, but there's still plenty left over.) Those systems are jealous, and they punish nonconformity. Individuals may only be "entrepreneurial" in approved ways; e.g. cops may not take bribes on the side of the road, but they're encouraged to feather their nests through forfeiture and hardball union tactics. Lawmakers can't just stuff fat stacks of bribery cash into their refrigerators, but they're totally free to sign up for sweetheart "investment" deals. Then again, there is basically nothing that officials at the Treasury Department aren't allowed to do. Maybe that's the exception that "proves" the rule?

The system is "superior" to China's, for example, because there the extensive low-level corruption focuses attention on corruption on every level. If the "communist" Grand Poobahs don't get a handle on the low-level stuff the whole edifice might come crashing down around them.

I think one of the biggest deterrents is the distribution of wealth. The gap between rich and poor in the US is much smaller in the US. In India, you might have a low-level government official making $300/mo and a millionaire businessman applying for a permit. A $100 bribe to speed along the process is nothing for the millionaire, but significant for the official. In the US, that same official would make $5000/month, so you'd have to make that bribe more attractive to risk losing his job and going to jail.

The same with police officers. In the Philippines, my brother-in-law was pulled over for speeding. He offered the cop PHP100 ($2.50) and we were on our way. Cops make $50-100k per year where I live, so you'd have to bribe them at least a few hundred or thousand (and take the risk that they arrest you for offering a bribe). You'd be better off paying the speeding ticket which is only $100-200.

"In the US, that same official would make $5000/month"

This is an important aspect of the US system, .gov salaries and staffing have remained relatively constant over the past couple decades as the overall standard of living of the population has dramatically declined. Public school teacher has gone from a pretty blah job for 2nd class citizens (just speaking the truth of how they felt about them at the time) to one of the few remaining decent middle class jobs in many areas. Its not the .gov jobs have gone up in pay or status or quality, its that all the .com jobs have descended deeply. So a DMV clerk knows darn well that a .com clerk doing the same job can now only hope to earn a hair over minimum wage... That keeps him honest. He's already the highest paid counter-person in the entire county, what exactly are you supposed to offer him to top that?

Another example, the old "those who can, do, those who can't, teach" Well a shop instructor in the old days might have made only half what a tool and die worker in the industry would make. But, the hours are better, working conditions are way better, arguably safer, some just like to teach... Fast forward from 1970 to 2010 and the shop instructor is still making the same pay, its just that most of the industry has left so frankly the comparative real world pay for the same guy with the same skills in .com world would be whatever gas station attendants get, or most likely whatever SS disability pays. Good luck bribing him for a better grade.

That's the problem I see with recent calls to massively drop .gov pay scales to keep them in line with the imploding standard of living in the USA.... You start paying the DMV clerk only as much as the counter lady at the supermarket, which is probably $7.25 part time no benefits no health insurance, in the short term you clean up financially, in the long term that DMV clerk is going to flood the market with fake IDs and such. I mean, why not? This job used to pay a living wage, well I'm going to get a living wage one way or another, unless that clerk is suicidal.

Its the same deal with cops. I had some friends who did the mall rentacop type jobs; literally minimum wage no benefits no health insurance often 1099 psuedo-contractors. You can bribe a mall cop, or so I'm told. The same guy with the same skills and education who makes it onto the force and starts pulling down $75K/yr instead of $7.50/hr is simply un bribe able.

You can't bribe royalty or the elite, or at least not as well as you can bribe poor people.

Source for the standard of living in the US decreasing over the past couple decades? I'm genuinely curious, as it seems like our material wealth has increased, as well as life expectancy.

> In the US, that same official would make $5000/month, so you'd have to make that bribe more attractive to risk losing his job and going to jail.

Which a millionaire can still easily afford to bribe him with a third of his monthly salary ($1700). If you go grab the Freedom House rankings or another such measure of corruption, you're not going to find that per capita income or Gini explain all of the variation from country to country.

Correct, but the point is that $5000/month is more than enough to get by on, so even getting doubling your income with a bribe has less marginal utility, especially when you're risking your job.

In contrast, an extra $100 for someone who is just scraping by could be make or break for that month.

> Correct, but the point is that $5000/month is more than enough to get by on

This is completely ad hoc and the interest of most people in acquiring ever more money suggests there is no saturation point.

Which a millionaire can still easily afford to bribe him with a third of his monthly salary ($1700)

The distribution of wealth in countries like India is such that the millionaire in India is likely just as wealthy as the millionaire in the US (if not more so). Given that fact, it is much easier to give out $100 bribes on a regular basis in India than it is to give out $1700 bribes in the US. My brother-in-law can give out $2.50 bribes a few times a week (he is wealthy by US standards but lives in the Philippines) much easier than I could give Los Angeles cops $500 bribes a few times a week.

But does that official in the US act as a gatekeeper for anything that the millionaire cares about ? I would suggest that mostly they don't.

People in the US don't need to get driver's licenses, building permits, and all the other stuff people in other countries need to get?

In the US small town police are often a source of corruption. I have several acquaintances who've been pulled over in small towns while traveling interstate and been asked for donations not to get issued tickets (for nonexistent violations)just so that they wouldn't have to come back to take care of it. (And to be fair, this is much more common near the southern border. So it's a little more complex and unusual.)

There are different categories of corruption:

1. Bribes for government service

2. Government officials siphoning off resources

3. Government officials offering lucrative contracts/appointments to their friends or to people who bribed them.

I am no sociologist, but I can offer hypotheses for the first 2.

1. I think relative inequality might have a lot to do with this one. Although inequality is higher in the US than it is in India, people in the lower income bracket are able to afford a relatively decent standard of living. Also most government officials make middle class income. The marginal benefit of a bribe is very low and the marginal risk is very high. In India, some of the lower level civil servants/policemen make below-middle class wages (or maybe middle class by Indian standards.. I don't know). The marginal benefit of even a small bribe is very high. The marginal risk (due to factors I can't quantify... ie chance of getting caught, consequences, etc) is very low.

2. In the United States, a much higher portion of the population pays federal, state, and local taxes. In India only 2% of the population pays taxes. This is not quantified but I have a hypothesis: Countries where most people pay taxes have citizens who expect greater accountability from their elected/appointed officials because it is THEIR money. In India the average voter has no remote reason to demand his/her elected official to be accountable because its not HIS/HER money being wasted.

3. This might be the same reason as above. I don't really have a hypothesis for this one.

Once again, these are just hypotheses that I have. I am not an economist, sociologist, or an academic of any kind and I do not have any data to back it up. Just anecdotal evidence.

I think the best hypothesis for 3 is political corruption - companies in the US can give money to Political Candidates during elections, and elected officials typically don't hurt, and indeed actively and vocally endorse, the interests of their donors - and this is not frowned upon.

In the US, the risks from bribery outweigh the rewards.

In India, if you don't bribe, you may not get your water turned back on. And if you don't accept the bribe, you may not be able to put food on the table because your low salary implicitly expects you to take the bribe. In that sense, a bribe is more of a tip.

I have heard plenty of stories of people in India being pulled over by cops only to slow down the car, roll down the window and slip a bill equivalent to $1-$4 without ever stopping the car.

Funny; I've always considered a tip to be a form of bribery.

As with tipping, everything is in the 'social norm'.

Historically it was a cultural thing. Many of the institutions in US government are designed around neighbors being part of the system on an elected basis. If you have a sense of community, you look out for your neighbors. So if someone is breaking into your neighbor's house you might call the police, similarly if you've been elected to a local council and someone is taking bribes which is making your neighbors lives less "good" then you prosecute that.

Unfortunately, as the sense of community has worn thin, corruption has become more common. Politically fostering a 'us' (people) and 'them' (government) attitude seems to correlate with increased incidence of government malfeasance. And the number of incidents has risen according to statistics published by the FBI.

I believe the only counter agent we have is for wider participation by the population which is intolerant of corruption.

Many good answers here. I also moved from many years ago, and noticed the same trends. Just to add additional points:

1) I think the lack of low-level corruption not just in US, but even developed Asian countries like Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan also indicates that reducing the wealth gap, govt. salaries (esp. Singapore), rule-of-law etc.. has a factor.

Some of these countries have similar cultural histories and affinities to India, and yet they have been able to overcome these weaknesses.

It will be good to hear what folks from these countries think about their own experiences here.

2) In US, lot of things that are considered 'corruption' in other countries are somewhat legalized - e.g. lobbying and so forth. Granted it is more at a higher level with much larger amounts in play, but even here, there is some degree of transparency.

International comparisons of corruption, such as those by Transparency International[1] may suggest some reasons why countries vary in their level of corruption. Rule of law and an independent judiciary appear to help, and I'm still mulling over what cultural factors (for example, most commonly followed religion in one country or another) may have to do with differing levels of corruption.

[1] http://www.transparency.org/whatwedo/publications

I think this is a very good question, worthy of discussion.

I believe the main reason is that the establishment of the U.S. Government held strongly to a principle of Checks and Balances, which trickled down to local governments. We have police and we have police of police (so to speak).

Of course nothing is perfect, and lately it seems like things may not be working quite as well as they had. e.g. Cops have gotten very trigger happy and no one has called them on it; plea deals have become the norm in court; and unwarranted wiretapping has grown to scary levels.

Just a week ago I returned to US after three week visit to India and Japan.

Based on my recent experiences, I will say bribery problem in India is due to:

1. Lack of sense of community in 'givers'. For example, when a group of people are waiting for something, they don't feel sense of community of 'waiting together'. Everybody is looking a way to be not part of that community enabling 'takers' to solicit bribery so that someone doesn't need to wait with others.

2. Too many laws and bureaucracy that enable more points of solicitation by 'takers'. For example, while traveling on a tourist bus, the bus was stopped by a cop. The cop solicited bribe from driver because the first-aid kit had a partially used tube of ointment and some passengers were hanging newspapers and shawls on windows to block out sunlight. There is no reason to create laws for every little thing giving more opportunities for 'takers'.

But there were some positive signs. It appears younger generation is becoming less tolerant for bribery and corruption. It was nice to see that some young people on the bus were trying to take picture of 'corrupt' cop using mobile phones to post online. Of course, these young people and driver were scolded by older people on the bus (lack of sense of community) for delaying the bus as cop took driver far away from bus to avoid being photographed.

I'm paraphrasing and probably not being perfectly accurate, but when I took comparative politics in school (only time I studied this), one of the things that came up as factors influencing corruption was quality infrastructure so that citizens can move around without having to involve government (which, in general, is a goal of the American system).

Corruption is correlated to genetic relatedness (inbreeding/consanguinity)[1].

I've seen a hypothesis that the introduction of Christianity in North/Western Europe changed mating patterns and reduced consanguinity, thereby enabling the rule of law that European society was known for developing in the early modern period[2]. A caveat - while I find the hypothesis intriguing, I'm not sure how well this hypothesis explains other areas of the world that have developed low-corruption society, and I don't know the consanguinity of India.

[1] http://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/consanguinity-corru...


Has anyone mentioned free media?

In the US you rise to the top of the media pile by dishing the dirt.

Naming and shaming does amazing things.


Top-down control and decent pay.

Long Version

Compartmentalizing access and control to important processes makes it hard for anyone at a lower level to take a bribe. For instance, you couldn't pay off somebody at your local DMV for a license or ID, since the clerk has to enter your provided values (SSN, forms of identification) into a system that is out of their control. It's not impossible, just difficult.

Paying employees enough (government employees are typically overpaid when comparing their salary / job duties to similar private sector positions) to keep the difficulty/risk:reward ratio moderately high reduces, using basic economics, the risk of corruption.

On the Contrary

Keeping controls at a high level, and removing discretion puts the power in the hands of the few. And, as we've all heard before, power corrupts. Worth noting, however, is that power doesn't so much corrupt as does the intrinsic problem solving skills of the human mind. The idea that power corrupts is a false attribution fallacy applied to something that is grossly noticeable (nobody notices when somebody speeds a little or steals a pen from work, but when it's something large (affected by somebody in power), it becomes noticeable). The point is that the lack of corruption at a lower level indicates a mathematical inevitability of corruption at a higher level (e.g., the cozy relationships between Fannie May and Freddy Mac and various Senators, namely our current president)).

I don't know about the US, but I live in Canada, where we have very little to no corruption. By contrast, my wife comes from one of the world's most corrupt nations, which I have visited. A few factors I've seen:

- Wage disparity. In corrupt nations government officials are poorly paid. In a place like Canada, they make a liveable salary, with good job security for unelected (ie. service) workers.

- Enforcement of laws - our police force is well-paid, and politicians are subject to the law like any citizen.

I think the biggest difference is culture though. Maybe because of our immigrant roots, there's a culture of working for what you have. Not breaking the rules. Canadians are hesitant to break even social norms that aren't law. Maybe because of how we're brought up, we've learned to respect the 'social contract'.

Even my wife, who grew up with corruption being a part of everyday life (in her country something as simple as getting the police to respond to a crime in progress requires bribery - many communities have gangs that keep the peace in the absence of the police), had quickly adjusted to Canadian life (even when I met her I didn't know she was an immigrant), and sees the benefits of following laws, even when they're easy to break.

And another theory that may have weight - the weather. Where I live it's winter for half the year. As I write this our city is a cold, snowy wasteland. Survival means cooperation. It's quite possible that this spirit of cooperation has been instilled in the culture, preventing widespread class-conflict, and cooperation between immigrant cultures that normally wouldn't get along in their home countries...

    > .... I live in Canada, where we have very little to no 
    > corruption...
Or it could be that Canadians rarely hear about corruption, and think that everything is fine. As the saying goes: "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."


I'd wager that we're still one of the least-corrupt nations. In this case, people have been fired from their jobs and charged with crimes.


And there still is no comparison with India or other 3rd world countries in how prevalent corruption is...

I am reading the question as what historical accidents made it socially acceptable.

Here is a factor that I think might play a role: there is a lot more power in the sub-continent at lower levels of government. Specifically, the SP/DCP system allows the local policeman to act as a unilateral mini-judge, often settling disputes to his (rarely are they female) liking. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superintendent_(police)

This inordinate power gives them a lot more scope for corruption. This system was set up specifically because the British needed to control a vast country with a few people that had to be posted to various regions.

I also agree with the other people who point out that poverty plays a role.

I know of an instance in India where one of my friend's friend had to leave his executive government job (while in the initial two years of appointment after after graduation and clearing a tough entrance exam) because he wanted to stand by his principles whereas there was constant pressure to budge in many instances. He chose to stand by his value system and doing some other job less powerful but more lucrative in the corporate sector.

This is a repeating theme of officers who standby the truth not able to withstand the system.

Another thing I wish that can change is the "jugaad" attitude. This was popularized by some of the management thinkers [1]. In its most benevolent it can mean "frugal innovation" or "make things work with the available resources". In its every day use though, it means "getting things done - regardless of the means - that is through connections or influencing through money etc.,". The idea is to get things done quickly somehow.

Understandably, this attitude leads to lot of "quality-less" work being passed on for what it should not be otherwise. Things are not looked at from a permanent solution perspective.

I wish people learn the right attitude from childhood (not cutting into lines, managers treating employees as people and not take them for granted etc.,) and do things right and well rather than do some "jugaad" and quickly be done with it as a temp fix only to stare at the problem again in a shorter time than it is supposed to last.

Of course, there are towering well known counter examples like Gandhi and not-so-well-known to western audience like Kamaraj [2] and Kakkan[3]. These were self-less political leaders who were honest to the core and died almost penniless. Somehow slowly the quality has been diluting over 50+ years and reached a stage of stasis as it is now.

Edit: added qualifier on references 2 and 3.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jugaad [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K._Kamaraj [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._Kakkan

There's also the issue of the historical economic legacy of the Licence Raj - state planning often leads to built in corruption as circumventing state bureaucracy becomes the only way to get something done. It gets overlooked semi-officially because officials like the results it yields. Just because you change to a more freer economic system system doesn't mean that ingrained culture of corruption goes away. Russia was very similar in the 90s.

"Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World"


... culture probably plays a strong role. Americans have a very different standard of fairness than a lot of the non-western planet.

There is a great book that you might want to read, which gets at the thought process at the individual level. It's about a cop who stood up to corruption in his precinct. The movie is good too:


I'm sure there are lots of reasons, but idealistic people like this must be one of the factors.

America is corrupt TO THE CORE. Unlike India however, the corruption does not take place in front of you.

A belief in anything else is irrational.

One of the main reasons is the existence of a developed Bureaucracy. While Bureaucratic institutions are inefficient and inflexible, the trade off is that they are generally fair. Bill Gates waits in line at the DMV just like the rest of us. There's no way around it.

There are plenty of very bureaucratic nations that are also very corrupt. India is actually one of those, as are China and Russia.

It's about accountability. Where the bureaucrats do not feel accountable to the public, this undermines the sense of responsibility. In China and other communist or totalitarian countries, such as many countries in the Middle East, the bureaucrats are part of the ruling political class. They feel no particular responsibility to the people at all and therefore there is no tradition of public service.

I suspect this is also partly the case in India, with it's system of political patronage, but I'm not as familiar with it as China or the Middle East.

India has a highly developed bureaucracy, which is indeed inefficient and inflexible. But there is a way around it, bribery.

Actually though, high degrees of automation make bribery hard. You cant bribe a computer program.

I agree with you 100% . A program, for example to do property transaction will solve problems in that sector. Unfortunately its a chicken egg problem. policy maker won't let a program replace manual processing which has high opportunity of doing wrong and get away with it.

On a side note Yes, Train reservation system is much better now compare to what it was back in 1990s. There is no room left of corruption. I guess India need a strong leader which is not in for profit and he/she may do such small deed which will help India evolve out of current state

Wouldn't it be appropriate to generalize to Anglo-Saxon countries rather than only the US?

"It is easy for a rich man to be virtuous" - Indian Prime minister Morarji Desai said, when a journalist asked him the same question during his US visit. So, simple answer - Reduce poverty.

They manage it by making you believe that there is no bribery ;)

We make up for it at the higher levels. ;)

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