Corruption Is a State of Mind

Article excerpt


Here's an unexpectedly telling window into poor governance in the Third World: the Egyptian or Chadian diplomat who racks up hundreds of parking tickets. As the Web site reports, two American economists recently discovered in New York City ticket records from 1997 to 2002 demonstrating that diplomats from the world's most corrupt governments also tend to be the likeliest to scoff at New York's parking rules. If ever there were social-scientific evidence that bad behavior in government may be a state of mind, not just a set of bad incentives or institutions, this is it.

As Washingtonians and New Yorkers know, diplomatic immunity shields foreign officials from things like costly parking tickets for blocking fire hydrants or traffic lanes. Diplomats are free to disregard the rules as they see fit: They face no real repercussions for breaking them. To economists Ray Fisman of Columbia University and Edward Miguel of the University of California this was a golden opportunity. Ticket records, they posited, are a good laboratory to watch world diplomats' behavior in a single environment. With no incentive to follow the rules, the numbers should reveal a thing or two about the behavior the "culture," if you will of a government.

Diplomats from African and Middle Eastern countries dominate the list of repeat offenders. Of the 20 worst scofflaw missions, 17 represented countries in those regions. …