Academic journal article The Journal of Philosophical Economics

Research Note on an Experimental Approach to the Intrinsic Motivations of Corruption

Academic journal article The Journal of Philosophical Economics

Research Note on an Experimental Approach to the Intrinsic Motivations of Corruption

Article excerpt

A b str ac t: Even though most of the causes of corruption are easily identifiable at the macro level, there is considerable disagreement when it comes to the intrinsic motivations leading people to engage in this activity. The present paper tries to shed light on the aspect concerning the correlation between corruption and individual performance. This is useful for understanding the dynamics of common events like medical students attempting to bribe their way towards becoming a doctor, or companies bribing public officials to obtain licenses to build public highways, buildings, or provide electricity and water. However, corruption's secretive nature makes it difficult to obtain trustworthy qualitative data on this subject. Hence, the study addresses the issue in the lab, through an experiment based on a bribery game. The results show that there is a significant correlation between performance and propensity to engage in a corrupt activity, opening the way for an improvement in the allocation of resources to reduce this negative phenomenon.

Ke yw or d s: laboratory experiment, trust, game design

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)


Does being a low performer increase individuals' propensity to engage in a corrupt transaction? More exactly, is there a correlation between a person's performance and her corruptibility? The aim of this study is to provide insight related to the behavioural profile of an agent involved in bribery, so as to be able to better direct the resources available towards reducing bribery and corruption.

At the macro level, low economic development, whether the government is centralized or decentralized, short experience with democracy and free trade (Treisman 2001) are among the obvious and most researched causes of corruption. Despite this, there is a lack of comprehension at the micro level concerning what drives people to engage in corrupt activities. A better understanding of these causes is important in finding what institutional changes could be implemented to efficiently fight corruption (Duek et al. 2005).

A clear definition of the problem and its magnitude must be provided in order to see whether there is a real need to address it. Corruption, defined as 'the abuse of entrusted power for private gain'[1] is an important policy concern that breaches the rules of fairness by enabling unworthy people to access advantages at the expense of rightful candidates. According to the World Bank, each year, there are losses between 1 and 1.6 trillion dollars due to illegal activities enabled by corruption. The reason why corruption leads to such high economic losses is because it discourages new investments. Furthermore, it leads to a misallocation of governmental resources, acting as an 'extra tax on citizens, leaving less money for public expenditures' (Uslaner 2011). Decreasing the amounts available for spending on governmental projects, corruption lowers the quality of education, public health systems and infrastructure. Finally, it decreases the wages of public employees and the general public trust in government. This increases people's propensity to engage in corrupt activities, and leads to the creation of a vicious circle.

The most common example of corruption is bribery [2], which concerns 'an illegal act where a person offers money or receives money from another person to influence the actions of a public officer or official' [3]. Despite it being among the first causes leading to the above described negative effects, there are some consequences of bribery worth mentioning. These are related to the fact that this phenomenon provides unworthy candidates with access to certain privileges they do not deserve, and are therefore unable to handle properly. Such situations arise when medical students try to bribe their way towards becoming a doctor, or when bad drivers obtain their driving licenses without legitimately passing the driving test. Even more worrying are events when companies bribe public officials to obtain the license to build public highways, buildings, or to provide electricity and water. …

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