Personal choices reveal our assumptions about human nature and how we see the great historical cycles. Or perhaps this is just how I see it, since our culture has benefited from an internalization of values & sense of personal responsibility. We see these as the mark of maturity – both in a man and in a civilization. Of course, temptations are constant from such a perspective, but this also gives us empowering choices.
Ray Fishman and Edward Miguel’s “Cultures of Corruption: Evidence from Diplomatic Parking Tickets” give us a clue to analyzing whether a nation has internalized its respect for property and the rule of law. I suspect it mainly reveals whether the world is viewed in tribal terms (us & them, those entitled & those not). Those entitled, of course, are not expected to observe the customs of other countries.
We exploit a unique natural experiment – the stationing in New York City of thousands of government officials from 146 countries around the world – in a setting of zero legal enforcement of parking violations to construct a revealed preference measure of official corruption. We find that this measure is strongly correlated with existing measures of home country corruption. This finding suggests that cultural or social norms related to corruption are quite persistent: even when stationed thousands of miles away, diplomats behave in a manner highly reminiscent of officials in the home country. Norms related to corruption are apparently deeply engrained, and factors other than legal enforcement are important determinants of corruption behavior.
The related second empirical finding is the strong negative relationship between affinity for the United States in the diplomat’s home country and parking violations in New York. This provides real-world empirical evidence that sentiments matter in economic decision-making in general and for corruption decisions in particular. One implication of this finding is that government officials’ “feelings” towards their own nation – for instance, their extent of patriotism, national pride, or strength of national identity – could also be factors in their corruption decision within the home country.
One important message from our empirical results is that corruption norms are sticky. This result raises the critical question of whether there are policy interventions that can modify corruption norms over time. For example, the Bloomberg administration’s enforcement efforts in New York City in 2002 were extremely successful in changing diplomats’ behaviors, and it would be useful to know whether these changes might additionally have had persistent effects on norms once individuals become habituated to rule compliant behavior.
As interesting might be the home country’s reactions. The Baltic News Service looks at it and headlines (as I’m sure ours would) the culprit rather than the heroes. Here we see shame, that most effective of tools, at work.
Perhaps the correlation with “how they hate us” underlies their flippancy – parking where ever you want gives the finger to the great Satan. Still, such reasoning is not one we would want American tourists or servicemen to follow. Indeed, the index might be usefully applied to manning the Human Rights commission – an awareness of other country’s laws is probably a rough indicator of how tribal a delegation is & how much it accepts the rule of law.
Reading it, I also realized why liberal arts majors should take a semester or two of stats – but even I can read conclusions.
This reminds me of a Michael Hiteshew comment, thrown off before an old essay; he described me as someone “who can glean the subtlest moral from any tale and nimbly connect it to her own life’s experience.” He had spotted (& without condescension) noted my belief the personal is interwoven with (and key to) the public. Of course, that is how gossips like me think. Clearly, that is something that Fishman & Miguel suspect, as well. Both Thoreau & Emerson see nature as a Rosetta stone that can explain the ideal; parking ticket violations may be a useful dictionary to help us understand another country’s values.