Monday, May 09, 2011

Is it wrong to pay a bribe?

There's recently been a bit of commotion about government corruption in India (particularly, bribery), with a lot of public pressure to eliminate it. According to the Economist magazine, (A novel way to combat corruption: Who to punish), one aspect of the debate is whether the laws should be changed to actually eliminate criminal penalties for people who pay bribes, as long as they are only paying to secure a service to which they are legally entitled.

There is some debate as to what the consequences of such laws would be. Such concerns seem irrelevant to me. It is praiseworthy to resist a demand for a bribe, but it should not be treated as an obligation. People need to get on with their lives, and can't be expected to bear the arbitrarily large burden associated with having licenses revoked or not being given access to money that is rightfully theirs.

The proposal described in the Economist is probably the most orderly way to deal with the problem. If some communitarian view of justice demands that the victim of corruption be held accountable for the crime (and he has no realistic administrative or legal remedy), then maybe the victim should have an alternative. Perhaps ad hoc tribunals should be able to run a corrupt official out of town. Or more realistically, if the state cannot effectively administer all of its regulations, the people at the top should aggressively move to eliminate them. If they can't do that, then their power should be eliminated.

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