What a great paper, what a blah abstract

Corruption is believed to be a major factor impeding economic development, but the importance of legal enforcement versus cultural norms in controlling corruption is poorly understood. To disentangle these two factors, we exploit a natural experiment, the stationing of thousands of diplomats from around the world in New York City. Diplomatic immunity means there was essentially zero legal enforcement of diplomatic parking violations, allowing us to examine the role of cultural norms alone. This generates a revealed preference measure of government officials’ corruption based on real-world behavior taking place in the same setting. We find strong persistence in corruption norms: diplomats from high corruption countries (based on existing survey-based indices) have significantly more parking violations, and these differences persist over time. In a second main result, officials from countries that survey evidence indicates have less favorable popular views of the United States commit significantly more parking violations, providing non-laboratory evidence on sentiment in economic decision-making. Taken together, factors other than legal enforcement appear to be important determinants of corruption.

Here is the paper.  I might have tried the following:

During a period of diplomatic parking immunity, the average Kuwaiti diplomat to the United Nations racked up 246 parking violations.  No Swedish diplomat had any parking violations.  This paper explores how that might possibly be the case.


Is it obvious that this paper tracks willingness to be corrupt? What if instead the authors had looked at the number of speeding violations these diplomats committed? At least in that case it seems more intuitive to me that you'd be probing differing traffic norms as well as differing levels of significance attached to strict adherence to formal rules. Neither of these is at all the same as corruption.

Those hostile to the US tend to be corrupt, whatever the cause. Interesting.

Does the paper also look at car-ownership rates? Driving in Bangladesh is not like driving in New York.

There is a similar situation regarding diplomatic payment of London's congestion charge. All embassies are supposed to pay but it is not enforceable so some do and some don't. Interestingly the US is one of the relatively few non-payers.

One factor that this study does not seem to account for is the degree of
internal accountability each mission imposes upon its diplomats.

If one Mission requires its personnel to pay tickets levied by New York
City (or face administrative penalties imposed by the home country
bureaucracy), while another Mission imposes no such cost, that would
change outcomes (although it would still say something interesting about
corruption and political and institutional cultures that tolerate or
refuse to tolerate impunuty.

Might there also be a correlation to time management? As in: diplomats in countries where promptness is valued will budget more time for finding parking and vice versa. I suppose it could be flipped right around as well...

I am employed at UN headquarters in New York, and see this all the time. I think the paper is intellectualizing the obvious.

Where the rule of law is not respected in the home country, diplomatic personnel tend to ignore local regulations - wherever they may be stationed. Where the rule of law is respected in the home country, diplomatic personnel are more likely to abide by local regulations.

The more interesting question, it seems to me, is how the strength of the rule of law in any particular nation vs. other nations may influence that nation's geopolitical, economic, or social ties with other nations.

Kuwait and Oman are at opposite ends of the table despite many apparent similarities.

Since the visible incentives are identical for all diplomats, looking at this from an "incentives matter" angle makes it clear how subtle the incentives that matter can be.

If there is a link between a cavalier attitude to rules of social cooperation and corruption, which is cart and which is horse? How does this square with libertarian ideas that state enforced laws are generally corrupting? Are Scandinavian levels of compliance inefficient? Is culture viewed as some essential difference really be relevant when peoples that were formerly Vikings are now ultra law abiding?

What's wrong with the more traditional analysis - everyone is simply maximizing, but groups like the Swedes do so with fewer tickets, because they value their view of themselves as law-abiding more than they do the opportunity to allow less time for commuting and getting to one's meeting on time.

Ann: It's not genetic or racial, of course. It's cultural/environmental. If your country is highly corrupt, then you will more than likely be raised by people who are corrupt, are close to corruption, or see it all the time. Obviously, just as that naughty Finn showed, you can break the mold, but people tend not to.

As to the question of "why did they become corrupt in the first place?" the question is one for history and the current laws of the country. I believe that the majority of the people fall into the "group 2" spectrum, as defined above. It's probably radically different for each country.

Perhaps their modern society was founded by extremely familial oriented feudal clans, where nepotism and graft were considered the perks of being in charge. This is now ostensibly "illegal" but is accepted by peasant and king alike as part of the system. Perhaps they were lorded over by colonial rulers, who exploited them ruthlessly -- and they wrested power away from them without developing a countervailing sense of justice and fairness. Now they exploit their countrymen just as badly. Perhaps they are an ex-socialist/communist country, still trying to eliminate the attendant corruption of that system.

Interesting not from a public policy perspective, but from a psychological one, what are the rates of violations of the diplomats in NY vs in their own countries? Do they behave there, where their peers can see, and go crazy in NY? Or do they try to maintain a respectable facade when meeting foreigners?

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