India sentences to ponder

Students in India who cheat on a simple laboratory task are more likely to prefer public sector jobs.


…cheating on this task predicts corrupt behavior by civil servants, implying that it is a meaningful predictor of future corruption. Students who demonstrate pro-social preferences are less likely to prefer government jobs…

That is from Dishonesty and Selection into Public Service: Evidence from India, by Rema Hanna and Shing-Yi Wang.  Here are ungated copies.


Let's create an agency to weed these corrupt people out of the bureaucracy. We can start with basing promotion and remuneration based on qualifying exams, continuing education, and compliance training. For some, depending on their profile, we can use increased monitoring, early intervention, and pre-crime.

So, you're going to solve cheating on exams by giving exams? ;)

From the study: "While the literature offers several clever ways to measure corruption (see Banerjee, Hanna and Mullainathan, 2012), these methods cannot be applied to questions about selection as it is only possible to collect data on corruption for those already in government. Thus, we adapted a method from Fischbacher and Follmi-Heusi (2013) to create a proxy for the tolerance to engage in corruption. Specifically, we asked each student in our sample to roll a standard die 42 times and to report the number of each roll in order to receive a payment that was increasing in the number reported. Thus, while we do not know with certainty if an individual lied, we can observe how far each individual’s distribution of reports is from the uniform distribution." The "proxy" method gets even worse. Read the first five pages of the report.

Augustine dozed on his back, picking the berries from the traffic lights. When he reached the Imperial Café, he turned over on his stomach, grasping for the sheet so to slice the smooth pear bulbs. At the conclusion of the firework display, he placed a pillow over his head, collecting rainlight from puddles. He sat up and drank a smoothie. His tongue swabbed the tart wax along his cave-mouth as he awoke. He rose and dressed, met Helga at her desk where she sat eating a slice of watermelon.

+3.14159, Zesty, yet mellow

I prefer the secret handshakes over the coded messages. The again, I'm not part of the cult.

The proxy is not a problem. You need some sort of proxy to prevent dishonest people from lying that they are honest. The bigger problem is the hidden variable of income: poor people who need money are more likely to lie to get money, so you could say, just like in the USA, "poor people prefer to work for the government since it pays fairly well, the work is light, and the benefits are good, and you can't get fired". That's more true than saying 'liars like government jobs'.

Bonus trivia: India is full of cheats, recall those famous photos showing university students getting answers during examinations from guys on ladders perched just outside the second story classroom windows.

There are some clients I will not even open a file unless I am paid in full up front and, and, the check has cleared.

You're older than me rayward (I'm in my 50s) and you're still working? Well good for you if you like your work and/or want a little extra money, but frankly by age 40 everybody who's anybody should have enough to retire. Unless you're a millennial.

Everybody who's nobody can retire at 40, by moving to a third world dump and not marrying or having kids.

Ray was also skilled at picking his parents, famous for being 1%ers.

"Does not Dionysius seem to have made it sufficiently clear that there can be nothing happy for the person over whom some fear always looms?"

People in power should always be fearful, especially of themselves.

In the US do we think those inclined to cheat are unlikely to take jobs in, say, used car sales or the 'financial services' industry and instead would rather take jobs issuing dog licenses or registering property deeds?

Or, perhaps working for the RMV in Boston?

In used car sales or the ‘financial services’ industry you still got to hustle (work). A lot of people do not like to hustle even a little.

Somebody tell Nancy McLean.

"Students in India who cheat on a simple laboratory task are more likely to prefer public sector jobs."

Students in America remain untested....

Someone needs to do this experiment in America.

Stanley Rothman had a research programs studying different elites and occupational subculture. He noted that some of the comparative testing they did to assess journalist v. business executives (IIRC, it was called something like a 'thematic apperception test' and involved showing drawn images and asking the subject to construct a narrative around them) demonstrated that many journalists just assumed businesses and the people who worked in them were crooked by default.

Critics of the screenwriters guild have suggested they tend to portray business executives in lurid terms (employing hit squads, for example) because the writers work for Hollywood studios, which actually very corrupt.

> the writers work for Hollywood studios, which actually very corrupt.

And racist. And misogynist.

And filled with people who got rich by being extremely lucky, so naturally everyone else must have done so too!

Am I more likely to go into public service if I click on the ungated copies link?

Lol, +1

Could they do this test in Illinois? How about the DNC?

The DNC got the answers before the test as the test makers are all demorats.

I comment as a civil servant and lab rat. In my experience, the pro-social scientists tend to toot their own horn excessively, be less productive, and less reliable.

If only we could review the lab notebooks of our current Legislative and Executive Branches. Show your work, failures and all. Explain what went wrong with your experiment and how you could improve your methods. Perfection is suspicious.

Hanna & Wang didn't survey Arts students- claiming people who study Politics or History or Literature don't end up as Public Sector workers even though, historically, Arts subjects are considered a gateway to the bureaucracy. Instead their sample is about 80 percent Commerce and 20 percent Sciences. Students of the former receive some instruction in basic concepts of Game Theory and Mechanism Design and this is reinforced by popular articles. It is likely that such students would show different behaviour in a 'lab test' even if they share the same normative values with students who don't understand the importance of the concept of Mechanism Design in modern Social Science. In other words, this methodology is ab ovo flawed.

Do Hanna & Wang have 'a screening process' for high ability applicants? No. Their sample was of students, not applicants for UPSC jobs. If the cost of application for Public Sector jobs is zero, which is what they assume, then, okay, there is likely to be a correlation. However, the actual cost of attempting the UPSC exam in a credible fashion is at least 700 dollars in coaching fees and other expenses plus an enormous opportunity cost in terms of time and effort. It is unlikely that the 80 percent Commerce stream, 60 per cent female, 40 per cent minorities, sample they have used is in any way representative of actual applicants, let alone successful ones.

This is not to say that a survey of actual applicants for UPSC jobs might not yield a similar result. However, our two researchers have not in fact made any such survey. Yet, by a piece of verbal sleight of hand, they substitute 'applicant' for 'student' on the basis of a farcically wrong assumption. Their work does not 'predict' anything- save perhaps that their next paper will be garbage.

Hanna & Wang's methodology was as follows-
'we asked each student in our sample to roll a standard die 42 times and to report the number of each roll in order to receive a payment that was increasing in the number reported. Thus, while we do not know with certainty if an individual lied, we can observe how far each individual’s distribution of reports is from the uniform distribution. Note that this measure is appealing in that it does not prime the subject on corruption or dishonesty explicitly and allows them to feel comfortable in knowing that no one can say with certainty that they are cheating.

' key contribution of our paper is that we then conducted a validation exercise of this measure using a real measure of corruption. Specifically, we conducted the dice task with 165 government nurses who were part of an experiment conducted by Dhaliwal and Hanna (2013), in which they collected detailed measures of absenteeism through the use of random checks over two years. Thus, we can test whether the dice task outcome predicts fraudulent absenteeism. '

So students aiming to crack the IAS are being compared to poorly educated female nurses in the districts who have much lower cognitive ability and who are being paid for their participation in the 'lab test' with candy, not money.

Why? It is because the main job of an IAS officer ( 75 % of whom are likely to be male) is emptying bed pans. Moreover, a young Bureaucrat who is good at his job can easily get a visa to Europe or the Gulf and earn much more money for doing the same work.

What about 'fraudulent absenteeism'? Is that a good measure of propensity for corruption? No. A corrupt staff nurse will show up for work every day and extort bribes from patients by threatening to withdraw vital nursing services. Moreover, absenteeism is high where the posting is undesirable- some rural shithole- but the posting is undesirable only because the nurse doesn't have the money or the connections necessary to pay a bribe for a good posting. Such absenteeism has to be tolerated because of poor working conditions and the fallibility and expense of monitoring.

There is literally no similarity or connection between the two sample populations Hanna & Wang have chosen. The nurses are poor and stupid and what's more they know that aint going to change any time soon. Their fate is sealed. The students are not as poor or as stupid and their life is still before them. They can dream dreams. With hindsight, it will be obvious that a lot of them hadn't a hope of cracking the UPSC exam. Some may end up with MPhils or PhDs but still applying for peon's jobs.

Why are Hanna & Wang pretending that there is some hard-wired trait corresponding to a stable, exogenously given, propensity for corruption? Is there any evidence that the thing exists? If it does, why not study how it can be detected and cured? But, why stop there? Why not subscribe to a wholesale Manichaeism? Why not say that this survey predicts that the evil Demiurge is recruiting Satanically inclined minions to staff the Public Sector in a manner that passes Human Understanding?

I really like this detailed response. A lot of these kinds of econ papers are, like Steve Bannon, a bit too busy with themselves to be taken as anything but farcical.

What can one say about statements like this?-
'Economic theory predicts that civil servants often shirk or take bribes because it is difficult for central governments and citizens to monitor and subsequently punish these bad behaviors (e.g. Banerjee, 1997; Shleifer and Vishny, 1993, Di Tella and Schargrodsky, 2004; and Olken and Pande, 2012).'

Does Economic theory predict something utterly implausible- viz. that civil servants shirk or take bribes when they are likely to be caught and shot in the head if they do so?
Anyone, not just a civil servant, is likely to shirk or take bribes if it is difficult for his employer or his clients to monitor and subsequently punish bad behaviour.

What is the point of quoting Banerjee 1997 as supporting this view? His paper, when it appeared, wasn't utterly foolish. Or, at least, we didn't know that we would judge it to be foolish twenty years later.

Why not? Well, it did not make absurd claims like 'civil servants shirk or take bribes because, of its nature, performance of ANY civil service job is difficult to monitor.' Suppose there was some problem peculiar to civil service contracts such that the above statement were true. Then, there is an easy solution. Privatise everything. Put everything out to tender. Reclassify each and every Babu as an employee of a Private Sector Enterprise or else an NGO or, worst comes to the worst, just designate the fellow as a urinal or other such public convenience.
Hanna & Wang write-
'This implies that variation in the ability to monitor or incentivise civil servants may drive the observed differences in corruption across countries, across agencies within a country, or even across the types of tasks for which public servants are responsible. '

Not true. The prediction of an Economic theory does not imply- i.e. stipulate- anything about the truth value or likelihood of any conditional. I predict it will rain in 5 minutes time. This prediction does not imply that there will be rain clouds in the sky at that time. Why not? It's because I'm using an Economic theory, not a meteorological one, to make my prediction. I believe the bureaucrats in the Celestial Ministry of Rain production are amenable to bribes of a certain sort because Arrow's Theorem has proved Godel's proof of God is valid in the manner of an 'invisible dictator' and thus monitoring of Celestial Civil Servants is lax or incentive incompatible.
Hanna & Wang continue-
'However, not all civil servants engage in the same level of corrupt behavior, even in the same position or role. Besley (2005) and Prendergast (2007) posit that this may be potentially due to different government workers having different preferences over engaging in corruption. As such, it follows that the types of individuals that select into government may help explain variation in corruption levels. '

Or it may NOT. Besley's paper was okay when it came out. It said 'people don't think Blair is a crook because...urm... well, they just don't okay, and I've written a paper so thank you and good night.' That was 12 years ago. Now everybody thinks Blair was a great big crook and all his vaunted Public/Private Partnership schemes and 'Third Way' 'arms length' Management Organisations were a big fucking swindle from which he and his ilk profited immensely.

Why do Hanna & Wang cite a paper about the likes of Tony Blair in a study about poor students at crap Colleges in Karnataka? Are they mad? Or is this stupidity just par for the course?

Let us see-

'The empirical literature has mostly focused on documenting how monitoring and financial incentives affect public service delivery in developing countries (e.g. Fisman and Miguel, 2007; Olken, 2007; Duflo, Hanna and Ryan, 2012; Niehaus and Sukhtankar, 2013).'

Fisman & Miguel looked at UN diplomats in New York. Those from highly corrupt countries were less likely to pay their fines. Once enforcement was beefed up, by the confiscation of diplomatic plates, the delinquents toed the line. Big surprise. Why bring it up in this context? Do Hanna & Wang not understand that diplomats have immunity, save by express waiver by their own Foreign Ministry, and that this is almost never granted? A diplomat only has to fear his own country's laws, not those of the host country. There can be reciprocal agreements- e.g. the Americans and Brits can agree that their respective diplomats pay parking tickets in each other's countries. In their absence, it becomes a matter of punctilio for protocol officers to battle things out. What happened in 2002 which made UN diplomats suddenly amenable to pressure from the host country? Think about it. You know the answer. 9/11. After 9/11, New York could crack down on UN diplomats because... guess what other stuff was going down. America was suddenly in the business of 'boots on the ground' 'regime change' and that sure scared a lot of diplos straight.

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