Tag Archives: Idealism

Causes Of Corruption

At one level, corruption can be seen as a problem of multiple equilibria. When bribes are rare, someone who sees a bribe or bribe offer might reasonably expect to be supported for exposing it, and fear being exposed and punished for going along with it. But when bribes are common, one can expect to be punished more for trying to expose corruption.

At another level, however, many policies can reduce corruption. Bounties paid to any who expose corruption can encourage decentralized policing that central powers can find it hard to suppress. And eliminating government agencies whose social benefit is doubtful or moderate, even without corruption, can eliminate opportunities for corruption. I’m told many places are eliminating drivers licenses, to eliminate corrupt issuing of such licenses.

Since policies can discourage corruption, the deeper question is what makes politicians expect to not be rewarded for supporting such policies. Perhaps the people who benefit from corruption have more political information to know how to vote well, and more influence on other voters. In this case they might in effect have more votes, when votes are weighed by voter information and influence. I find this implausible, however.

Perhaps voters find it plausible that the above anti-corruption policies would work, but also find other ineffective anti-corruption policies similarly plausible. If ordinary voters are fooled by these ineffective policies, but those who benefit from corruption are not fooled, politicians may prefer to adopt such ineffective policies. By the time voters find out the policies didn’t work, the politicians may be long gone.

This raises the question: why do politicians have such short time horizons? Why don’t they expect to win by first implementing corruption-reducing policies, and then waiting for corruption to actually go down, before being rewarded by voters? The puzzle becomes more stark when one notices a usual way world-round to get long term project commitment: hire a multinational firm with a global reputation to protect. Yes, NGOs tend to prefer to hire local organizations to achieve charity aims. But they are often “surprised” to see the money stolen and nothing done. When folks really need something done, they hire long-lived multinational firms.

So the obvious solution to reducing corruption, and promoting good policy more generally, is for big multinationals with reputations to protect to run as candidates in local elections! They’d have a long term view that would make wary of making promises they could not keep. Of course upon hearing this suggestion you immediately know why this can “never be”: nationalism. Even voters of basket-case nations couldn’t stand the “humiliation” of publicly admitting they needed to hire foreigners to do something they couldn’t do for themselves.

And so let us admit that a big root cause of political corruption, and of inefficient policy more generally, is nationalism: the reluctance to hire organizations that seem to do the best worldwide in keeping reputations for effectiveness. Of course people do admit this daily in private, as they choose to use products made and distributed by multinational firms. But alas voting is a far fest of idealism, where the ideal of nationalism has more influence.

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‘Never Settle’ Is A Brag

From a famous Steve Jobs Stanford graduation address:

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle. (more; HT Alex)

Now try to imagine a world where everyone actually tried to follow this advice. And notice that we have an awful lot of things that need doing that are unlikely to be anyone’s dream job. So a few folks would be really happy, but most everyone else wouldn’t stay long on any job, and most stuff would get done pretty badly. Not a pretty scenario.

OK, now imagine that only graduates from colleges like Stanford or better followed this advice. Since such folks have more fulfilling job options, a larger fraction of them would end up really happy. But we’d still have too much job turnover among our elites, with too much stuff done badly.

Now notice: doing what you love, and never settling until you find it, is a costly signal of your career prospects. Since following this advice tends to go better for really capable people, they pay a smaller price for following it. So endorsing this strategy in a way that makes you more likely to follow it is a way to signal your status.

It sure feels good to tell people that you think it is important to “do what you love”; and doing so signals your status. You are in effect bragging. Don’t you think there might be some relation between these two facts?

Added: Will WilkinsonArnold Kling and Megan McArdle weigh in.

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