Monday, April 18, 2011

Bribes should be legal

Kaushik Basu, Chief Economic Advisor to the Ministry of Finance, calls it right when he says that one category of bribes ordinary Indian citizens pay is in response to pure harrassment. The bribe is not corruption on part of the citizen, as he is receiving no favour in return for the payment - it is the gatekeeper's fee. But the gatekeeper is already being paid by the Indian state, whose servant he supposedly is.

This paper breaks the moral equivalence we keep hearing, which says that we are all culpable, equally to blame, for paying bribes. Kaushik Basu recognises the fact that there is a horrible asymmetry betwen the citizen and the gatekeeper, and suggests that the legal treatment of it should correspondingly be asymmetrical.

Thus, the paying of the bribe should be legal, but the receiving of it illegal. This creates an incentive for the person paying the bribe to 'out' the official receiving it. If the Indian government had the cojones to adopt the Kaushik Basu route, we would have an open road to reduce corruption, one that actually empowers people - other than the self-selected Anna Hazare gang.

I don't know whether such a process has been tried in other nations; it doesn't matter whether it is original or not, but it seems extremely workable to me, and cuts to the heart of the matter. Good going Kaushik. His paper, here:

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