Thursday, December 23, 2010

Efficiency of Political Corruption

Something I've blogged about a lot is how surprisingly efficient even undesirable things are.  Our emotions,  bad customer service, political apathy, oil speculators, high frequency trading, and engagement rings just to name a few. Here's another for the list, political corruption:
That's the theory put forward by evolutionary biologists Francisco Ubeda and Edgar Duenez. The pair used game theory to figure out why people cooperate to form a society even though the ones in charge are corrupt. The model they developed assumes that government officials and law enforcers - in other words, the individuals responsible for punishing noncooperators - can get away with a certain amount of noncooperation themselves in the form of corruption, and that they can sidestep most punishments when caught being corrupt.
Here's more:
What's interesting is that society works because of corruption, not in spite of it. That's because law enforcers often need a little extra incentive to devote their time to holding society together, and that takes the form of mild noncooperation. Ubeda explains this phenomenon:
"Law enforcers often enjoy privileges that allow them to avoid the full force of the law when they breach it. Law enforcing results in the general public abiding by the law. Thus law enforcers enjoy the benefits of a lawful society and are compensated for their law enforcing by being able to dodge the law."
Even more interesting, I can't add this to my difference between humans and animals series:
And it's not just humans that are described by these findings. Social insects also show evidence of corruption and abuses of power among those charged with keeping the rest of the insects in line.
That's not to say we shouldn't try to minimize political corruption. I've already mentioned how WikiLeaks is trying to do that. But here's a less controversial and simpler way to do it:
When a government contracts out work, the distance between the people delivering the services and the ultimate customer -- the taxpayer -- grows. Contractors have little incentive to save the rest of us money, and our ability to make sure they're doing it is too limited. If a contract is failing, it may well remain a secret between one or two bureaucrats and the company concerned. Government audit agencies might uncover a problem if they are alerted or perform a random investigation. But the rest of us can't hold contractors (or the officials who hired them) to account if we don't even know what's meant to be delivered.

There's an answer to these problems: Publish the contract.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.