Paper Talk: Everybody Hates Parking Meters

… but some people don’t have to deal with them! Aha, an opportunity to do some economic sleuthing.

This post is going to be about a paper on corruption that I learned about my sophomore spring, and was recently reminded of. It’s a paper that tries to ascertain whether corruption is partially a cultural phenomenon.

Cultures of Corruption: Evidence from Diplomatic Parking Tickets

I really like this paper. They found a natural experiment where you wouldn’t expect one – tons of diplomats from all over the globe stationed in NYC (a parking nightmare) with diplomatic immunity. The authors investigated whether diplomats from highly corrupt countries were more likely to abuse their diplomatic immunity by committing parking violations (hey, I don’t blame them) – and lo and behold, they were correct!

The paper drew another funny conclusion about the convergence of norms regarding corruption. The authors postulated that diplomats from highly corrupt countries, after arriving in New York, might become less corrupt as they acclimated to the culture here. An opposing theory was that their corrupt behaviors might increase after they realized they would face no consequences for committing parking violations. The second theory won out – parking violations increased dramatically over the course of the corrupt diplomats’ stay in NYC.

The implication of the paper is that corruption is rooted in culture. If you’re from a certain country, you are simply more likely to engage in corrupt behavior. My one point of dispute with this paper is that the data samples diplomats, in and of themselves a population that is far more susceptible to corruption than the average man in any country (as evidenced by the fact that they have somehow obtained the prestigious position of diplomat.) Would you find the same result with tourists? I think you would, but it would still be empirically valid to test these theories using a swath of populations from various countries rather than just people from positions of power.

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