Thursday, July 6, 2006

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I wish I had written this paper
Corruption is believed to be a major factor impeding economic development, but the importance of legal enforcement versus cultural norms in controlling corruption is poorly understood. To disentangle these two factors, we exploit a natural experiment, the stationing of thousands of diplomats from around the world in New York City. Diplomatic immunity means there was essentially zero legal enforcement of diplomatic parking violations, allowing us to examine the role of cultural norms alone. This generates a revealed preference measure of government officials' corruption based on real-world behavior taking place in the same setting. We find strong persistence in corruption norms: diplomats from high corruption countries (based on existing survey-based indices) have significantly more parking violations, and these differences persist over time. In a second main result, officials from countries that survey evidence indicates have less favorable popular views of the United States commit significantly more parking violations, providing non-laboratory evidence on sentiment in economic decision-making. Taken together, factors other than legal enforcement appear to be important determinants of corruption.
Here's a link to the paper. Hat tip to Tyler Cowen, who proposes a pithier abstract:
During a period of diplomatic parking immunity, the average Kuwaiti diplomat to the United Nations racked up 246 parking violations. No Swedish diplomat had any parking violations. This paper explores how that might possibly be the case.
There's another finding that I thought interesting:
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, there is a sharp – though temporary – drop in diplomatic parking violations, by roughly 80%. We find that countries with greater Muslim populations experience particularly sharp declines. We can only speculate about the exact causes of this change in behavior, but the fear of police harassment or negative media attention for the home country during that politically charged period is a possibility.
posted by Dan on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM


That's an excellent paper. You can take the boy out of Texas but you can't take Texas out of the boy. Cultural values, including rejection of corruption, persist without the threat of punishment. It probably explains the difference in gun violence between North Dakota (or Canada) and Texas. Texas has a culture of violence which is independent of laws or enforcement. North Dakotans are, on average, more civilized than Texans.

I use Texans as an example because humans tend to (incorrectly) resort to racism and tribalism as an explanation for cultural differences. I suggest that Texans tend to be more violent and corrupt than North Dakotans independent of race and tribe. I believe that cultural differences explain why Adam Smith's "invisible hand" works better some places than others. It also explains why we are likely to end up in wars when we elect a Texan president. Texans are taught that violence is a proper way to solve problems.

posted by: george on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

North Dakotans are, on average, more civilized than Texans.

I don't think that assessment is entirely reasonable.

North Dakotans, on average, are farther from the rather violent Mexican narcotics-smuggling gangs and their (also rather violent) US distributors than Texans are.

It's also worth pointing out that quite a lot of Texan residents are originally from other US states. I am very skeptical of attempts to explain the observed phenomena by referring to tribalism and racism that are supposedly an integral part of Texan culture, especially when no numbers or sources are presented.

From Texas' wikipedia entry:

Texas also has an influx of people from the central United States moving in to find jobs. Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska and the Dakotas have experienced a "brain drain" as their university graduates move to other states to find employment. There is a common joke among native Texans that a "Yankee" is someone from the North who comes to Texas to visit, and a "damn Yankee" is someone from the North who buys a house and stays.

posted by: rosignol on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

From the intro to the paper: "Research on the causes of corruption is compounded by the difficulties inherent in disentangling the effects of social norms from the effects of legal enforcement. Specifically, societies that collectively place less importance on rooting out corruption, and thus have weak anti-corruption social norms, may simultaneously have less legal enforcement." These assertions seem pretty solid.

Then: "Most importantly, our approach avoids the problem of differential legal enforcement levels across countries, and more generally strips out enforcement effects . . ."
Not entirely. Each UN diplomat's behavior in the US is largely a product of whatever combination of legal enforcement and cultural norms exists in his or her home country. In a low-corruption country, strict legal enforcement and cultural norms disapproving of corruption reinforce one another. Likewise, a similar process of reinforcement (lack of enforcement, culturally-based corruption) exists in high-corruption countries. Even in a zero-enforcement environment, past legal enforcement in the home country can have continuing effects on a diplomat's behavior. The authors assume they have successfully isolated one causal factor from the other when that is not necessarily the case.

posted by: Dave B. on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

I haven't read the paper, but there may be a problem with the denominator, number of staff. It assumes that the same proportion of each country's staff has cars and drive to work. If you A person living on Park Avenue can walk to work, while those who commute longer distances (because they can't afford NYC prices) drive there.

posted by: Mike Maltz on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

George's assessment is reasonable. See Albion's Seed : Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer for an explanation of why.

posted by: Richard Heddleson on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

Naturally, I meant to be provocative, but if you replace southern, rural white males for Texans and rural, northern white males for North Dakotans, the point remains the same.

For the ultimate small sample example, compare Bush Sr. with Bush Jr. Bush Sr. applied New England values and Bush Jr. applied Texas (and southern state) values to the Iraq situation. Both Sr. and Jr. started as New England preppies but Jr assumed Texas values.

Thanks for the reference to: "Albion's Seed : Four British Folkways in America". I should read it.

Here's a reference from Scientific American which summarizes the authors' peer reviewed work.
07/01/1999 Men, Honor and Murder - Nisbett, Cohen
Maleness and aggression do not have to go together. A "culture of honor" underlies some high murder rates "
Men, Honor and Murder; Men: The Scientific Truth; Scientific American Presents; by Nisbett, Cohen; 4 Page(s)

"Homicide overwhelmingly involves males-as both perpetrators and victims. Evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson estimate that across a wide range of cultures a man is more than 20 times more likely to kill another man than a woman is to kill another woman, a finding they explain by arguing that men are more risk prone than women [see "Darwinism and the Roots of Machismo," on page 8]. Moreover, men are more likely to kill women than the other way around. When a woman does commit homicide, she usually kills a man who has repeatedly physically abused her.

These facts, together with the observation that males are the more aggressive sex in nearly all mammals, have led many people to suppose that men are unavoidably aggressive and that homicide is a natural consequence of male biology. Yet the striking variation in homicide rates among different societies makes it clear that, whatever men's predispositions may be, cultures have a great influence on the likelihood that a man will kill. For example, Colombia's rate is 15 times that of Costa Rica, and the U.S. rate is 10 times that of Norway. Marked regional differences exist even within the U.S. We and our colleague Andrew Reaves have established that in small U.S. cities in the South and the Southwest, the homicide rate for white males is about double that in the rest of the country. We also found that a white man living in a small county in the South is four times more likely to kill than one living in a small county in the Midwest. By making detailed regional comparisons, we have been able to rule out several explanations that have previously been offered to account for similar data, such as the history of slavery in the South, the higher temperatures there and the greater incidence of poverty."

posted by: george on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

I don't think this so much reveals the cultural norms re corruption, but rather the cultural norms re equality. Seems corruption isn't the issue since it is generally accepted that no tickets will be enforced. Rather, I think the Swede saw the inherent unfairness and inequality of his not having to pay the fine and the Kuwaiti, either failed to see this or just did not care.

posted by: China Law Blog on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

We and our colleague Andrew Reaves have established that in small U.S. cities in the South and the Southwest, the homicide rate for white males is about double that in the rest of the country.

Mm. Do you have figures for other ethnic groups and urban areas handy? I admit I do not have a cite handy, but IIRC large-city minorities account for a substantial fraction of the overall murder rate.

posted by: rosignol on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

Awesome paper! Why should there be diplomatic immunity for civil offences?

posted by: aruna urs on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

"This paper explores how that might possibly be the case."

Interesting English/cultural observation. The paper doesn't investigate 'how' it is the case that Kuwaiti's get more parking tickets than Swedes (that's easy; Kuwaiti cars are illegally parked more often, and police put tickets on those illegally parked cars more often), it investigates 'why' it is the case.

So why did the authors write 'how' instead of 'why?' Perhaps 'why' has moral/ethical connotations that 'how' doesn't? (i.e. Why? becuase of misbehavior). That really doesn't explain it-the whole article has moral/ethical connotations (whether 'how' or 'why', the explanation is that Kuwaitis are more corrupt than Swedes-hardly a moral-neutral conclusion). Though the whole sentence is fraught with wishy-washiness ("The paper explores HOW that MIGHT POSSIBLY be the case."). Perhaps moral squeemishness is the answer. But if not, well, why the 'how'?


posted by: Steve on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

George: So, by that logic, doesn't that make Louisiana a state of brute savages, as its violent crime and murder rates are both higher than that of Texas?

I submit that perhaps, just maybe, the more homogenous and spread out nature of North Dakota's population has a greater impact on murder rates (as a rough proxy for "gun violence"... but why guns? are guns special? does being shot to death kill you more than being stabbed to death?) than a "culture of violence".

(Maryland has a higher murder rate than Texas! Is Maryland known for its culture of violence? How about Arizona?)

posted by: Sigivald on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

I'm afraid there is another flaw the paper in my quick read - sanctions within the diplo service itself as a variable. Some services impose sanctions for accumulating civil sanctions.

Why should there be diplomatic immunity for civil offences?

To avoid harrassement of diplomats.

Diplomatic immunity works quite well in general, even if domestic citizens often have childish outburts against it.

posted by: The Lounsbury on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

I see a major problem with the paper: a lot of poverty-stricken countries with mostly dirt roads don't have any parking laws at all. Many foreign drivers might not have ever heard of the concept of a "parking violation." So a great deal of this apparent lawlessness might be simple cluelessness.

posted by: Josh Yelon on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

The US abroad: conviction or cheating? culture? political philosophy?

From NYT:"But right now, the United States leads the list of countries whose diplomats here have repeatedly failed to pay the $14 congestion charge levied on motorists entering an area of central London that includes Grosvenor Square, where the American Embassy is situated, according to figures released late last week. The charge is an effort to reduce weekday traffic and encourage the use of public transportation."
"American diplomats owe around $490,000 in unpaid charges from the past six months — roughly 34,000 individual infringements — according to the list.

"The United States Embassy has said that the charge is in fact a tax, and that the Vienna Convention regulating diplomatic behavior in foreign countries exempts diplomats from paying such taxes."
From the London press release:
"Until July 2005 the US Embassy had been paying the congestion charge for all its staff and stopped doing so when new Ambassador. Robert Tuttle was posted to the US Embassy in London."

posted by: aardvark on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

I have a solution to this parking ticket problem.

Let every diplomat have his own car, but let each of them be driven by American citizens. Let the driver receive the ticket and let the driver be penalized for failure to pay those tickets. Then the driving/parking illegally will be reduced because the American chauffeurs will know our laws and customs, and they'll lose their jobs if they lose their licenses.

posted by: Mick on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

The paper is indeed a good idea, but I am afraid it addresses the wrong issue. The issue isn't whether cultural norms persists in the absence of sanctions.

The problem is two-fold.

First, how do cultural norms are created in the first place? Are they sort of an innate national trait or are they a distillation of conventional wisdom borne out of centuries of historical experience -as is my guess?

Either way, the results shouldn't surprise as at all. Why shouldn't they persist in the first place

The second question which is also the million dollar question is whether the introduction of credible laws and sanctions can work to impose order, alter behavior and culture in the long term. Can this happen or are cultural norms strong enough to subvert sanctions and let corruption and disobedience persist?

After all, this is the problem developping countries face in real life.

posted by: Nick Kaufman on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

"I see a major problem with the paper: a lot of poverty-stricken countries with mostly dirt roads don't have any parking laws at all. Many foreign drivers might not have ever heard of the concept of a "parking violation." So a great deal of this apparent lawlessness might be simple cluelessness."

You're joking right? What country would send a "diplomat" to any foreign country, let alone a major one like the US of A, who hadn't had a Western education and ample access to Western circumstances?

Besides, Kuweit, which leads the list by a comfortable margin, isn't exactly known for dirt roads, at least not there where diplomats are raised.

But anything to excuse "les damnés de la terre", specifically those under the Crescent.

posted by: The Editrix on 07.06.06 at 09:19 AM [permalink]

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