Iraq and the Corruption Trap
By Arnold Kling
Rushing in where angels fear to tread, I thought I would apply the theory of the Corruption Trap to Iraq.
Bribing an official to get something done is like paying ransom to a kidnapper — what looks like a good short-term fix is a disastrous long-term policy.
To have a durable government that is capable of dealing with terrorists on its own, Iraq will have to escape the corruption trap. That may be a very difficult objective to achieve on a timetable.
If we are lucky, the first elected government in Iraq will include leaders who fire corrupt officials and reward public servants who do their job.
UPDATE: See one American’s take on Iraqi corruption.
What you see as corruption we see as part of the normal process of doing business. Because most jobs underpay, we always take a cut. This is built into the price of the job. Iraq follows the trend of many other Arab countries — there aren’t enough jobs for the expanding population so the government hires everyone. The government can’t afford high salaries for so many people, so the pay is low. Because the pay is low, it’s expected that you accept bribes and cheat to get by. Everyone knows the rules, even the government.
Typically, we’ll take a slice of 10% to 15% off the top of a contract or a work order. Nobody will really get too upset if we keep things in this “normal” range. If we go too far, and take 30% or higher, then we know we are stepping over the line. However, unless you catch on we’ll take what we can get. If you’re too stupid to figure out what we’re doing, it’s your fault, not ours. There is no real shame in corruption; after all, we’re looking out for our families as expected.
The American knows what he is up against. The question is whether or not it will change.