With a big bribery scandal
continuing to unfold in India, it's a bit interesting to see Kaushik Basu, the chief economic advisor to India's Ministry of Finance, make the argument that paying bribes should be perfectly legal
. Before you jump to conclusions, you have to realize he's just saying that paying
bribes should be legal. Accepting
them should remain against the law. As it stands now, both the bribee and the briber are guilty of a crime, and he thinks that's a mistake.
Under current Indian law, Basu writes,
once a bribe is given, the bribe giver and the bribe taker become partners in crime. It is in their joint interest to keep this fact hidden from the authorities and to be fugitives from the law, because, if caught, both expect to be punished.
But if the law were changed as Basu suggests,
once a bribe is given and the bribe giver collects whatever she is trying to acquire by giving the money, the interests of the bribe taker and bribe giver become completely orthogonal to each other.
... In other words, the interests of the bribe taker and the bribe giver are no longer aligned.
The argument is that this way, there's less incentive to actually have bribery, because if someone demands a bribe, you can pay it, but then you can report it and get the person in trouble:
In Basu's world, you pay the bribe and get your refund. Then you go to the authorities and report the clerk who collected the bribe. If the clerk is convicted of taking the bribe, he has to pay you back, and faces additional penalties. You get your money back, and you face no charges.
Of course, the clerk knows that you have this incentive to report him. So, Basu argues, he'll be less likely to demand the bribe in the first place. These kinds of bribes, which Basu says are currently "rampant" in India, will become much less common.
Of course, the link above, to the Planet Money discussion about this, notes that there would be some unintended consequences. Certainly, it wouldn't remove all bribery, as many people willingly pay bribes to try to get favors, and in such cases, this would make the power of those bribes even stronger, since they'd have something to hold over the bribe-taker. To deal with this Basu is suggesting that this idea of making it "legal" should only apply to bribes people are pressured to pay to get something they're legally entitled to receive -- and not for things like a company paying off the government to get a contract. Still, another unintended consequence is that it could increase false accusations of bribery. So it's not a perfect solution by any means, but it is interesting to think about.