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Symmetric vs. Asymmetric Punishment Regimes for Collusive Bribery


  • Christoph Engel
  • Sebastian J. Goerg
  • Gaoneng Yu


In major legal orders such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and France, bribers and recipients face equally severe criminal sanctions. In contrast, countries like China, Russia, and Japan treat the briber more mildly. Asymmetric punishment has been shown to help deter harassment bribery. However, we conjecture that asymmetry is ineffective when applied to collusive bribes. Instead of deterring bribes, asymmetry might enable the briber to enforce the corrupt deal. To test this hypothesis, we design and run a lab experiment in Bonn (Germany) and Shanghai (China) with exactly the same design. The results show that, in both countries, with symmetric punishment bribers are less likely to report to the authorities. Officials are less likely to grant the favor. In Shanghai, corrupt offers are then also less likely. If we frame the experiment as collusive corruption, effects are less pronounced, but we can replicate all of them.

Suggested Citation

  • Christoph Engel & Sebastian J. Goerg & Gaoneng Yu, 2016. "Symmetric vs. Asymmetric Punishment Regimes for Collusive Bribery," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 18(2), pages 506-556.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:amlawe:v:18:y:2016:i:2:p:506-556.

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    Cited by:

    1. Perrotta Berlin, Maria & Spagnolo, Giancarlo & Qin, Bei, 2015. "Leniency, Asymmetric Punishment and Corruption: Evidence from China," SITE Working Paper Series 34, Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, revised 25 May 2017.
    2. Johannes Buckenmaier & Eugen Dimant & Ann-Christin Posten & Ulrich Schmidt, 2021. "Efficient Institutions and Effective Deterrence: On Timing and Uncertainty of Formal Sanctions," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 62(2), pages 177-201, April.
    3. Sun, Ketian & Liu, Yang & Chen, Xiaojie & Szolnoki, Attila, 2022. "Evolution of trust in a hierarchical population with punishing investors," Chaos, Solitons & Fractals, Elsevier, vol. 162(C).
    4. Giulia Mugellini & Sara Della Bella & Marco Colagrossi & Giang Ly Isenring & Martin Killias, 2021. "Public sector reforms and their impact on the level of corruption: A systematic review," Campbell Systematic Reviews, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 17(2), June.
    5. B├╝hren Christoph, 2020. "Staff Rotation as an Anti-Corruption Policy in China and in Germany: An Experimental Comparison," Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), De Gruyter, vol. 240(1), pages 1-18, January.
    6. Shuguang Jiang & Marie Claire Villeval, 2022. "Dishonesty in Developing Countries -What Can We Learn From Experiments?," Working Papers hal-03899654, HAL.
    7. Levati, M. Vittoria & Nardi, Chiara, 2023. "Letting third parties who suffer from petty corruption talk: Evidence from a collusive bribery experiment," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 76(C).
    8. Lin Hu & Mandar Oak, 2023. "Can asymmetric punishment deter endogenous bribery," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 32(1), pages 3-21, January.
    9. Maria Vittoria Levati & Chiara Nardi, 2019. "The power of words in a petty corruption experiment," Working Papers 18/2019, University of Verona, Department of Economics.
    10. Jun Hu, 2021. "Asymmetric punishment, Leniency and Harassment Bribes in China: a selective survey," Working Papers hal-03119491, HAL.
    11. Dasgupta, Utteeyo & Radoniqi, Fatos, 2021. "Republic of Beliefs: An Experimental Investigation," IZA Discussion Papers 14130, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).

    More about this item


    C91; D02; D03; D73; K14; K42;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D73 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Bureaucracy; Administrative Processes in Public Organizations; Corruption
    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law


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