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Does corruption produce unsafe drivers?

  • Marianne Bertrand
  • Rema Hanna
  • Sendhil Mullainathan
  • Simeon Djankov

We follow 822 applicants through the process of obtaining a driver's license in New Delhi, India. To understand how the bureaucracy responds to individual and social needs, participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: bonus, lesson, and comparison groups. Participants in the bonus group were offered a financial reward if they could obtain their license fast; participants in the lesson group were offered free driving lessons. To gauge driving skills, we performed a surprise driving test after participants had obtained their licenses. Several interesting facts regarding corruption emerge. First, the bureaucracy responds to individual needs. Those who want their license faster (e.g. the bonus group), get it 40% faster and at a 20% higher rate. Second, the bureaucracy is insensitive to social needs. The bonus group does not learn to drive safely in order to obtain their license: in fact, 69% of them were rated as "failures" on the independent driving test. Those in the lesson group, despite superior driving skills, are only slightly more likely to obtain a license than the comparison group and far less likely (by 29 percentage points) than the bonus group. Detailed surveys allow us to document the mechanisms of corruption. We find that bureaucrats arbitrarily fail drivers at a high rate during the driving exam, irrespective of their ability to drive. To overcome this, individuals pay informal "agents" to bribe the bureaucrat and avoid taking the exam altogether. An audit study of agents further highlights the insensitivity of agents' pricing to driving skills. Together, these results suggest that bureaucrats raise red tape to extract bribes and that this corruption undermines the very purpose of regulation.

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Paper provided by The Field Experiments Website in its series Natural Field Experiments with number 00218.

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Date of creation: 2006
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Handle: RePEc:feb:natura:00218
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  1. Thierry Verdier & Daron Acemoglu, 2000. "The Choice between Market Failures and Corruption," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 194-211, March.
  2. Djankov, Simeon & La Porta, Rafael & López-de-Silanes, Florencio & Shleifer, Andrei, 2001. "The Regulation of Entry," CEPR Discussion Papers 2953, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Jakob Svensson, 2003. "Who Must Pay Bribes And How Much? Evidence From A Cross Section Of Firms," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(1), pages 207-230, February.
  4. Banerjee, Abhijit V, 1997. "A Theory of Misgovernance," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1289-1332, November.
  5. Benjamin A. Olken, 2005. "Monitoring Corruption: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia," NBER Working Papers 11753, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Ritva Reinikka & Jakob Svensson, 2005. "Fighting Corruption to Improve Schooling: Evidence from a Newspaper Campaign in Uganda," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 3(2-3), pages 259-267, 04/05.
  7. Mauro, Paolo, 1995. "Corruption and Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(3), pages 681-712, August.
  8. Di Tella, Rafael & Schargrodsky, Ernesto, 2003. "The Role of Wages and Auditing during a Crackdown on Corruption in the City of Buenos Aires," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 46(1), pages 269-92, April.
  9. Lui, Francis T, 1985. "An Equilibrium Queuing Model of Bribery," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 93(4), pages 760-81, August.
  10. Andrei Shleifer & Robert Vishny, 1991. "Pervasive Shortages Under Socialism," NBER Working Papers 3791, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Banerjee, A.V., 1997. "A Theory of Misgovernance," Working papers 97-4, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
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