Corruption among civil service aspirants

We can stop blaming the bureaucracy now for making people corrupt. The young bright hopefuls that we talk about when we refer to the civil service aspirants…sigh! how wrong we were!

See this new NBER paper by Rema Hanna and Shing-Yi Wang:

To capture an individual’s propensity to cheat, we asked each participant to roll a standard die 42 times. While we do not know with certainty if an individual lied, we can observe how far each individual’s distribution of reports is from the uniform distribution…

…we conducted the dice task with 165 government nurses who were part of an experiment conducted by Dhaliwal and Hanna (2013), in which they collected detailed measures of absenteeism through the use of random checks over a two year period. Thus, we can test whether the dice task outcome predicts fraudulent absenteeism…

Dishonestly as measured by the dice task is rampant. About 34 percent of the students reported points that were above the 99th percentile of the theoretical distribution. The government nurses appeared to cheat less, with only about 9 percent above the 99th percentile…

..The dice task outcome predicts corrupt behavior by government nurses: nurses who were above the sample median of dice points were 7.1 percent more likely to be fraudulently absent than those below it. Students who cheated on the dice game were then 6.3 percent more likely to want a government job…

Very interesting! It is probably too late now, what an experiment this would have been, with the young qualifiers at the LBSNAA

A couple of points

  • The nurses were offered candies instead of money for their dice game – the authors recognise that this might have influenced levels of cheating. In any case, I wonder if comparing the students’ cohort to the nurses is really valid. After all, they say most of them were Science and Commerce students – how many of them would have aspired to be nurses? It may have been better to find out what the dominant preference among these students were and try to conduct a similar experiment with junior to mid-level officers in the same line of civil service
  • Next,  wonder how good a measure of corruption attendance is, especially among nurses. they are comparing this to corruption among nurses. Government jobs do not have flexible timings and are also not too good at either incentivising or penalising attendance. Not attending work probably doesn’t present any moral conundrum in these cases – is this the same as stealing?
  • Now, on the students themselves that took the dice roll –  I would look at group behaviour as well; the nurses or other civil servants being used as comparison are probably cheating in groups and colluding with each other as well. It would be really interesting to find out how these students’ propensity of cheating and the extent of it varied if the are given group-tasks. 
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