Sunday, December 10, 2006

Parking and Corruption

The New York Times Magazine today published its "Ideas" issue--a fascinating compendium of studies and cultural observations from the past year. An interesting entry in this issue reviewed a study published during the summer by two economists, Raymond Fisman of Columbia and Edward Miguel of UC-Berkeley.

Fisman and Miguel decided to see if there was a correlation between the behavior of diplomats at the United Nations in New York and the level of corruption in the countries they represent. More specifically, they asked whether diplomats from countries ranking high on indices of official corruption were more likely to exploit their diplomatic immunity by parking illegally on New York's crowded streets. Here's an extended excerpt of the Magazine's summary:

The two scholars studied parking tickets that were racked up in Manhattan by diplomats from 146 countries who were posted to the United Nations. In a situation in which every diplomat essentially received an invitation to be corrupt, diplomats from nations with "clean" governments said, "No, thanks."

The study began with the observation that, until late 2002, there was essentially zero enforcement of parking rules where diplomats were concerned. Diplomats were ticketed, but few if any cars were towed, and no one demanded payment. Using public records stretching back to 1997, Fisman and Miguel identified which diplomats had delinquent tickets, and how many --150,000 in all, representing more than $18 million in fines.

If incentives trumped culture, you would suppose that diplomats from every nation would cheat. But in fact, attach├ęs from Canada, Ireland, Scandinavian nations and Japan evidently drove around the block till they found a spot. (Diplomats with few or no unpaid tickets also tended to get few tickets, period.) The worst offenders, meanwhile, came from Kuwait (246 unpaid tickets per diplomat), Egypt, Chad, Sudan, Bulgaria, Mozambique, Albania, Angola and Senegal. This behavior correlated strongly with the scores of diplomats' home countries on a measure of public corruption compiled by World Bank researchers.

I'm hoping to conduct a similar study of the correlates of students who park illegally in the faculty lot at Pepperdine next semester.