New research suggests the way to get more honest public officials is to pay them more.
Pacific Standard highlights a study from Germany that assigned subjects two roles – either a public servant or a citizen with a need. In some cases the subjects were told the public official was paid similarly to the citizen, others were told the citizen earned significantly higher wages.
Members of the two groups were paired off and interacted with one another over the course of 25 rounds, in order for them to establish a relationship. During each round, the “citizen” decided whether to offer the “public official” a bribe, and if so for how much. The “public official” then chose whether to accept it; a “yes” set in motion a process where both players’ rewards were increased.
Both were aware that the bribe money was coming out of an amount set aside to be donated to a major charity of their choice. So while both would benefit monetarily from the transaction, it would be at the expense of the common good.
They also realized that the experiment was being monitored, and there was a small chance a bribe would be detected, which would result in both parties being disqualified.
The results: Once the parties’ relationship was firmly established, low-wage “public officials” accepted 91 percent of bribes offered. High-wage officials accepted only 38 percent.