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Parking Tickets and National Character in Turtle Bay
July 27, 2011 - By: - In: In the News / Awards - 18 comments

It is generally very difficult to find a place to park in Manhattan. And the most difficult place of all in Manhattan to find a parking place is in our neighborhood around the United Nations. This is because diplomats come with cars and drivers, which take diplomatic parking spaces, of which there are not enough to go around. I have reported on this parking problem in the past, when I have been disrespected by certain drivers of certain competitors, who now stay on the north side of 46th Street thanks to certain conversations that made certain points clear.

But sad to say, diplomats in all their immunity do not have the same fear of the tow truck that makes the rest of us behave. Much to the fury of the alternative side of the street crowd (currently stuck in traffic trying to cross Broadway), diplomats don’t have to pay parking tickets.

A few years ago, Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel took a look at which countries pay their tickets and which don’t. In Cultures of Corruption: Evidence From Diplomatic Parking Tickets, the two economists saw a way to get at the culture of corruption on the level playing field that is parking, NYC-style.

The lack of any enforcement allowed the researchers to “examine the role of cultural norms alone. This generates a revealed preference measure of government officials’ corruption based on real-world behavior taking place in the same setting. We find strong persistence in corruption norms: diplomats from high corruption countries (based on existing survey-based indices) have significantly more parking violations, and these differences persist over time. In a second main result, officials from countries that survey evidence indicates have less favorable popular views of the United States commit significantly more parking violations, providing non-laboratory evidence on sentiment in economic decision-making. Taken together, factors other than legal enforcement appear to be important determinants of corruption.”

Jon Bruner, Datanaut over at Forbes, has created two world maps, one of diplomatic parking scofflaws (pictured above) after the study by Fisman and Miguel, and one of official corruption as calculated by Transparency International:

Fisman concluded that a “certain amount of corruption is grounded in culture and immune to carrots and sticks.”

Scandinavian countries, which perennially rank among the least corrupt in the corruption index, had the fewest unpaid tickets. There were just 12 tickets from the 66 diplomats from Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, and almost all of these tickets went to one bad Finn.

Chad and Bangladesh, at the bottom of the corruption index, were among the worst scofflaws. They shirked 1,243 and 1,319 tickets, respectively, in spite of the fact that their UN missions were many times smaller than those of the Scandinavians.

So are some languages better for bribery than others? Maybe there’s no way in Danish to ask for a bribe, while there might be 50 different words for bribery in Bengali. Just checked the thesaurus and found 40 synonyms in English. Not sure if that’s a lot or a little.

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