1. Sometimes, bribery is actually helpful:
India has outlawed cattle exports, but that hasn’t prevented well-organized traffickers from herding millions of the unlucky beasts each year onto trains and trucks, injecting them with drugs on arrival so they walk faster, then forcing them to ford rivers and lumber into slaughterhouses immediately across the border…. “The border guards are in on it, both in India and Bangladesh, and take bribes to look the other way,” said Yasin Mullah, 55, a Murshidabad shopkeeper and cow owner. “Smuggling is rampant these days with all the money and growing population.”
As Matt Yglesias points out (in, admittedly, a less extreme example), the sheer number of inefficient laws should make us think twice when wishing that enforcement was stronger across the board. Dozens of useless laws lie fallow on the books, and sometimes having guards bribed is better than having the laws be cracked down on.
[HT: Marginal Revolution]
2. And sometimes it’s part of the bad government trap which Paul Collier has described in The Bottom Billion:
At least $300m (£200m) is paid in bribes at checkpoints in Ivory Coast each year… the total amount may be up to $600m… that would be more than 2% of the country’s economy.
The bribes are taken at roadblocks, where merchants are stopped and shaken down for roadside “fines”. As the article says, the Ivory Coast used to dominate the West of Africa economically. But it has fallen into a series of interlocking traps which hold down its growth. Basically, despite widespread intuitions that wars can ultimately promote economies by stimulating demand, the wars of the Ivory coast have decimated its economy. Clearly, not only is there damage to the actual goods of the society, but the divided areas of the country, the uncertainty of the rule of law and the huge number of armed young men roaming leaves the country in a trap that is very difficult to alleviate.