The Philosophy of Bribes

The Philosophy of Bribes

My friend was telling me a story of how he recently was flagged for speeding. The police officer waved him down. The conversation went something like:

Police: “You were speeding."

Friend: “What? I don’t think I was. How are you so convinced I was speeding?”

Police: "I can see from the distance that you're speeding. I have been doing this long enough. I know you were speeding.” [big smile]

Friend: [dumbfound and speechless]

Police: "And your car is too hot… I can feel. It is too hot, so you were definitely speeding. Now pay..."

In Zimbabwe, we pay what’s called a “spot fine.” It’s a fee paid on the scene (typically around $20). In many cases, this is the money the police gain their salary from.

But rather than us paying spot fines all day, imagine the cop pulled out a list of things he needed in his life and asked you to contribute. In essence, that’s what they’re doing already. It’s not quite that transparent, but that’s what they use the funds for—school fees for their kids, groceries, rent, airtime.

Why don't I just pay for your school fees?

Bribes in the USA are different. First, $200 is not acceptable as a monthly salary in the States. That’s the average here in Zimbabwe. Bribes in the USA look like perks (healthcare, benefits, and key relationships). They look like back scratches and favors. And the actual “bribes” are always under the table.

They’re there. You don’t see them.

I would make the case that the way many bribes are done in Africa are the most efficient system because society as a whole has become accustomed to dodging the real problems. So, if society won’t deal with the true problems, then the spot fines, fees, and duties are the most efficient way for the police, government employee, and clerks to get paid.

I don’t advocate paying bribes in the case of greasing palms. But when it comes to being pulled over for speeding (when I was actually speeding), then I see no problem in helping the policeman pay for his kids to go to school.

That’s how life rolls in Zimbabwe. It may be hard for an outside mind to understand, but it’s actually an efficient way to navigate a severely inefficient system.

(photo via tristam sparks)