Cheating and Public Service

24 February 2014 at 6:09 pm 3 comments

| Dick Langlois |

Everyone knows that people who want to go into government jobs have high pro-social preferences and impeccable honesty. Well, not so in India, according to Rema Hanna from the Kennedy School at Harvard, who spoke in our department seminar series Friday. Here is the abstract:

In this paper, we demonstrate that university students who cheat on a simple task in a laboratory setting are more likely to state a preference for entering public service. Importantly, we also show that cheating on this task is predictive of corrupt behavior by real government workers, implying that this measure captures a meaningful propensity towards corruption. Students who demonstrate lower levels of prosocial preferences in the laboratory games are also more likely to prefer to enter the government, while outcomes on explicit, two-player games to measure cheating and attitudinal measures of corruption do not systematically predict job preferences. We find that a screening process that chooses the highest ability applicants would not alter the average propensity for corruption among the applicant pool. Our findings imply that differential selection into government may contribute, in part, to corruption. They also emphasize that screening characteristics other than ability may be useful in reducing corruption, but caution that more explicit measures may offer little predictive power.

I wonder what her colleagues at the Kennedy School think of this. Ask not what you can do for your country; ask what your country can do for you.

Entry filed under: - Langlois -, Institutions, Myths and Realities, Public Policy / Political Economy. Tags: .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Peter Klein  |  25 February 2014 at 9:59 am

    Does academia count as “public service”?!

  • 2. Dick Langlois  |  25 February 2014 at 10:27 am

    The straight-faced answer is: in this study, the subjects were undergraduates from mid-level universities in Bangalore, so they were all looking for jobs in the (mostly state-level) bureaucracy. But it would be interesting to try this kind of study in other contexts. One thing she found is that people who score high on a measure of neuroticism tend to cheat less and to want government jobs less, all other things equal. That bodes well for academics.

  • 3. Rafe’s Roundup, March 2 | Catallaxy Files  |  1 March 2014 at 7:35 am

    […] news. What you always suspected about public servants. How they proliferate. The original statement of Parkinson’s law, work expands to fit the […]

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