Inequality and Corruption at the Crossroads: A Multi-Method Study of Bribery and Discrimination in Latin America

Investigator: CDEP Affiliate Paul Lagunes with Brian Fried and Atheendar Venkataramani

Police bribery has been described as the most pervasive form of corruption. What is worse is the extent to which police corruption targets vulnerable populations differentially. Brian Fried, Atheendar Venkataramani, and Paul Lagunes studied this issue. Their article in Latin American Research Review examines how socioeconomic distinctions influence whether Mexico City police request a bribe. Their field experiment, which was recently replicated by U.S.-based political scientists in an African city, had four automobile drivers commit minor traffic violations across a randomized sequence of crossroads. They, then, identified the effect of citizens’ perceived wealth on officers’ propensity to solicit bribes and on the size of the bribes that they solicit. Against some of the predictions in the existing literature, the authors find that police do tend to act in a biased manner—they are more likely to target poorer individuals. They also find significant shirking by law enforcement agents—in the face of numerous and blatant traffic violations, not a single traffic ticket was issued.

This project is part of CDEP's Politics, Institutions and Conflict Initiative.