A few years ago, I registered for a driver’s license in my home country. I signed up for the compulsory classes and exams, which were expensive. After classes were completed, it was time for the driving test. Everything went smoothly, and I completed the test. When I went to retrieve my license, the official behind the counter told me that the results of the test would be released by the end of the day. However, if I wanted to pass, I had to give him a “tip” of a significant amount. He mentioned that everyone else gave him a “tip,” as anyone who did not would fail the driving test automatically. Should I pay the bribe?

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About John Hooker

T. Jerome Holleran Professor of Business Ethics and Social Responsibility Tepper School of Business Carnegie Mellon University

2 responses »

  1. John Hooker says:

    This is actually not a bribe, but what is often called a “facilitating payment,” which is a small, routine extortion payment. An extortion payment is made to obtain something to which you are already entitled. A bribe is paid to influence a decision in your favor when you are not necessarily entitled to it. I am assuming you passed the driving test, which makes the “tip” an extortion payment, because you are entitled to the license. If you failed the test, it would be a bribe.

    This doesn’t tell us whether it is ethical for you to make the payment, but it probably is. I gather that facilitating payments are common in your home country. In such cases, the generalization principle asks whether the social practice presupposed by your purpose in making the payment would be sustainable if everyone did likewise. Your driver’s license presupposes a practice of identifying people who are qualified to drive. My guess is that, by and large, the licenses are granted to people who pass the test (since they pay the “tip”) and denied to those who fail. So the extra payments don’t undermine the system, but only make it more expensive to operate.

    Making the payment is also utilitarian, because it is better all around for you to pay the official than to waste your time and money to go through the whole process again and hope to avoid extortion.

    So you can ethically pay up, however irritating it may be.


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    Liked by 1 person

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