What Do Managers Mean When They Say ‘Firms Like Theirs’ Pay Bribes?

  •  George R.G. Clarke    


It is difficult to get firm managers to answer questions on corruption honestly. Because of this, most surveys ask about corruption indirectly—asking whether corruption is a problem or whether ‘firms like this one’ pay bribes. Most studies interpret managers’ responses to indirect questions as if they were answering about their own behavior. This might not be the case, however. This paper uses data from a survey of construction contractors in Afghanistan to look at how managers respond to indirect questions. We show that firms that are averse to paying bribes to win government contracts, and so do not bid for them, are more likely to say that firms like theirs pay bribes at other times. If managers answer the general indirect questions on corruption thinking about their own actions, we would expect that firms that are averse to paying bribes to win contracts would also be averse to paying bribes at other times. One explanation for the counterintuitive result is that firms answer the indirect questions as asked—about what they believe other firms are doing. This has important implications for studies that use indirect questions to assess what types of firms pay bribes.

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