Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Initial Successes: Zero Rupee Note

An Indian NGO named 5th Pillar prints and distributes zero (yes, 0) Rupee notes to the poor who then hand them to corrupt officials asking for bribes in order to get public services that ought to be free. Sounds nutty, right? According to the World Bank, it's doing something:
Fed up with requests for bribes and equipped with a zero rupee note, the old lady handed the note to the official. He was stunned. Remarkably, the official stood up from his seat, offered her a chair, offered her tea and gave her the title she had been seeking for the last year and a half to obtain without success.... In another experience, a corrupt official in a district in Tamil Nadu was so frightened on seeing the zero rupee note that he returned all the bribe money he had collected for establishing a new electricity connection back to the no longer compliant citizen.

Granted there is no quantitative econometrics, survey, or experimental data, I'm just impressed there are qualitative instances (datum-s) of this being effective. How/Why does it work?

First, bribery is a crime in India punishable with jail time. Corrupt officials seldom encounter resistance by ordinary people that they become scared when people have the courage to show their zero rupee notes, effectively making a strong statement condemning bribery. ... More importantly, Anand believes that the success of the notes lies in the willingness of the people to use them. People are willing to stand up against the practice that has become so commonplace because they are no longer afraid: first, they have nothing to lose, and secondly, they know that this initiative is being backed up by an organization—that is, they are not alone in this fight.

I have a feeling Gandhi would love it. Hat tip: Marginal Revolution

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