I’ve been thoroughly enjoying John Steinbeck’s account of his journey in the early 1940s to the waters of Baja, Mexico, where he was helping a biologist friend gather samples of the diverse ocean life. The book is The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1941).
There is lots of philosophy here as well as some science, and lots of funny stories told with dry humor. Steinbeck reveals a wonderful distinction between U.S.-style corruption and Mexican-style corruption. Mexico has a cash bribe system and the U.S. a credit bribe system. Steinbeck (tongue-in-cheek) prefers the Mexican cash system for its greater economic efficiency, and ultimately, its psychological effects:
“We have thought of this in regard to the bribes one sometimes given to Mexican officials. This is universally condemned by Americans, and yet it is a simple, easy process. A bargain is struck, a price named, the money paid, a graceful complements change, a service performed, and it is over. He is not your man nor you his….
“We find we like this cash and carry bribery as contrasted with our own system of credits. With us, no bargain is struck, no price named, nothing is clear. We go to a friend who knows the judge. The friend goes to the judge. The judge knows a senator who has the ear of the awarder of contracts. And eventually we sell five carloads of lumber. But the process has only begun. Every member of the chain is tied to every other. Ten years later the son of the order of contracts must be appointed to Annapolis. The Senator must have traffic tickets fixed formany years to come. The judge has a political lien on your friend, And your friend taxes you indefinitely with friends who need jobs. It would be simpler and cheaper to go to the order of contracts, give him one-quarter of the price of the lumber, and get it over with. But that is dishonest, that is a bribe. Everyone in the credit chain eventually hates and fears everyone else. What the bride-bargain, having no enforcing mechanism, promotes mutual respect and a genuine liking” (p. 82).
This is a clear demonstration of the double coincidence of wants problem in economics, when comparing barter to a cash economy.
Despite the allure of Mexico's more efficient bribe system, I still prefer a just system that arises from people following fair laws, and civil servants who are virtuous enough to enforce them without prejudice. Obviously, if laws are unfair, or civil servants are corrupt, then a cash bribe system would have a lot more going for it.