Pocket Change: Can Banning Pockets Reduce Bribery?

Sometimes it’s not all about character. Sometimes the solution isn’t to tell people, “hey, look inside yourself and you’ll see what’s right and wrong.” Sometimes, you just need to give people new pants.

From the BBC: Nepal bans airline staff pockets

Staff at Nepal’s main international airport are to be issued with trousers without pockets, in an attempt to wipe out rampant bribe-taking.

The country’s anti-corruption body said there had been growing complaints about staff at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport.

A spokesman said trousers without pockets would help the authorities “curb the irregularities”.

I know what some of you are thinking: “Pockets don’t take bribes; people with pockets take bribes.” And since people are the problem, some of them may well find ways around Nepal’s proposed sartorial solution.

But the serious point here is about 2 different kinds of solutions to problems like corruption. On one hand, you use what might be called “people” solutions: you can hire carefully, give your employees ethics training, and try through leadership to instill and promote the right values. The other kind of solution we could call broadly “technological.” Like eliminating pockets, or making sure a safe can only be opened by a combination of 2 keys held by 2 different employees. Also in this category are rules about who may or may not be at the table while a particular decision is made, as a way of avoiding conflict of interest.

I think there’s a lot to be learned by thinking about the difference between those two types of solutions, and thinking about which one is appropriate for what kinds of ethical problems.

2 comments so far

  1. sciencebasedpharmacy on

    My first job was my first encounter with pocketless pants – McDonalds. We were told it was because we were forbidden to accept tips. Not sure if it’s still part of the uniform.

  2. Grady on

    Do you think the strategy of no pockets will work, Chris?


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