Houston, tenemos un problema!

Reuters published an article titled “Mexican ruling party insiders fear embattled president a liability.”  In what has to be the best distillation of the PRI ever printed, PRI lawmaker Francisco Arroyo, deputy speaker of the lower house, states:

“We have a serious problem perception-wise nationally about levels of government corruption.”

Indeed, from the PRI’s perspective, the problem isn’t that there is massive corruption, but rather that the public is on to them!  I wonder if Congressman Arroyo knew just how telling that statement was.

Ya se que no aplauden

Wow. Mexico screwed up and let the PRI back in power and they are getting just what they must have wanted.

At a press event where EPN introduced a member of his presidential transition team as the new anti-corruption investigator for the issue of the houses he and he wife obtained from government contractors, EPN didn’t get far enough away from the microphone at the end before complaining about the lack of applause.

Though not very grammatically elegant, “Ya se que no aplauden” is a trending hashtag on twitter and is emblematic of the bizarrely  disconnected EPN regime.

Here’s an amazing photo from the event:


and some reactions from Mexico:



“I want you to investigate what this other hand did”

How you know when your anti-corruption campaign is working

The Latin American Herald Tribune posted an interesting piece the other day with the awesome headline “Anti-Corruption Campaign Reduces Interest in Civil Service in China.”

I guess that’s one way to gauge how well the anti-corruption campaign is working, although there are clearly other factors at work.  There were 22,000 government jobs available this year and 1.4 million people enrolled to take an exam to try to get one of those jobs.  This is down from 2013 numbers, which were also lower than 2012 figures by 130,000 test takers. Despite the decrease in test takers, I would say that the demand for civil service work is still pretty competitive!

President Xi has worked to make high posts less attractive, by reducing benefits such as “unnecessary banquets, gifts, first-class flights and other perks.”

While the official media is using the decrease to highlight the efficacy of the anti-corruption campaign, there are some other factors which should be noted.  For instance, to qualify for some of the jobs, test takers must now have 2 years of experience at a post higher than the provincial level.  Also, the article notes that “Over the past few years the duties of civil servants and senior officials have toughened to such an extent that some have died of exhaustion or committed suicide due to stress.”  Wow, that’s not what you usually think of when you think of the civil service.  That has to discourage potential job seekers!

Mexican news round-up

Sadly, Mexico went from making headlines for its bold economic reforms to making the news for horrific violence and corruption.  Here’s a round up of some good recent articles on the situation:

1. Lingering Question from Mexico Student Massacre: Why?

2. The Disappeared of Iguala, Mexico: A Crime Foretold

3. There Are More than 43 Missing People in Guerrero and Mexico’s Military May Have a Role

4. Mexico’s first lady to sell her stake in mansion at centre of scandal

5. EPN warns that protests may destabilize the country (in Spanish)

6. México malo, México bueno

“If this is our future, we don’t want it”

A student in my Mexico class came across this video and I decided to share it because I thought it was powerful and well done.  The video is short (~4 minutes) and is acted completely by kids.  In it, they show the myriad problems plaguing Mexican society today.  At the end, they say that if their future will be like the one portrayed in the video, they don’t want it.  I cannot explain exactly why, but having the kids act out the problems gave me goose bumps.  It is in Spanish but you don’t need to speak it to understand the message.

Corruption and Colonial Legacies

There has been some great work in the last couple of years investigating the long-run effects of Spanish colonialism on Latin American development.  Melissa Dell’s “The persistent effects of Peru’s mining mita” is one example (it was published in Econometrica but here is a working paper version).

I just learned of another interesting working paper on this general topic.  The author is Jenny Guardado R. and the piece is called “Office-Selling, Corruption and Long-term Development in Peru.” I haven’t read it yet but it’s moving to the top of my pile.  Here’s the (rather long) abstract:

This paper investigates the private returns to colonial offices and how these influence long-term economic and political outcomes across sub-national provinces in Peru. Exploiting exogenous variation in the needs of Spanish monarchs to sell offices due to fiscal emergencies induced by European wars and employing a unique dataset of the prices at which they sold them, I show how rates paid for colonial offices exhibit a pattern consistent with rent- seeking. In particular, positions with greater access to rents from agriculture and to gains from trade monopolies exhibit differentially higher prices than others. A closer look at the mechanisms behind these results reveals that when faced with a trade-off between revenue and quality of colonial officials, the Crown generally chose the former. The result was a decline in the ability of the Spanish monarch to monitor and enforce colonial policy limiting rent-seeking. I then present evidence demonstrating that these activities exerted negative influences on development over the long run. Specifically, provinces with highly valued offices in the 18th century today have higher poverty rates, lower public good provision and lower household consumption. One reason why the effects of rent-seeking persisted is through political conflict: provinces with highly valued offices also exhibited frequent anti-colonial rebellions, heightened anti-government violence and a deep-seated mistrust of politicians and democracy today. These results suggest that corruption have negative lasting consequences for economic development by exacerbating political conflicts.

h/t Justin Sandefur

Scaling up is hard to do

Blogging by Boz has an interesting post about rooting out corruption in the Mexican police force.  He notes that the government had set a goal to vet all of the police in the country but so far has only vetted 75% of the force.  I’m not sure when this goal was originally set, because 75% actually seems quite high to what I would expect.  There have been inevitable delays and some unfortunate unintended consequences.  Here are a few that Boz lists:

1. “Can they define “corruption”? There is a difference between a cop who takes bribes to let drivers out of traffic tickets and a cop who takes bribes to ignore extortion by cartels. The tests have allegedly been far better at finding the former than the latter.

2. Fired police have been recruited by criminal groups. In one particularly awful example in Jalisco, a fired police officer was working as a sicario for a cartel killing other police officers less than two weeks after he was removed from duty. If firing police simply increases the ranks and skills of criminal groups in certain states, that’s not a good policy. These fired officers need an opportunity and training to obtain an honest job.

3. Continued corruption. Even after these tests have taken place, there have been incidents of police who passed the tests working for criminal groups, sometimes in the role of kidnappers. That has harmed the population’s confidence in the testing process.”

Boz concludes by making the excellent argument that vetting is (1) hard to scale effectively; and (2) something that must be done continuously and not just a one-time deal.

Virtuous cycles: or Growth is good

Nice new NBER working paper, “Does Economic Growth Reduce Corruption? Theory & Evidence from Vietnam”

(Ungated version here).

The paper studies corruption across industries and provinces, finding that higher industry growth rates do reduce bribe payments, especially in industries that are mobile.

As the authors put it, “Our results suggest that as poor countries grow, corruption could subside “on its own,” and they demonstrate one type of positive feedback between economic growth and good institutions.”


Are Women Less Corrupt?

NPR reports that Mexico state has turned to women to try to solve its age-old problem of traffic cop corruption.  According to Police Chief Carlos Ortega Carpinteyro, the idea is that women are “much better suited for traffic duty than men because people respect them more.”  I’m not so sure about that claim, but he goes on to explain that  “when a man is approached by a female cop, even though he is the stronger sex, he calms down and will listen to her.”

This has not always been the case in Lima, which undertook a similar program years ago to battle corruption.  According to one associated press article on the Lima experiment, “80% of the 405 incidents reported in the past two years have involved one of the capital’s 1,031 female police, meaning roughly a third of them have been cursed, shoved, punched, dragged, run over or taken hostage by angry men. Cabbies and bus drivers are the worst offenders.”  Apparently, Mexico City tried this approach and scrapped it because of problems.

So how is the new program in Mexico working so far.  Well, there has been some obstacles.  According to the same police chief, the principle “challenge is finding a woman that portrays a good image. “We get too many short and fat ones. We need tall women that render respect when out in the streets.”  Ah, Mexico, a place still untouched by political correctness.

What do others have to say?  Well, the state government won’t allow these new female traffic cops to actually issue tickets until the local units have enacted all of the anti-corruption safeguards that are supposed to be in place.  The article depressingly notes that “To date none of the agencies have done so, a state official says. The official wryly says it’s really hard for police officers to give up their old ways.”

Here is a photo of some of the new recruits with their bright orange uniforms.  The article notes that “most have matching orange eye shadow and lipstick on, too.” !!


Crime in Latin America

InsightCrime has had some great articles recently on crime & violence in Latin America.  Here is a link to the ones I found most interesting:

1. Southern Pulse: The Politics of Corruption in Guatemala

2. How Street Gangs Have Complicated Mexico Security

3. The Mara Women: Gender Roles in Central American Street Gangs

4. Brazil’s Military Police: Calls for Demilitarization