Probity bites

Where’s a corrupt public official when you need one?

Georgia’s anticorruption campaign has gone too far. Only a few years ago, you couldn’t drive a hundred yards without a “traffic policeman” shaking you down. They were fired en masse shortly after the Saakashvili administration came to power. The government then took on the universities, where admissions, grades, and degrees all had price tags. By all accounts, petty corruption has been almost entirely routed out.

I’ve been caught in a vortex of bureaucratic misdirection and red tape, all because the most-recent arrival stamp in my passport is wrong (I arrived in January 2008, and my passport shows December 2008—the month wheel on the date stamper obviously was off by one click). For another document I need to show that I arrived in the last few months—and that I’m not a visitor from the future (yes, several officials have made Terminator cracks). I’ve been shuttled from one ministry to another, as they try to sort out who’s responsible and how to verify my claim. It’s not a model of efficiency, but everyone is trying to help.

In the recent, bad old days, this would’ve been easy. Slip twenty dollars to a border guard, and get a stamp that says whatever I want it to. Today, that would be unthinkable. This is an astounding cultural shift. Georgia has had a reputation for corruption that goes back centuries and, since independence, had scuttled around the bottom of the cross-country corruption ratings. Most Georgians accepted that it was part of their “mentality” (a favorite word in the post-Soviet lexicon). Not so, much to my inconvenience.

I tried waving a copy of “Economic Development Through Bureaucratic Corruption” at the border guards:

Following the procedure suggested here, however, governments would accept corruption as an aspect of their societies, and try to optimize policy-making within this framework.

But they weren’t to be swayed, saying “don’t you read Becker-Posner?”