March 2016

IZA DP No. 9859: Corruption, Norm Violation and Decay in Social Capital

published in: Journal of Public Economics, 2016, 137, 14–27

The paper studies the link between corruption and social capital (measured as trust), using data from a lab experiment. Subjects play either a harassment bribery game or a strategically identical but differently framed ultimatum game, followed by a trust game. In a second experiment, we elicit social appropriateness norm of actions in the bribery game and the ultimatum game treatments. Our experimental design allows us to examine whether subjects, who have been asked to pay a bribe, are less likely to trust than those in an isomorphic role in the ultimatum game. We also uncover the underlying mechanism behind any such behavioral spillover. Results suggest that a) there is a negative spillover effect of corruption on trust and the effect increases with decrease in social appropriateness norm of the bribe demand; b) lower trust in the bribery game treatment is explained by lower expected return on trust; c) surprisingly, for both the bribery and the ultimatum game treatments, social appropriateness norm violation engenders the decay in trust through its adverse effect on belief about trustworthiness.