9 September 2012
Countries where a wide range of occupations expect to be tipped are more corrupt than countries where tipping is not commonplace. This is the finding of Harvard research into the relationship between corruption and tipping.

The research supports a theory that tips and bribes amount to the same thing. “Both are gifts intended to strengthen social bonds and each is offered in conjunction with advantageous service. The main difference between the two acts is merely the timing of the gift: tips follow the rendering of a service, whereas bribes precede it.”

The research compared the Corruption Perceptions Index with another index on tipping – made up of 33 occupational groups and whether it is customary to tip those workers in a given country.

Countries where tipping is more prevalent ie the number of occupations where tips are commonly received, have a less satisfactory rating on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. The research explored the effects of sex and racial factors, for example analysing and applying the different attitudes of Indians and Canadians, and of men and women.

New Zealand, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden which score well on the CPI have few occupations that are tipped. Finland and Japan are the two outliers – with Finland, largely corruption free having a tipping custom for many occupations, and Japan with few occupations that receive tips nevertheless being rated as much more corrupt on the CPI.  Singapore was not referred to in the research although it is currently rated on the CPI as having the second least corrupt public sector.

The United Kingdom, Germany, France, Austria and Canada are similar in the extensiveness of tipping and the perceived levels of corruption in their public administrations. An outlier is the United States where tipping is more prevalent but corruption is at similar levels and Belgium where fewer occupations receive tips but public sector corruption is more common.

The researcher indicates that much more remains to be learned about the link between tips and bribes.  But if a tip is a bribe in drag, an unsolicited gift, which presumably amounts to a tip must also be a bribe. Is this why the Auditor General states that public employees may acquire, infrequently, only inexpensive gifts, openly distributed, and of no value “…like pens, badges and calendars..”