Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. James C. Cox - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Charles N. Noussair

Third Advisor

Dr. Mary Beth Walker

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Yongsheng Xu

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Susan K. Laury

Sixth Advisor

Dr. Ragan A. Petrie

Seventh Advisor

Dr. Jorge L. Martinez-Vazquez


This dissertation comprises three essays. The theme that unifies them is "experiments on corruption and preferences." The first essay (chapter 2) reports theory-testing experiments on the effect of yardstick competition (a form of government competition) on corruption. The second essay (chapter 3) reports theory-testing experiments on the effect of efficiency and transparency on corruption. Furthermore, this essay revisits the yardstick competition question by implementing an alternative experimental design and protocol. Finally, the third essay (chapter 4) reports a theory-testing randomized field experiment that identifies the causes and consequences of corruption. The first essay finds the following. Theoretically, the paper derives a main proposition which suggests that institutions with more noise give rise to an increase in corrupt behavior and a decrease in voter welfare. Empirically, the paper finds a few key results. First, there are an initial nontrivial proportion of good incumbents in the population. This proportion goes down as the experiment session progresses. Secondly, a large proportion of bad incumbents make theoretically inconsistent choices given the assumptions of the model. Third, overall evidence of yardstick competition is mild. Yardstick competition has little effect as a corruption-taming mechanism when the proportion of good incumbents is low. Namely, an institution that is characterized by a small number of good incumbents has little room for yardstick competition, since bad incumbents are likely to be replaced by equally bad incumbents. Thus, incumbents have less of an incentive to build a reputation. This is also the case in which (1) yardstick competition leads to non-increasing voter welfare and (2) voters are more likely to re-elect bad domestic incumbents. Finally, a partitioning of the data by gender suggests that males and females exhibit different degrees of learning depending on the payoffs they face. Furthermore, male voter behavior exhibits mild evidence of yardstick competition when voters face the pooling equilibrium payoff. The second essay finds the following. First, efficiency is an important determinant of corruption. A decrease in efficiency makes it more costly for incumbents to "do the right thing." This drives them to divert maximum rents. While voters retaliate slightly, voters tend to be worse off. Secondly, increased lack of a particular form of transparency (as defined in terms of an increase in risk in the distribution of the unit cost) leaves corrupt incumbent behavior unchanged. In particular, if the draw of the unit cost is unfavorable, incumbents tend to be less corrupt. Third, there is strong evidence of yardstick competition. On the incumbent's side, yardstick competition acts as a corruption-taming mechanism if the incumbent is female. On the voter's side, voters are less likely to re-elect the incumbent in the presence of yardstick competition. Specifically, voters pay attention to the difference between the tax signal in their own jurisdiction and that in another. As this difference increases, voters re-elect less. This gives true meaning to the concept of "benchmarking." Finally, the analysis sheds light on the role of history and beliefs on behavior. Beliefs are an important determinant of incumbents' choices. If an incumbent perceives a tax signal to be associated with a higher likelihood of re-election, he is more likely to choose it. On the voter's side, history tends to be important. In particular, voters are more likely to vote out incumbents as time progresses. This suggests that incumbents care about tax signals because they provide access to re-elections while voters use the history of taxes and re-elections in addition to current taxes to formulate their re-election decisions. Finally, the third essay finds the following. First, 19.08% of mail is lost. Secondly, money mail is more likely to be lost at a rate of 20.90% and this finding is significant at the 10% level. This finding suggests that loss of mail is systematic (non-random), which implies that this type of corruption is due to strategic behavior as opposed to plain shirking on the part of mail handlers. Third, we find that loss of mail is non-random across other observables. In particular, middle-income neighborhoods are more likely to experience lost (money) mail. Also, female heads of household in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to experience lost mail while female heads of household in high-income neighborhoods are much less likely to experience lost (money) mail. Finally, this form of corruption is costly to different stakeholders. The sender of mail bears a direct and an indirect cost. The direct cost is the value of the mail. The indirect cost is the cost of having to switch carriers once mail has been lost. Corruption is also costly to the intended mail recipient as discussed above. Finally, corruption is costly the mail company (SERPOST) in terms of lost revenue and to society in terms of loss of trust. Overall, the findings suggest that public-private partnerships need not increase efficiency by reducing corruption; particularly, when the institution remains a monopoly. Increased efficiency in mail delivery is likely to require (1) privatization and (2) competition; otherwise, the monopolist has no incentive to provide better service and loss of mail is likely to persist.

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Economics Commons