Curbing dishonesty in Tunisia

I am not talking here about some of the ineffective moralistic campaigns conducted by some non profits and political parties. I am referring to the work of Daniel Ariely and other scientists looking at behavior economics and how their conclusions can apply to the Tunisian context.

The first good news is that, when the frequency of cheating is tested objectively and scientifically, there is no major difference between people in Germany, in Argentina or Tunisia. It looks like the very context, constraints, gains and incentives make a “human being” cheat more in Tanzania then in UK. No big scoop so far. What I liked however about his findings is that you don’t need to change the whole system and wait two hundred years to make people less dishonest. Honesty and trust are prerequisite of any healthy business activity, economic growth and development, so it is a big deal to know how to increase them almost immediately.

I am not a policy expert but instead of (or in addition to) using techniques from the seventies, add another government agency (without a functioning email address), or undertake a 20 year-project, it is time for policy-makers to start looking at immediate nudges to be applied to selected processes and approaches, based on recent insights from behavioral science. Very small tweaks can help increase tax payment rates, reduce absenteism, decrease bribing, in short : making people cheat less, in a country where 56% of the economy is off the book. Many of these interventions are relatively simple and cheap, and can be introduced alongside some of the more traditional methods employed by public bodies. Please also check the Behavioral Insights team trying to do the same in UK, and the excellent Poor Economics.

insights

 

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