Enlarge (credit: Dave Barger)
In many developing countries, the struggle for economic growth is set back by rampant corruption.

According to figures in a new study of the issue, people in urban areas of Kenya typically pay bribes 16 times a month.

That’s a drain on the economy, and it adds a layer of complexity between citizens and essential government services.
While a variety of policy approaches have attempted to limit corruption, it’s difficult to track their effectiveness. Now, an international team of researchers has developed a game-theory approach to teasing out the factors that contribute to corruption.

Their results show that under the wrong circumstances, a common method of limiting corruption—government transparency—can actually make matters worse.
Cooperation vs. the freeloaders
The foundation of this work is what’s called a “public goods game,” which measures people’s willingness to cooperate.
In this game, everyone starts with a pool of cash and is given the opportunity to contribute to a common, public pool.

The resulting pool is then multiplied, and its contents are distributed evenly among the players.

The group as a whole works out best if everyone cooperates, contributing the maximum amount to the pool.

But individuals do best if they freeload: contribute nothing, then take their share of the public pool.
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