Honesty Cafes

As part of an ongoing effort to battle a culture of corruption, the Indonesian government is opening Honesty Cafes, designed to teach people the value of honesty. Snacks and drinks are available, and you pay on the honor system, putting your money into a clear plastic box. From the NY Times:

The attorney general’s office says the honesty cafes will nip in the bud corrupt tendencies among the young and straighten out those known for indulging in corrupt practices, starting with civil servants. By shifting the responsibility of paying correctly to the patrons themselves, the cafes are meant to force people to think constantly about whether they are being honest and, presumably, make them feel guilty if they are not.

It's a cute idea, but I think the reasoning behind it is flawed, because even if people behave honestly in the cafes, that doesn't mean the behavior is going to transfer to other contexts.

Law/Police/Crime Psychology

Posted on Thu Jun 18, 2009


It's remarkable how people fail to learn from MASSIVE errors in other cultures. Being a Romanian, I've always wondered why nobody realized that Communism was doomed to failure from the beginning, if only because people simply cannot work under an honor system alone -- shifting responsibility to the masses and just expecting them to behave is a recipe for disaster. Then I found the concept of the Tragedy of the Commons (look it up in Wikipedia) which has its roots in Ancient Greece. And that's only about the relatively minor day-to-day routine in Communist regimes (sharing costs for utilities and transportation on a honor system for example).

Of course you realize all Communist regimes incidentally also suffered from endemic corruption on all levels, which closes the circle with the Indonesian parallel.
Posted by Gutza  on  Thu Jun 18, 2009  at  01:17 PM
What if you don't have the right change?
Posted by torpid rat  on  Fri Jun 19, 2009  at  01:09 AM
It's a strange idea that just because some people are dishonest all people should be dishonest. What if we applied that same reasoning to other things: "There will always be Jeffrey Dahmers so we should all kill, rape and eat people."

I think it's a good idea. I think we should teach people virtues, even if not everyone learns. I know of a school in an east Asian country where they start tests with questions like "Would your grandparents want you to cheat on this test?" and it seems to have eliminated a lot of (but not all) cheating. If we accept the idea that social responsibility is only needed when convenient and that we should live down to the standards the worst members of society, than I think we can honestly say we live in a failed and inferior culture.
Posted by caio  on  Sat Jun 20, 2009  at  10:16 AM
Caio, your comparison with Jeffrey Dahmer is wrong on two counts. First, we're talking about corruption, not anarchy -- think Madoff, not Dahmer. Second, even that would be wrong, because both Madoff and Dahmer were convicted -- imagine a society where Madoff would get away with it. Even worse, imagine a society where there are many Madoffs, basically stealing larger or smaller amounts and getting away with it. And now imagine those are the guys running the country you live in, plus all of the public servants. I'm not sure you can imagine how tempted you'd be to join in on the fun -- you wouldn't be taking part in any violent crime, and there would be no negative incentive preventing you from doing it. That's why corruption is so difficult to fight, once it gets hold of a country: the very people who should fight corruption are corruptible by design (once the government on its whole goes bad, who's going to appoint the offices supposed to fight corruption?)
Posted by Gutza  on  Sat Jun 20, 2009  at  10:46 AM
I respect the effort made by the Indonesian government to bring awareness to their people to combat corruption.
Posted by anna  on  Sat Oct 10, 2009  at  07:53 AM
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