Saturday, June 9, 2007

Why rules don't work

I was discussing the other day with someone how people violate rules with impunity. When I said a society needs rules for maintaining order, he came out with a strange observation:

"You know why we have rules? Simple, so that officials can get bribes!"

Take bribes? I was surprised. How does that work?

"There are so many rules -- take anything: be it on driving, constructing buildings, opening a new office, getting birth certificate, whatever -- none of us know what they are."

According to him, most of us are violating one rule or the other!

But how is that related to bribes?

"Simple," he says. "Have these webs of rules, ensure that no one knows them. All that an official needs to do is flash the rule book on your face, slap the fine. When you plead ignorance of the rule, he will consider your appeal; but then as a win-win concession deal, he'll subtly hint that he be paid off. Since you know that you have actually violated the rule, and stand no chance of winning this battle, you agree to end the ordeal by giving the official a bribe."

This guy's generalisation really shocked me. One, he thinks all the officials are corrupt. Second, he presumes our society can't be a rule-abiding one. Third, he thinks all of us are willing to break the rules and pay bribe.

Of course, too many rules do throttle the efficient functioning of a society, but the above view is a dangerously defeatist thought.

Is this the reason, most of the rules are violated?


  1. Pradeep,

    Another thought provoking piece. One thing is sure, as long as rules are not easy and understandable by common man, and the purpose for creating that rule is known, we are going to, unfortunately have more and more "rule breakers".

  2. I disagree with your friend. Though there are some rules that we do not understand and which are sometimes not practised at all - this is simply not the reason why we break the rules. Nor bribing is the reason for rules. Trust no need of explanation here

  3. Very few responsible persons and persons of 'high'standing set an example..secondly there is no punishment for breaking a rule...Remember the movie where maniyampilla raju goes to singapore and pees by the roadside, only to get caught & jailed? or was it a tamil movie??