I’ve become convinced that the way to make an immoral act moral in the United States is to add a layer of obfuscation. Advocates of gun control often claim that shooting another human being, even in self-defense, is immoral yet having the police shoot an aggressor is moral. Mugging another person is an immoral act yet taking their money by voting to increase their taxes is moral. Bribery is treated no differently.
In much of the world bribery is considered a fact of life but here in the United States it’s viewed as an immoral act, at least if you bribe somebody directly. When you’re pulled over by a police officer and attempt to bribe them they can arrest you for that act alone or suffer later consequences if they accept your bribe. This is interesting because that same police officer can write you a ticket and a ticket is nothing more than a state sanctioned bribe. People don’t pay tickets because they feel they deserved to be punished for a transgression, they pay tickets to keep themselves from being locked in a cage. Effectively paying a ticket is nothing more than bribing the state in the hopes it won’t lock you in a cage. How does the act of bribery suddenly become moral when a layer of obfuscation is introduced? I would much rather be able to bribe a police officer directly.
Consider what a police officer is likely do with bribe money. In all likelihood a police officer is going to use that bribe money for personal satisfaction. He may use it to buy a boat, feed his family, or acquire some hookers and blow. None of these things negatively impact my life, unlike the purchased made by the state with bribe money. When the state obtains bribe money it use it to buy more police cars, hire more officers, and build more cages. Like the police officer, the state spends bribe money on personal satisfaction. Unlike the police officer, the state’s personal satisfaction negatively impacts my life. With more officers and more police cars available the chances that I can be issued a ticket go up and an increase in the number of cages allows the state to threaten more people with incarceration.
Why is bribery immoral when done directly but moral when done indirectly? It seems the amount of damage caused by direct bribes is less than the damage caused by indirect bribes. If I’m going to be forced to pay bribes at least let me pay those bribes to the entity less likely to cause more harm to my life.