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The Paradox of the Good Bribe

A Discussion Defining and Protecting the Public Interest

by David J O'Regan

Paperback eBook PDF

Publisher: Universal-Publishers
Pub date: 2020
Pages: 170
ISBN-10: 1627343008
ISBN-13: 9781627343008
Categories: Philosophy & TheologyPhilosophy, & TheologyBusiness & Economics


What do Plato and the Bible tell us about bribery? Does it even matter? When it comes to ethical guidance on bribery should we look less to traditional wisdom and instead be seeking understanding and guidance primarily from modern sources? From economists with their talk of efficient markets, and from the critical theorists who focus on inequities in power relations? This book explores such questions in depth.

Taking the form of a Platonic dialogue, the book contains a discussion of claims made for recognition of the positive aspects of bribery. This goes beyond the well-known "harmless" bribe - the facilitating or “grease” payment which encourages an official to speed up the performance of his or her existing duties, without additional favors. This type of baksheesh may be unattractive but it may be ethically acceptable on occasion, on the grounds of expediency. The discussion also covers the more controversial claim that some bribes are undeniably virtuous, owing to their positive consequences. An example of virtuous bribery is that made by Oskar Schindler to save lives in the Second World War. The book’s unique discussion format provides space for the comparison and differentiation of a plurality of ethical perspectives, and it reveals some surprising common ground between ostensibly irreconcilable ethical viewpoints.

If a convincing case could be made for the acceptability of certain categories of bribery, the implications for public and institutional anti-bribery policies would be significant. In particular, the rationale for “zero tolerance” approaches might be threatened. Perhaps the ultimate public policy question raised in the text is how we might accommodate a fringe of virtuous and harmless bribery alongside a strict vigilance over the damaging effects of most bribes. By exploring this topic, this book will be of interest to public policy makers, anti-corruption professionals, and the general reader interested in counter-corruption practices.


David O'Regan has written a book that is both searching and yet profound in its scope. In the genre of Plato's Symposium, he interrogates the nature and scope of bribery from a multitude of competing perspectives. The result is a philosophical and theological tour de force, which forces homo economicus to confront his ethical constraints. I have no doubt that The Paradox of the Good Bribe will set a new standard of scholarship into this enduring feature of the human character.
Dr. Mark Dooley, biographer of Sir Roger Scruton and author of Moral Matters and The Politics of Exodus: Kierkegaard’s Ethics of Responsibility

When does bribery lead to beneficial outcomes? The suggestion is shocking but David O’Regan invites us to challenge our immediate reactions and explore the issue in depth. The result is a fascinating and entertaining essay, set up as a philosophical dialogue among several stylised protagonists. I strongly recommend this thought provoking book to scholars and senior managers with an interest in business ethics and corporate social responsibility, and to anyone who wants to know how we can think intelligently about moral dilemmas in everyday life.
Michael Power, Professor of Accounting, London School of Economics and Political Science, and author of The Audit Society: Rituals of Verification

David O’Regan's The Paradox of the Good Bribe is truly an exemplary work. It not just surprises the reader as it layer by layer explores and challenges the notions around bribery, but also offer four distinct and deep perspectives to the topic. The views presented by the economist and by the student of French Literature, made me review and question my own beliefs about bribery as a damaging act to not only those involved in it but also the society at large. On the other hand the views of the Classicist and the Priest, to a large extent reinforce the traditional ethos. All in all, I can safely state that this work makes one think with open frame of mind and thus created a permanent place in my list of recommended books.
Dr. Amit Chawla, Associate Professor of Mass Communication, Sharda University, New Delhi.

The book teach[es] us a great deal about the conundrums of bribery...demonstrat[ing] once again that ethics is about questions and inquiries, rather than absolute answers.
Dr. Joan Dubinsky, former chief ethics officer of both the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund

About the Author

David J O'Regan is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. He currently holds the post of Auditor General of the World Health Organization's operations in the Americas, based in Washington D.C. His previous posts include auditing in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, Netherlands and, prior to entering the United Nations system, he was Head of Audit of Oxford University Press. He has authored six books on auditing, including the Auditor's Dictionary (Wiley, 2005) and Bribery: Identify Hidden Risks in Your Organization (Institute of Internal Auditors, 2014). Any views expressed in this book are the author's alone.