Abstract: Corrupt government officials must weigh the potential costs and benefits of soliciting a bribe using limited information about a citizen’s ability to pay but also to punish. We conduct a field experiment in Malawi to determine the effects of political connections and socioeconomic status on a citizen’s exposure to corruption at traffic police roadblocks. We find that political connections reduce exposure to bribery, while relative wealth only insulates citizens from corruption when wealth serves as a proxy for political power. These findings indicate that officials make strategic decisions about when to engage in corruption, disproportionately targeting the politically powerless.
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