Honesty is the Best Policy

Two boys at a cafe, Makassar, Indonesia / photo: Mo Riza, flickr
Two boys at a cafe, Makassar, Indonesia / photo: Mo Riza, flickr

What do you do when you’re number 126 out of 180 on Transparency International’s corruption perception list? What do you do when prosecuting mid- and high-level officials for corruption doesn’t seem to be doing enough to curb the corrupt tendencies rampant in society?

Well, if you’re Indonesia, you start with the basics. In an ingenious move aimed at teaching people the value of honesty, Indonesia’s attorney general and his provincial counterparts have kick-started a national campaign that aims to open 10 000 so-called ‘honesty cafes’ all over Indonesia by the end of the year. The idea- intuitive and inventive at once- is that instead of paying a set amount to a cashier (someone who is, in effect, employed to enforce morality in a low-level commercial transaction), customers pay an ‘honest amount’¬† into a clear, unsupervised¬† box.

In effect they pay what they think they should pay and pay because they know it is the right thing to do (and because others watch them pay). If I ever saw an interesting social experiment on a society-wide scale, this must be it.