Police and military checkpoints are a familiar sight on many roadways in poor countries. Although some of the officers are legitimately keeping the peace, others are out to line their pockets with baksheesh. Despite their apparent banditry, though, these extortionists respond to market forces in much the same way as do lawful businesspeople, finds a new study from Indonesia.

“My research question was, Are corrupt officials just like any other economic actor?” says Benjamin A. Olken, an...

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