Home Civil Liberty So, What's An Acceptable Level Of Bribe?

So, What’s An Acceptable Level Of Bribe?



That we should not have to bribe people is entirely true. Yet that real world out there does tell us that at times bribes are entirely reasonable things to hand over. While not actively desirable in and of themselves the optimal result is indeed gained by coughing up.

I have bribed in the normal and colloquial sense – even the legal one – because I’ve lived and worked in places where bribery is the – again, illegal – but social norm manner of dealing with life. I might even have broken North Korean (no, really) law by doing so even as, at the time, I wasn’t breaching UK.

OK – which brings us to the question of how much is a reasonable bribe? The answer there will presumably depend upon what is achieved by the nefarity. Handing over the lunch money in order not to get the face punched in might pass the test. Giving Dr. Evil a million dollars obviously did.

How about this?

Even for anyone who never visits the trust’s historic houses, this interim document offers some admirably clear, informative summaries of Britain’s participation in the slave trade and its colossal takings from the empire, the people this killed, the people this enriched, the houses, land and factories they accumulated with the proceeds and the political platform these assets then provided for the further advancement of slave owners’ interests. The compensation extracted as the price of abolition introduces more trust connections including, notoriously, Penrhyn Castle. Its builder, one Dawkins-Pennant, an opponent of emancipation, received £14,683 17s 2d for being deprived of 764 enslaved people.

Sure, slavery was bad, should have been abolished, which it was. The world is a better place for its having been abolished.

So, what was it worth to abolish it? The current mores seems to be that paying compensation for loss of property was wrong. We’re still paying for it too – no, the national debt has not been paid off – and that is wrong too apparently.

And yet there’s another way around of looking at this, that the £20 million was a bribe. Dawkins-Pennant was a member of Parliament (not actually at the moment of abolition but let that slide for the purpose of this argument) and he was an opponent of the abolition of slavery. As were some other members of Parliament, Commons and Lords both. Consistent and continued opposition to abolition would delay, at the very least, that abolition. So, what’s the value of shortening, bypassing or even bribing that opposition?

£19 4s per freed person. A bargain, cheap at twice the price. For what is the value of freedom?

The more we think slavery was – as it was – a crime calling to the very heavens for abolition the higher that price there should be the willingness to pay. £20 million to buy off the political class was cheap, we should be proud of the bargain our ancestors managed to strike.



  1. As an old soldier pointed out, ‘War is bad. A man can get killed.’ I really think the way the Brits dealt with slavery was a better approach than the Yanks.

    Perhaps the British government remembered what happened when they righteously attempted to make thirteen colonies pay their share of the cost of the Seven Years War, which protected them from attack by the French in Canada and the Spaniards in Florida. Of course the Yanks then had to conquer Florida again after they defeated the Brits with the help, among others, of the Spanish.


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