Gift or bribery?

Gift or bribe?

I’ve been reading the bloggerblackmail furore with interest over the past 24 hours.

The uproar within the blogging community is simply the latest in a centuries-long struggle over whether gifts constitute a generous act of benevolence, or simply an unsubtle bribe.

Nothing new here
My dad used to tell me a story about what he liked to call ‘political correctness gone mad’, relating to his experiences dealing with external contractors in his career working in London councils.

When Christmas came around, every year he’d receive a huge bounty of booze (usually bottles of Scotch) from all these firms as a thank you for having done business over the previous 12 months.

As ever more rules came into practice, my Dad had to tell each of these firms that he could no longer accept the gifts. They were seen as potential bribes.

So what did the contractors do? They’d deliver the booze directly to his house.

‘That’s the way things are done’
You see, many of these firms had been working with my dad for up to 20 years – they were mates – and the Christmas presents were just ‘what they’d always done’.

There was genuinely no attempt to curry favour. My dad hated whisky anyway, so most of them went straight to local charity raffles with the odd one kept in the drinks cupboard.

Did these gifts constitute bribery? Many would say yes, but I knew my Dad well enough to realise it didn’t sway him one iota.

As I said earlier, this was standard practice in years gone by (70s/80s and into the 90s).

Modern practice
I now work for a charity where everyone is expected to declare any ‘gift in kind’ above £25 – I’ve had to declare bottles of bubbly given as a thank you for speaking at events, for example.

The frequency with which I have to do this is once or twice a year, thankfully, and I do it happily.

I don’t want my charity to be seen as taking backhanders for preferential treatment – but if anyone seriously thinks that a bottle of fizz will influence whether I talk at an event, they’re clearly a mite touched.

As for the blogger in question? She clearly is a little deluded.

No matter how much she protests, scientific studies have shown the irrational cognitive bias that arises as a result of getting something for free.


If you want to read the definitive take on giving and taking, try Adam Grant’s brilliant book Give & Take: Why Helping Others Predicts Our Success.

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