Feature

A bribe ban that harms U.S. firms

Why is the U.S. Justice Department “trying to sanitize the rest of the world”?

Steve ChapmanChicago Tribune

Why is the U.S. Justice Department “trying to sanitize the rest of the world”? asked Steve Chapman. That is the lofty intention of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids U.S. companies from paying bribes abroad. But the law’s only real effect has been to hobble American firms in developing nations “with very different business climates.” The New York Times reported that Walmart spent $24 million in bribes to speed its expansion in Mexico, a revelation that cost it $10 billion in market value overnight and prompted a Justice Department probe. But this was no case of “greedy Americans corrupting innocents abroad.” Mexico is notorious for rampant corruption: The watchdog group Transparency International gives it a 3 on a scale of zero (“highly corrupt”) to 10 (“very clean”). To compete, Walmart and other U.S. corporations have no choice but “to grease some palms.” This naïve law just drives our companies out so “less scrupulous competitors” can take their place. If our anti-bribery crusade was meant to make us feel virtuous, call it a success. But it’s a rank failure if its goal was “to actually do good.”

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