Thursday, January 27, 2005

There Shall Be No More Bribes!!* (Facilitation payments still OK.)

In the subscription Wall St Journal, more lunacy upon lunacy with the article, "Multinational Companies Unite to Fight Bribery." One should be suspicious of any headline that makes multinationals sound like super-heros.

At issue is a NEW (yet again) pact not to accept bribes in foreign operations. Of course, doing so is already illegal for U.S. Corporations and subsidiaries under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

My favorite quote is on the jump, "Signers say joining the agreement...steps up their public responsibility by inviting accountability." --Yes, of course corporations think that *inviting accountability* is a good business practice. Witness how many times they ask for independent investigations and announce adverse results of internal inquiries.

So then there's this paid schmoe: "'It can work against you just as quickly, if you're not committed to it and [don't] practice what you preach,' said Mr. Boeckmann of construction giant Fluor." Yeeeeeees, that's right... the public is sooooo concerned with how no-name goliath stealth corporations conduct themselves in obscured market places. Hey buddy - ya ain't no Martha Stewart, baby, so get off it.

[Additional 8/7:] Let's just acknowledge reality and call a spade a spade. Other countries don't have FCPA. Some other countries don't even have a problem paying out a few actual, common-sense call-it-like-yo-momma-saw-it, ...BRIBES. This puts the U.S. at a criticial competitive disadvantage as almost any working Houstonian knows from the world of energy, though it's not restricted to that world.

Can we please be grown-ups about this in the legal world and not have to go through the embarrassing charade of actually making the business of bribery an issue of VOLUNTARY compliance? Since nobody who needs to compete plans on voluntarily complying, can we please dispense with the saint-making machine here and just let working people make an honest living by competing in the real world without making them feel like criminals just because they're Americans?

If a person really wants to outlaw and stop bribes, fine - I invite them to study the issue among multinationals much further if they already haven't - but fine. Let's just do what we can to untie American hands and make whatever act we're calling "bribery" illegal just-the-same for every country in the world - with some kind of real enforcement mechanisms and body. I would be all for it.

But then again, on my more cynical days, I'd think to myself, "If the bribes are already so far and wide so as to be structural in any economy, those bribes would just find new handlers and new ways of being handled -- but the money would still flow." And that's not my cynicism. That's just the nature of markets. Which is to say, of course, it's just human nature.