The FCPA is both a confession, and a conviction. We confess that corruption is not somebody else’s problem; it’s our problem. We do not point a finger; we look in the mirror.
We tacitly admit that we cannot look to some far away land, or to some foreign people, and say, “don’t you see? Over there? There’s the corruption problem.” We all have a corruption problem. The corruption problem is here.
And so we enforce the FCPA not to police the world, but to police ourselves around the world. The FCPA is the antidote to polarization, the antithesis of blame.
But so too does the FCPA reflect a conviction — that corruption is not inherent in human society, that it can be addressed, and that it can be addressed through law.
We know that no culture affirmatively endorses corruption, in principle, as a public good. But many tolerate it, resign themselves to it, even depend on it. They deem it an inherent part of human sociality.
The FCPA says, “not so.” We may never eliminate corruption, any more than we will eliminate assault or murder or harassment or fraud or any of the many things we prohibit. But we can deter it, lower it, bring it to a tolerable level. We can render it the exception rather than the rule.
And behold the many countries now doing so. Who would have thought, just a few years ago, that we could now discuss whether countries like China and Brazil may actually be over-enforcing anti-corruption laws? The world has fundamentally and irreversibly changed.
We have changed, each of us, and we will continue to do so.
And so the corruption eruption continues. As with all eruptions, it can at times seem violent, scary, even destructive. But as with all eruptions, this one creates a new global landscape, where new ecosystems evolve and living creatures flourish. We are present at the creation.
We should be thankful — every student, professor, accountant, compliance professional, enforcement official, outside counsel, journalist, and citizen — to both witness, and participate in, this historical moment.
Oh, the stories we’ll tell.
Andy Spalding, pictured above, is a lecturer at the International Anti-Corruption Academy, Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, and Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog.