The cornerstone of any effective anti-corruption movement is the widespread conviction that systemic corruption is not inevitable – that it can change. That we can change it. That we actually don’t have to live with it. The now-pending CROOK Act can help.
It was once fashionable to say that in much of the world, corruption is “cultural.” If by “cultural” we mean it is taught as a good and appropriate thing – like certain kinds of dress, or food, or religious beliefs and rituals – then this is plainly untrue. No culture teaches that a suitcase full of cash traded under the table for an illegal benefit is a good thing, one that we would not change even if we could, a practice consistent with our standards of good government.
But a great many peoples still resign themselves to corruption’s inevitability. Outsiders observe routine corruption, blended with an apparent attitude of indifference, and wrongly infer that corruption is a cultural norm. Look more carefully. You’ll typically see a people who would end corruption tomorrow . . . if they believed they could. They can imagine a world without corruption; they just can’t imagine living there. To them, a world free from systemic corruption is a “utopia” – a word that means both “perfect place” and “no place.”
This is precisely the mentality that must change. If we are to reduce corruption, we must put pressure on leaders. To pressure leaders, people must believe that systemic corruption is among those things we should not and need not tolerate. But getting a people to this point often requires education – not on the harms of corruption, which they know too well, but on the methods for reducing it. We need programs, and they won’t come from corrupt leaders.
Here’s where the CROOK Act can make a difference. This bill, now pending in the U.S. Congress, would use 5 percent of FCPA enforcement proceeds to fund overseas anti-corruption initiatives. The State Department and an Interagency Task Force would administer the fund. Money could support governmental or non-governmental organizations and would go to countries that are well-positioned to effectuate meaningful reform.
We could use these funds to change perceptions, to spread knowledge. Who would benefit from such programs? Everybody – citizens, companies, and governments, both here and abroad. Everybody, that is, except the crooks. That’s the point.
We’ve previously written about how the CROOK Act can help counter imbalances in supply-side enforcement, and can more directly address the plight of bribery’s victims. It can also help do something even more fundamental: it can change how we think, how we see the world, and how we understand our role in it.
At this particular moment in history, that would seem a pretty good investment.