The question is why it's the duty of the U.S. government to dictate business practices in nations with very different business climates. You would think the Justice Department has plenty to do enforcing American laws on American soil without trying to sanitize the rest of the world.
Our idea of appropriate business practices ought to prevail in America, but less developed countries are entitled to do things their own way. If Mexico doesn't police bribery and can't change its economic culture, why should Uncle Sam take on the job?
One effect of the anti-bribery law has been to scare U.S. investment away from corrupt countries. But as one study found, it didn't reduce the overall amount of investment in these locales: Corporations from more tolerant countries were happy to take up the slack.
If other governments were brave and vigilant in fighting graft, there would be no need for American prosecutors to step in. Foreign prosecutors would be happy to issue indictments. It's only in vice-plagued nations that the FCPA makes a difference.
But the difference is not necessarily a positive one. Andrew Brady Spalding, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, says the law often amounts to imposing economic sanctions on particular countries. By deterring American companies from investing in such places, we deprive their citizens of goods and jobs that would improve their lives.
When extortionate officials block Wal-Mart from opening stores in Mexico, ordinary Mexicans suffer. Economic growth is a good thing, even when it's lubricated by graft.
If the goal is to make ourselves feel good, this law is a success. It's a failure only if the point is to actually do good.