If we had any other President, that headline would only be found on The Onion. In this case, however, there is no irony or snark. That headline is literally true.
The White House is looking at ways to circumvent the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
And the President really said, “It’s just so unfair that American companies aren’t allowed to pay bribes to get business overseas. We’re going to change that.”
To be fair, Trump has a good point, although coming out in favor of bribery and corrupt practices is really not the best way to express that point. This is one of the few areas where he is not ignorant. He knows this situation well because of the business he was in. In many, many countries, you can’t build things without either (1) having extremely powerful friends or (2) bribing people. Or both.
I had the same challenges in my area. There are many countries in the world where one can’t obtain the simplest business permits without bribing one or even a series of corrupt officials. Some countries are worse than others. Among the most populous countries, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico and a few others are especially corrupt, but they are not the only ones, just the worst ones. There are corrupt countries in the E.U., and there are many parts of the USA that are crooked as can be, although we tend to disguise our bribes in euphemistic terms like “campaign contributions” or “supporting your foundation.”
Of all the countries I worked in, there were only about ten where the basic business processes (licenses and permits) were quite transparent and the results seemed to be determined honestly and objectively. The Scandinavian countries were quite honest, as was The Netherlands. I never dealt with Canada or New Zealand personally, but many colleagues told me those places were honest and straightforward. Germany and the UK were also ethical, in my experience, but loaded with unnecessary red tape and too much bureaucracy.
So I have some sympathy for Trump’s frustration, but I think that legalizing bribery sounds like a rash solution. I think it would turn quickly into a system of bribes and kickbacks. (“I can get the company to offer you a six million dollar bribe if you’ll agree to forward two million of it back to me.”)
(And there is a technical question as well. Bribes are not only illegal, but they are also non-tax-deductible. If they were legalized, could they then be claimed as deductible business expenses?)