Challenging Corrupt Practices: America, Brazil, Globally

On June 26, 2017, Jonathan Fanton introduced a discussion on “Challenging Corrupt Practices: America, Brazil, Globally.” The discussion was moderated by Robert Rotberg and featured the following speakers: Sergio Fernando Moro, Zephyr Teachout, and Mark L. Wolf.

The discussion was streamed to a group of Academy members and guests gathered in New York City, at the offices of Skadden, Arps, hosted by Mark Kaplan. When the panel concluded its presentations, Michael Sovern moderated the discussion in New York City.

The meeting served as the 2056th Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Good evening. It is my pleasure to welcome you and to call to order the 2056th Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

I am pleased to note that tonight we are streaming this meeting to Academy members and guests gathered in New York City, at the offices of Skadden, Arps.  We are grateful to Mark Kaplan for hosting our group in New York.  When our panel concludes its presentations, our members and guests in New York will have their own conversation, moderated by Michael Sovern, President Emeritus of Columbia University and Chancellor Kent Professor of Law at Columbia Law School.

This week, a group of scholars and practitioners from around the world are convening at the House of the Academy to discuss drafts of their essays for a forthcoming issue of Daedalus on Anti-Corruption: Best Practices.  The essays in this Daedalus volume will try to provide answers to the following question: How can individual countries, as well as the global community of nations as a whole, reduce, if not end, corrupt practices? The authors are asking, very simply, what really works?

We are delighted that the Daedalus authors are joining us this evening and that three of them, as well as the guest editor of the issue, Robert Rotberg, will be speaking with us tonight. I am grateful to Robert for shaping the issue and for assembling an outstanding group of contributors.

Let me offer some historical context of the Academy’s work on corruption. In 2007 and 2008, the American Academy and its Committee on International Security Studies, the Harvard Kennedy School Program on Intrastate Conflict, and the World Peace Foundation organized a series of meetings to discuss the modern ramifications and implications of deeply embedded corruption. The essays prepared for discussion at those meetings were published in 2009 by the Brookings Institution Press in a book entitled “Corruption, Global Security, and World Order.” Robert Rotberg served as the editor of this book, which included a chapter that he wrote on “How Corruption Compromises World Peace and Stability.”

As Robert states in that essay:

“Corruption is a human condition and an ancient phenomenon. From Mesopotamian times, if not before, public notables have abused their offices for personal gain; both well-born and common citizens have sought advantage by corrupting those holding power or controlling access to perquisites. . . Until avarice and ambition cease to be human traits, corruption will continue to flourish.”

We have witnessed how corruption threatens world order and global security, and how it jeopardizes efforts to improve the health, education, welfare, and human rights of people all over the world. The intermingling of criminality and corruption in places such as Somalia, North Korea, South Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and even Venezuela – in the form of corrupt government officials, embezzlement of public funds, bribery, extortion, repressive political systems, political instability, and violence – leads to an environment of lawlessness that compromises the stability and peace of our world.

Robert also notes in Corruption, Global Security, and World Order that

“Corruption is no longer largely confined to the political sphere where wily politicians and their officials siphon money from the state, fiddle bids, or demand emoluments for giving citizens what is rightfully theirs. There is a new critical security dimension to corruption, compromising world peace and stability. Many areas of the globe are positively at risk because of corrupt practices within states and the impact of such practices across transnational borders.”

For a moment, let us think back to December 7, 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt in his annual message to the Senate and House of Representatives made the following statement:

“There can be no crime more serious than bribery. Other offenses violate one law while corruption strikes at the foundation of all law. Under our form of government all authority is vested in the people and by them delegated to those who represent them in official capacity. There can be no offense heavier than that of him in whom such a sacred trust has been reposed, who sells it for his own gain and enrichment; and no less heavy is the offense of the bribe giver. He is worse than the thief, for the thief robs the individual, while the corrupt official plunders an entire city or state. . . If we fail to do all that in us lies to stamp out corruption, we cannot escape our share of responsibility for the guilt. The first requisite of successful self-government is unflinching enforcement of the law and the cutting out of corruption.”

In the period ahead, the Academy – through the publication of its special issue of Daedalus on Anti-Corruption: Best Practices – will play an important role in fostering essential conversations about the best ways to end corrupt practices. This work has never been more important.

Let me end with a final quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

I think we can all agree that our speakers tonight have pursued work worth doing, and we are all the better for it.

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