If we want to do something about the powerful institutions and individuals that shape our lives, we need to educate ourselves about their culture of criminality -- and the public efforts to bring them to justice.
One good place to start is the Encyclopedia of White Collar and Corporate Crime (Sage Publishers, 2004). The two-volume set is edited by Lawrence Salinger, a professor of criminology at Arkansas State University.
The 500 or so entries are listed alphabetically -- from A.H. Robins Company, the company that brought you the defective Dalkon Shield intrauterine device, to Worldcom, the company that perpetrated the largest accounting fraud in history.
About 100 of the entries are the corporate criminals themselves.
About another 100 are people -- from Spiro Agnew, the first vice president to resign in scandal, to Stanton Wheeler, a Yale professor who did white collar crime research.
Leafing through the two volumes, the first thing that strikes you is that despite the recent headlines, corporate crime has a rich history.
Salinger profiles the activists who have sought to reign in corporate crime -- Rachel Carson, Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, Ralph Nader.
He profiles the prosecutors who have prosecuted it -- Rudy Giuliani and Eliot Spitzer.
And, being a criminologist, he is big on criminologists who have studied it.
We asked him to name the major corporate criminologists in history, and he gave us a list -- Edwin Sutherland, Frank Hartung, Paul Tappan, Edward Alsworth Ross, Donald Cressey, Herbert Edelhertz and Ezra Stoddard.
Ross is one of our favorites.
In 1907, Ross wrote a book titled Sin and Society featuring what he called "the criminaloid" -- a social type who enjoys a public image as a pillar of the community and paragon of virtue, but beneath the veneer of respectability is actually a very different persona, one that is committed to personal gain through any means necessary.
Here’s a snippet of the Ross entry in the Encyclopedia of White Collar and Corporate Crime:
"The criminaloids encounter feeble opposition and since their practices are often more lucrative than the typical criminal act, they distance their more scrupulous rivals in business and politics and reap an uncommon worldly prosperity. The key to the criminaloid is not evil impulse, but moral insensibility. The criminaloid prefers to prey on the anonymous public. He goes beyond this by convincing others to act instead of acting himself, which protects him from liability and being labeled a criminal, and is instead immune to such scrutiny. The criminaloid practices a protective impersonation of the good. The criminaloid counterfeits the good citizen."
Despite the serious effort put behind producing the Encyclopedia, it is also clear that Salinger has a wicked sense of humor.
On page 280, in the entry for "elite crime," there are two pictures.
On the left is the picture of a businessman in a suit. On the right is the picture of a disheveled bearded man leaning on the hood of a junked car.
"The concept of elite crime: the man above is convicted of $250 million in stock fraud, while the man at right ... is convicted of stealing a $2,500 car from his employer. Which man will serve significant, hard time in prison?"
Salinger also has a thing for religious crooks.
On page 683, under the picture of a priest and in the entry for "religious fraud," is the caption, "Religious fraud often involves raising millions of dollars in the name of pious efforts, only to see the believers' money end up in the ministers’ bank account, paying for a lavish lifestyle."
Even for those who live, drink and eat corporate crime, there is something to learn from the Encyclopedia.
Conspiracy theorists have their grassy knolls.
Corporate criminologists have their Grassy Narrows -- an entry in the Encyclopedia. According to the entry, the Grassy Narrows is a community in Ontario, Canada where several hundred Ojibwa people became the victims of mercury poisoning from a nearby paper mill.
Martha Stewart now sits in prison in Alderson, West Virginia. She too has an entry in the Encyclopedia. We learn she was born Martha Kostyra. (Martha Kostyra’s Living?). Stewart was convicted of lying to cover up a stock deal.
Do you know your corporate crime?
Kepone, Love Canal, Times Beach, Buffalo Creek, Exxon Valdez, Three Mile Island, Thalidomide?
Jim and Tammy Bakker, Ivan Boesky, Charles Keating, Marc Rich, John Rusnak, Michael Milken, Nick Leeson?
At the least, every major university and law school library needs to get a copy of the Encyclopedia of White Collar and Corporate Crime.
Maybe reading about the history of corporate crime will inspire the next generation of prosecutors, citizens, reporters, and judges to protect the nation and its citizens better than we were able or willing to.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, http://www.multinationalmonitor.org. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press; www.corporatepredators.org).
Other Recent Articles by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
Subway: Junk Food, Junk Economy