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Why commit White-Collar Crime? – Part 1

Why commit White-Collar Crime? – Part 1

To understand how to prevent white-collar crime, perhaps the first step is to work out why people commit it. Why is it that some people in businesses decide to act out and break the rules? We also need to work out what the differences are between normal criminals and white-collar criminals so that we can adapt our approach around this. It cannot be in the motivation, since it seems the motivations for crime are similar in both cases – money and popularity, so there must be some other factor that differentiates the two types of criminal. Sutherland believed that in understanding why people would commit white collar crime we cannot use general theories of crime, since these are based only around the lower classes. However, perhaps some of the more general theories can be adapted to make sense of white-collar crime as well.

Classical criminology in fact appears to fit quite well with white-collar crime. This school of thought believes that crime occurs from a rational choice, whereby an offender weighs up the pros and cons of an offence before taking part in it. This seems to make sense, since it puts no emphasis on the offender being in any way irrational or from a ‘criminal’ class. It seems fair that a high-up member of society would be able to rationally decide that a crime was viable and to take part in it. Likewise, Routine Activity Theory suggests that when there is a suitable target, a likely offender, and no guardian for the target, a crime will occur. If we assume that ‘likely offenders’ are just as present in high society as in impoverished neighbourhoods then it seems natural that there would be crime found in the upper classes too.

In terms of positivism, there seems no reason why it shouldn’t as a theory explain all crimes. It suggests that biological and psychological differences between people induce criminal behaviour. These differences are just as likely to be found in the higher classes as the lower ones, so this school of criminology seems to provide a good, if simple, explanation for white-collar crime.

Strain theory may be able to explain white-collar crime as well. This suggests that people are led to commit crime when they are under strain to reach goals which are unreachable to them. The strain may be lower in wealthy families than those in poverty, but since it is all relative to past experience, wealthy people may still feel under a lot of pressure. In fact, often middle-class parents can be very pushy with their children, expecting extraordinary things which their child cannot achieve. This could cause an individual to turn to crime to make their parents proud. In terms of control theory, people may be controlled against committing crime by having a strong relationship with their co-workers and their customers, meaning that they will not want either of these groups to be harmed, and so will not act against either of them in a criminal manner. Perhaps then, it is in businesses where these social bonds are not properly maintained that criminal behaviour is most likely to occur. There is also a state of anomie about white-collar crime since it is so easy not to get caught that people grow to believe that it is an acceptable behaviour. Anomie is where the absence of any clear well-defined social rules makes people not know how to behave properly. Often the rules around white-collar crime are so unclear that an individual working in a business may not feel that it is a problem when they commit these crimes.

This is such an in-depth topic, that there are still many more explanations to consider, so in my next article I’m going to look at some further reasons for committing white-collar crime, including some slightly more psychological theories about why white-collar crime is attractive.


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