President Andrew Jackson’s backsliding perhaps still remains the most brutal legal historical documentation of “America’s” decision to reallocate (also read steal) valuable resources from its poorest and weakest residents to the richer population, a situation we are seeing today.
The Cherokee, as a nation, never recovered, but their ordeal remains a reminder that while this paper will address the white collar crime of a particular industry today, the behavior exhibited and described by Wall Street herein is not an aberrant behavior absent from American society historically, but rather an inherent part of it from the beginning of the modern nation’s inception, albeit concentrated in a particularly virulent, toxic and destructive way in a certain industry vertical at a certain moment in time (the crash of 2008), because of the amount of money at stake, certain societal factors, including socioeconomic issues, outright discrimination, and because of a coalescence of other less tangible factors to be discussed herein.
But if one asks a displaced homeowner who’s just lost a home to repossession if they feel any different than a Cherokee force marched across the country, after being promised security and a home for life, only to find out that thanks to the actions of powerful people who were playing a sophisticated game in secret, that promise that meant so much was merely a bald faced lie, I doubt the answer you will get will differ greatly. Furthermore, because we, as a country are a capitalist and consumer based economy, or at least were until the crash of 2008, America is a country that at least since the 1980’s, but really since the 1950’s in the modern era, celebrates consumption without a corresponding emphasis on legitimate or counter normative means to achieve wealth, no matter how religious we claim to be. Or at least the old economy was that way. This will be changing in the paradigm shift to a cleantech economy which is environmentally friendly, and carbon free.
While most people do not realize this yet, the way we used to live is not only gone forever, but unsustainable. However the blatant exploitation in America of those with power and money of those without, as a fundamental core of our society; socioeconomically to the board room, is a theme that runs consistently through American business writing, both academic theory and even in fiction, throughout American commercial history. Not to mention in real life. There is an element to which America as a whole is a criminal society (the first settlers after all were religious fanatics seeking the right of religious freedom, and criminal elements as the Europeans cleared their cell blocks).
This was one of the more controversial themes for example that is a consistent theme throughout the work of Melville, in particular Moby Dick, (Melville, 1851) but also his lesser work, and something that some believe contributed to his commercial failure while alive. Simply, Melville’s father-in-law, Lemuel Shaw, was one of the most reactionary, yet powerful state judges in the history of the United States, and who’s precedent setting decisions, including many that set the legal framework if not precedent for business law, among other topics, including worker’s rights and racial equality, were still in use NATIONALLY until the last of his racist decisions was overturned in Brown v. Board of Education in 1959, almost a hundred years after Shaw’s death.
His decisions on worker’s comp slowed down even introduction of that employee protection for seventy five years, and associated healthcare reform, such as it is, until the year 2010, almost two hundred years after his death. Yet outside the symbolism used on the pages of literature, no better example exists than the use of slaves up until the Civil War and exploitation of immigrant labor even today, the continued discriminatory workforces of corporate America, again a product of a culture of white collar crime. Labor, particularly in an era of the information economy, consists of workers whose intellect is the most valuable asset they can contribute to a corporation.
If the corporation is a company of criminals, where workers ideas are not compensated, or the ideas they come up with are fundamentally criminal (which is a perfect snapshot of Wall Street and the buildup to the crisis, with its ever increasingly complex financial instruments, particularly in the situation of the Goldman Sachs fraud case, discussed here, (Stewart, 2010) where members of the Firm KNEW the products were selling were fraudulent and/or worthless and/or impossible to price, and therefore not liquid, not to mention widespread mistreatment of the workers themselves at such institutions (a story rarely reported on but true for the vast majority of employees except of course for the superstars) is also a sign of a white collar criminal culture which runs rampant but has not even begun to be addressed.
So in essence, “white collar crime” is actually bedrock of American society. Simply because its components are actually elements of our cultural values as a society, it’s often so hard to catch and often so “clever. ” It is also why judges and politicians are loath to enforce stiff penalties, thus discouraging future similar activity. Like, for example, in this particular round of Wall Street reform, impose real caps on compensation. Furthermore, with this mindset of competitiveness and wealth being tied to self identity and some kind of moral superiority as a societal value, white collar crime always will be hard to counteract, stop and even punish.
In fact as argued it is precisely the cultural values of American society that encourage it, even with the new frugality forced upon the vast majority of the population after the crash. Even among professional women of a higher socioeconomic demographic and minorities who do not realize the hidden cultural barriers to obtaining the key to the golden kingdom of “The American Dream,” and thus continue, however much anger there is today towards Wall Street, to aspire to such riches. And therefore have no fundamental deep seated desire to dismantle the system because one never knows. One’s luck might just change if you work hard enough. In other words, one can buy one’s way to class and respectability if you have the means, and there is still a way to do just that.
This is how pervasive the illusion is. This is what lies behind even those who had no deliberate intention of letting Wall Street and a host of other corporations continue to outrageously break the law but were lulled asleep at the switch because they could not believe that such rot could and did exist within the very heart of the system they were supposed to be watching and overseeing. No better example is the ongoing fraudulent schemes of Bernie Madoff, whose scams were repeatedly reported to the S. E. C. , who in turn, repeatedly refused to investigate these tips for over 16 years – even though they came from a variety of sources. (Ross Sorkin, 2010)