Support for Regulation and the Construction of Corporate Crimes

Peter Shrock, University of Albany

This paper examines academic and popular texts on white-collar crime to study the rhetoric of claimsmakers who seek to mobilize public opposition to harmful or dangerous actions taken by businesses and to generate support for government regulation of business. Such claimsmakers often construct harmful business actions as crimes, emphasizing deliberate intent to violate laws, actual injuries to innocents, and attempts to conceal guilt. Yet many regulatory agencies focus on none of these factors: in the terminology of Reiss, they are compliance systems that seek to prevent behavior which puts people at risk of being harmed, rather than deterrence agencies that seek to punish behavior which has actually caused injury to innocents. To manage this discrepancy, supporters of regulation construct regulation in ways that highlight their similarity to deterrence systems, such as police agencies _ a rhetorical strategy that dovetails with the construction of corporate crimes. This suggests that for their supporters, regulatory agencies perform tasks of stigmatizing and punishing businesses. It is suggested that advocates of regulatory reform need to recognize these functions of regulation as well as the overt regulatory goals of reducing risk, in order to mobilize political support for regulatory flexibility.

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Updated 05/20/2006