Volume 10 Number 1 1997

Elite Deviance, David R. Simon and D. Stanley Eitzen, Allyn and Bacon, 1993, 359 pages, 33.15 paperback.

The Organization of Corporate Crime: Dynamics of Antitrust Violation, Katherine M Jamieson, Sage Publications, 1994, 110 pages, 16.50 paperback.

Investigations of the antisocial activities of the wealthy and powerful inevitably attract accusations of political bias. While these activities are demonstrably more harmful both economically and socially than the muggings, burglaries and robberies of the powerless, many are not only legal but morally acceptable. While many criminologists have shied away from these issues, Simon and Eitzen argue that sociologists should be concerned with issues of ethics and morality, and use the concept of deviance to free themselves from the confines of criminal law. Elite deviance, restricted to the activities of persons and organisations of the highest social status, involves, argue the authors, the systematic exploitation of the powerless by economic domination, denial of human rights and crimes of governmental control. It causes vast amounts of injury, has incalculable monetary costs, and undermines public trust in political and economic institutions. Following an exploration of elite power and influence, individual chapters deal with specific forms of elite deviance, illustrated by a plethora of itemised individual examples.

Monopolies, price fixing and price gouging are all examples of corporate deviance, which is seen as emerging from the single minded pursuit of profit and economic power. These practices redistribute wealth from the poor to the rich, as consumers must pay higher prices. Consumers are further deceived by misleading advertising and sales frauds. Corporate deviance also involves health hazards such as the production and sale of unsafe products, dangerous food, tobacco and the inadequate regulation of dangerous working conditions. While much of this is not criminal, victims, the authors argue, are endangered by practices carried out in full knowledge of their harmful potential. Pollution and the waste of natural resources additionally threaten collective health.

The activities of the military industrial complex provide examples of international deviance - including bribery and corruption in respect of defence contracts and shady arms deals, including those with Iraq preceding the Gulf war. The exploitation of Third World countries by multi-national corporations is itemised in examples of bribery, the export of hazardous goods and the growing industry in dumping toxic waste - enabled by foreign policies which support repressive dictatorships.

Political deviance, defined as the use of illegal and unethical means to gain, retain or enlarge political power is demonstrated in case after case of bribery, extortion and kickbacks. The Watergate Affair additionally illustrates the web of relationships between political and organized crime. The veil of secrecy in which government, amply assisted by the illegal activities of the security services, is able to shroud its activities assists abuses of executive privilege along with lying to and misleading the public. Governments also resort to political imprisonment and State agencies engage in official violence such as police brutality. Internationally, political deviance is seen in the activities of the CIA, in `war crimes' such as the Mai Lai massacre and the `genocide' in Vietnam.

Elite deviance, argue the authors, is symptomatic of what C.Wright Mills described as the `higher immorality' and is rooted in the corporate and governmental search for profit and power. Deviance is thus a rational solution to problems which stand in the way of these aims. The roots of `evil' lie in an amoral organizational form, in which centralisation of authority enables individuals to claim that they are `only following orders'. Pressures towards deviance include threats to employment or promotion prospects. "Guilt reducing rationalisations" and "vocabularies of motive" are also commonly used. Responsibility is denied by describing actions as mistakes, and victimization by dehumanising victims - for example the use of phrases such as `surgical strikes' to neutralize the effects of military actions. Higher loyalties, such as the `national interest', are invoked, and condemners are condemned by dismissing critics as subversive.

The interrelationship between elites is a crucial element in sustaining deviance - for example corporations influence law makers to ensure that their activities escape criminalization and severe sanctions. Organized crime forms a "great bridge" between elite and non elite deviance, and a `secret government' was, they argue, responsible for many of the scandals from Watergate onwards throughout the Reagan years. All of this is seen as endemic in a capitalist system, and can only be eliminated by what is described as economic democracy or democratic socialism.

Despite providing an interesting classification of elite deviance and providing a great many empirical examples, this is a disappointing book. This is the fourth edition, and new material is not always well integrated. While in some parts almost too much detail is provided without sufficient analysis, in other parts there is an irritating lack of sources and detail about cases. While many of the empirical examples are contemporary, the theoretical analysis neglects much recent work. This tends to reiterate many now familiar themes about the power of elites to prevent the full criminalization of their activities through ideological domination and legislative intervention. While rejecting a `conspiracy' theory, the depiction of the `secret government' and the interrelationships between elites rarely goes beyond such an approach. Much British work exploring the problematic relationship between elite or class power and the law is rather thin (see for example summaries in Croall, White Collar Crime, Open University Press, 1992 and Nelken, `White Collar Crime' in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, Oxford University Press,1994).

In addition, the authors neglect much work exploring the characteristics of criminal corporations. While their section on `vocabularies of motive' is promising, they give few examples. In respect of reform, they all too readily dismiss as "liberal" many ideas proposed by authors who in their view fail to accept that the capitalist system itself must be changed in order to reduce elite deviance. Yet a by now considerable literature exists discussing a range of reforms which may be more achievable than those proposed by Simon and Eitzen (see for example Fisse and Braithwaite, Corporations, Crime and Accountability, Cambridge University Press 1993).

While accepting that ideological constructions of crime, morality and ethics are proper subects for the sociologist, these shortcomings mean that this book can all too readily be criticised as political polemic rather than sociological analysis. Its price makes it somewhat prohibitive for purchase other than by committed scholars, although it will be a useful addition to libraries, if only for its wealth of detailed examples. In addition, by revealing the interdependence between `legitimate' business, government and organized crime, the authors rightly question the somewhat watertight boxes into which criminologists classify white collar, corporate or economic crime. It might also encourage British sociologists, now more aware of the depth of `higher immorality', commonly known as sleaze, to compile a similar volume.

One very small segment of elite deviance is the subject of Katherine Jamieson's study which examines all antitrust cases filed against companies listed in Fortune 500 between 1981 and 1985. It aims to explore the extent to which violations are related to corporate settings and how outcomes are related to legal and organizational factors. A small sample of regulators was also interviewed. Following a detailed analysis of the cases involved, the author concludes that while larger corporations are more likely to be implicated in antitrust suits, diversity, concentration and profitability did not emerge as important factors. Larger firms may attract attention by aggressive marketing strategies although this factor could not be explored systematically. Poorly performing companies in profitable industrial sectors emerged as those most likely to be involved in antitrust activities, suggesting that anti-competitive strategies may be necessitated by a turbulent economic environment. Acknowledging that the cases in the study only included detected violations, the author examines how their characteristics may be affected by extensive screening prior to legal action and discusses the current laissez-faire approach amongst regulators. The power of large corporations over both government regulators and smaller competitors may protect their anti-competitive practices from legal intervention. This is a relevant, if limited, case study which will be of use mainly to specialists in this area.

Hazel Croall
Thames Valley University


Copyright 1997 Hazel Croall



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