|The return of the dangerous classes: crime control in the
© John Lea 1997
|This is my inaugural professorial lecture, given at Middlesex University on 10th December 1997|
Up until comparatively recently criminology would have been thought a rather obscure platform from which to speculate on the general state of society. The study of the causes and treatment of crime seemed a specialised area concerning a relatively small section of the population and a minor part of the overall political, social and economic process. This is not how it seems today. Criminology as an academic subject has expanded rapidly over the last few years across a large number of universities and colleges. The large numbers of students now attracted to the subject don’t all aim at a career in criminal justice agencies. Many are simply intelligent people who want to understand how society works and why things in the world are as they are. The point is that nowadays they find that the study of crime is as suitable a place to start as the study of the economy, the political system or any other set of social processes. Such is the seeming predominance of crime as a social problem, as an individual experience, and as something that increasingly seems to make the world go round.
But the other side of the coin, however, is that the language of crime control seems to be today on the verge of eclipsing all others - in particular that of social rights – and becoming the single, all encompassing goal of social policy. Increasingly social problems; poverty, homelessness, unemployment are seen first and foremost as problems of dangerousness and criminality and only then, if we remember, problems of the denial of social rights and as social injustice. Let me begin by showing you two graphs.
Graph 1. illustrates the fact that during the second half of the nineteenth century some of the obvious things like theft and assault which people think of as crimes were falling. This appears quite remarkable, particularly when you think of the greater levels of poverty and social conflict that we associate with the nineteenth century as compared to our own. The story it tells is a comforting and familiar one of progress and shows, perhaps, a society increasingly able to come to terms with and to regulate its social problems.
Graph 2. shows the inexorable rise in reported crime since the 1950s. The story it tells is an alarming one: of a society much richer and more sophisticate in many respects than it was in the earlier period, but totally unable to have any effect on the growth of crime. Despite all the economic and political lessons of the 1930s – a period in which crime rates were remarkably low despite large scale poverty and unemployment – and the highly-developed system of welfare and socio-economic planning which followed the Second World War, crime rates have risen exponentially since the 1950s. The demolition of most of that system of planning by governments since 1979 only made matters worse. Rising crime and rising prison populations seem unstoppable. This realisation brings in its wake a growing crisis of confidence in the workings of the crime control system, the police and criminal justice agencies.
It’s simply this. Quite irrespective of what the criminal law says and what the criminal justice agencies do, crime will be most easy to control when it is a purely and simply negative, disruptive affair and the criminal offender is fairly weak and socially marginalised individual. The weakness I am referring to is of course not in relation to the victim but the criminal justice agencies, the police in particular. The social marginality of the criminal offender implies a general stigmatisation and rejection by the surrounding community within which his activities take place. Individual 'on the outside' – deviants, 'nutheads', failures, dropouts – are easily condemned by the general consensus which means that the police and criminal justice system generally has public support and co-operation in bringing such people to justice. The psychopathic serial killer is perhaps the extreme end of this spectrum. By contrast, control will be hardest when crime, irrespective of its harmful and disruptive effects on its victims, fulfils important social, economic or political functions - the generation of income and livelihood, political and personal power, control and even prestige and status - for significant groups of people in society who engage in it. Modern corporate or organised crime immediately comes to mind. Sophisticated money laundering financiers, or drug importers with mobile phones and Internet connections are not one, but several steps ahead of the law enforcement agencies. They have not so much victims as customers, for whom they are not so much social marginals as anything from a lifeline to an important source of recreational goods. Most communities condemn them but all to often where their agents operate, on the streets in poor communities, they are the most powerful individuals in the neighbourhood and local people will think twice about informing the police about their activities.
Crime and resistance
But I want to return now to the nineteenth century - I intend to spend a few minutes talking about the history of crime and its control, and I hope it will become clear why this is important today - we find that behind that comforting curve of falling crime rates was indeed a change in the nature of crime, from an activity which was bound up with the lives of significant sections of people to something which was much more redundant, marginal and disruptive.
To historians like Edward Thompson, Douglas Hay and Peter Linebaugh we owe an understanding that much criminality of the poor during the 18th and early 19th centuries was not simply a means of getting by, but a form of popular resistance to what was then the new order of capitalism. Their studies of poaching, pilferage and other forms of theft showed these activities, notwithstanding that they often carried the death penalty, as a way of defending traditional rights and practices in the face of economic and social change. London Dock workers at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, for example, walking off with a portion of the cargo, were simply defending an old tradition that went back to the middle ages. But in the new age of commercial capitalism, when cargoes were unambiguously the private property of their merchant owners, such activities became seen, by the ruling classes at least, as pilferage and theft, as crimes to be punished. It was not that the masses were entirely lawless. They simply had different ideas about what was and was not ‘crime’ than the ruling classes. Or to put it another way, the boundaries between criminality, political and economic activity were all much more blurred that we like to think they are today.
The other side of this coin was that the concerns of the ruling classes about crime, blurred into their concerns about the unruliness of the working masses as a generalised threat to the new social order of capitalism. Fears about crime blurred in with fears about political rebellion and general social disorder. The historian Victor Gatrell put it in this way:
As a result, much of the activity of the early police forces was directed less at a recognisably distinct ‘criminal class’ than at the working masses in general. They became, as another historian, Robert Storch put it, an "all purpose lever of urban disciple" spending an inordinate amount of time in attempting to regulate the streets, pubs, leisure time activities, fairs etc. of the working people. These police functions were "a direct complement to the attempts of urban middle class elites to mould a labouring class amenable to the new disciplines of work and leisure." (Storch 1976: 483) They were needless to say, rather unpopular in working class areas of the 19th century cities for a long time and only gradually came to be accepted by the better-off sections of the working class. The police learned to compromise, they learned the skills of turning a blind eye to all manner of minor misdemeanours in return for community tolerance and even co-operation in tackling more serious offences. This compromise was the origin of what in England is referred to as 'consensus policing'.
Of course there were plenty of recognisably professional criminals in the 19th century city. But they were often very difficult for the forces of law and order to get at. Just as the 18th century highwayman Dick Turpin had been able to hide in Epping Forest with impunity, so urban thieves and criminals could find refuge in the rookeries, or as we would say now, no-go areas of the city. These areas with their impenetrable maze of winding alleys, portrayed in vivid detail in the novels of Charles Dickens and by social commentators like Henry Mayhew, were not only areas where no gentleman would venture but where the new police only attempted the occasional foray, in large numbers and for a particular purpose.
In summary, then, at the beginning of the modern period, down to the first half of the 19th century when our crime figures start to fall, crime control in the modern sense was impeded by two things. Firstly that much of what the ruling classes and the legal profession regarded as crime was simply not thought of such by large portions of the working masses. Secondly that the balance of power between the authorities and the recognisably criminal fraternities was considerably tilted in favour of the latter.
If this strikes a certain resonance with what seems to be the case in some areas of our cities today then our short foray into history will not have been wasted. But, looking at our graph again, the difference between now and the mid 19th century lay in the direction of change: towards a separating out of crime and criminals from the working class and its activities in general and a shifting balance of power in favour of the police and against the criminal fraternity.
It is of course true that the poorer working class communities have never assimilated the concepts of crime that are enshrined in the criminal law. Right up to the present day areas will be found where it has always been okay to steal as long as not from your neighbours, where villains will be tolerated as long as they don’t do it around here. Sandra Walklate’s research in Bradford is one such recent documentation. I recall a few years ago Richard Kinsey’s research into crime and victimisation among teenagers in Edinburgh where, when asked about shoplifting, one of the young lads replied that it was okay "because the goods had’nt been purchased yet and therefore did’nt belong to anyone"
But generally, by the period around the First World War things had changed remarkably from the situation I have just portrayed. Working class communities and families had stabilised, politics was now a matter for the Labour movement and trade unions. The better off and most organised sections of the working class clashed with the police on the picket lines rather than in the unofficial street economy of pilfered or untaxed goods. The latter remained for the very poor and the weakest sections of the casual labour force who were unable to resist the incursions of the police into their districts. The old rookeries were torn down by street widening, railway construction and urban renewal, and as the police marched in, they were followed by an army of social workers, education officers, public health officials, borough engineers organising drains, street lighting and housing improvements.
By the early twentieth century the terminology of the ‘dangerous classes’ had given way, as Lydia Morris (1994) for example has shown, to that of ‘residuum’ or ‘social problem group’. Still substantial, but perceived rather as a subject for intervention and social policy than as a menacing threat. The criminal had moved to the margins of society, from part of the general unruliness of the masses to a pathological and weak defective, as much in need of treatment as punishment. The age range of criminality had also become more focused on youth, on the problem of the ‘juvenile delinquent’ and youthful criminality as something to be grown out of after making the transition to work and family life.
Two crucial features of the latter nineteenth century stand out as the driving motor behind that steady decline in crime rates. Firstly the bourgeoisie and the professional middle classes were interested in social and urban reform. This was the age of what the Webbs called ‘gas and water socialism’. The bourgeoisie realised they had to employ the workers in their cities as their labour force and therefore a minimal concern with the health and stability of that labour force would not be out of order. Not to mention of course the growing power of the Labour and Trade Union movement which had its effect in concentrating the minds of the ruling classes on such issues.
But secondly, and of crucial importance, the reformers were working with the grain of social and economic development rather than against it. Capitalism was developing the productive forces of society, it was building cities rather than destroying them, drawing workers into stable jobs rather than expelling them, and laying the conditions for stable communities rather than undermining them.
Crimes of the powerful
The story so far is fairly familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of British social history and social policy. But there is an important qualification to this process of the marginalisation of criminality vital for an understanding of some of the things happening in the present period.
Take for example the question of domestic violence. It is reasonably clear that, despite changes in the criminal law, the violent husband did not join the petty thief or street robber as someone who stood out unambiguously as criminal offender. Indeed as some historians have suggested, the very social policy measures aimed at stabilising the family at the lower end of the working class actually helped to hide such violence by seeing violence as a symptom of breakdown to be repaired rather than criminal offence to be punished. Where the overriding aim was the preservation of an institution then the violent husband was shielded from criminalisation by his other roles as head of household, breadwinner for the family wage, husband and father, roles which, it was considered, needed to be consolidated and preserved for the overall health of society.
Business and white collar crime received a very similar treatment. There is a tendency, in the type of reading of 19th century social history which I have recounted above, to see the bourgeoisie as a sort of ‘deus ex-machina’ a class which sets out worrying about the dangerous masses and then sets about reforming them and reorganising social life. The question of how the bourgeoisie kept its own house in order is often entirely ignored. The issue is this, and I hope to show the significance of this perspective in the present day context, that disorder occurs at both ends of the social spectrum. If the masses at the beginning of the 19th century were a disorderly class, at least from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie, then so were large elements of the latter.
We know rather less about the history of upper class disorder. There are no Henry Mayhews or Joseph Rowntrees, in this area though something of the stupidity and corruption of the professional classes comes across loud and clear in Dickens. But there is a similar history to be written: from the open violation of every rule in the book by early capitalists - to which the Americans have applied the apt label ‘Robber Barons’, down to the respectable bourgeois gentleman at the turn of the century. We certainly know that business fraud goes right back to the 18th century with the famous 'South Sea Bubble affair of 1720s with what today would probably be called a 'share support operation' - of the type successfully carried out by Guinness executives a few years ago. The 19th century was an epoch of rampant business criminality, including numerous major banking frauds, launching of stock in fictitious companies particularly during the railway building booms. Perhaps there is a similar story to be told of the law enforcement authorities marching into the City of London just as they marched into the rookeries and working class districts armed with the growing skills of forensic accounting and pressured by a middle class investing public anxious to safeguard its investments.
The trouble is it just doesn’t seem to have happened. It is true that in certain areas a tremendous amount of progress was made. By the end of the last century trade union activity was no longer a criminal conspiracy. Factory legislation regulated the rights of employers to do as they pleased with their workforce, and in the process created a battery of new potentially criminal regulatory violations. There was legislation too against the adulteration of food, a major form of crime by shopkeepers and merchants during the nineteenth century. But on classic areas of business crime – fraud and deception, the rich got away with it at a enormous rate. As George Robb, one of the few historians to attempt a systematic history of business fraud in the nineteenth century put it,
The truth seems to be that business crime had something in common with domestic violence in the sense that the status of the bourgeois as entrepreneur, as risk taker, wealth creator and respectable pillar of society, were sufficient to impede the application of the criminal label where it would be normally applicable. Like the family, business was an institution whose integrity had to be protected at all costs and for whom internal processes of self regulation were considered to be in many respects more appropriate than the criminal justice system. The continuation of this tradition in this country well into the present period has of course placed severe obstacles in the face of the regulation of corporate crime. So whereas criminality became relatively distinct from the activities of the working class, as far as two categories of powerful offenders were concerned - violent husbands and fraudulent capitalists - it remained much more hidden and covered up within the confines of normal social sanctioned activity.
I have spend some time on history and this may be considered strange for a criminologist. For a long time the history of crime was an interesting area for social historians in which the criminologist would have but a passing interest. We, by contrast, rarely went back beyond 1950. The standard examination question in criminal justice policy, like that in the social sciences more generally would usually take the form ‘describe and account for.... whatever it is... since the second world war.’ This formulation is falling into disuse not simply because for the current generation of undergraduates ‘since the second world war’ is no longer a period they can grasp as a whole, but for the more fundamental reason that as the 1950s and 60s recede into the past so the 1850s and 60s get increasingly nearer. I find it easier to get students to write essays comparing crime in the Victorian rookeries with crime in the inner city today than to compare the present with some barely understood golden age of stability which people of my generation can just about remember.
The aspirations of the old welfare state - as something which would guarantee social citizenship through rights to health education security, and social cohesion through decreasing social inequality - for a time seemed like the completion and consolidation of those progressive tendencies of the nineteenth century. Now they seem more like a watershed, a ‘final fling’ before counter tendencies to growing inequality and urban disintegration took their place.
Two types of social exclusion
There is no need for me to remind an audience such as yourselves about the alarming growth of poverty and social inequality over the last decade and more. The last couple of years have seen a welter of high quality research and documentation. The report of the Commission on Social Justice in 1994, the report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 1995, the two reports - much to the fury of the Tory Party - by the Church of England and of course the painstaking work of the Child Poverty Action Group. Yesterday the United Nations joined in the commentary.
These reports have detailed a process whereby the bottom tenth of the population failed to participate at all in economic expansion over the last decade and that class differences in health and life expectancy are widening steadily. One in three children are born into poverty, diseases associated with malnutrition, not seen since the 1930s are returning to our cities. But the concern now is with more than simply the facts of poverty and inequality but with what has come to be called social exclusion. The term refers to the fact that important sectors of our population - in particular young people in poor housing estates with high unemployment - are literally dropping out of participation in society. That is to say if you drop out of the labour market, school, political participation, if you lack a basic minimum income, if you are locked in a state of permanent youth by being unable to make the normal transition to adulthood through getting a job and setting up home on your own then you are not really participating in society. You are, in a phrase, 'socially excluded'.
Social exclusion of growing portions of the poor has, in the recent period, come to be seen as an important, perhaps the most important, social problem faced by industrial capitalist societies. Social exclusion is not just seen as a matter of poverty and the denial of social rights of citizenship. Increasingly the issue is formulated as an issue of dangerousness and criminality. Social exclusion strongly implies the return of the dangerous classes or, as the preferred term is now, the underclass. These are not just poor people, they are menacing poor people. Their existence excites not just compassion but, and increasingly rather, fear.
Let me read you a quotation from the Rowntree Report on Income and Wealth.
Hardly anything to disagree with here it might be thought. But there are two phrases which in my opinion slide over some of the most fundamental problems of formulating a policy to deal with social exclusion. The first phrase is 'the interests of all'. Such general all-inclusive phrases, which assume a consensus and unity of interest of all social groups and classes upon some issue or other should make one immediately suspicious. In practice, for example, we all know that in the sphere of foreign policy, phrases which refer to ‘the wishes of the international community’ are generally meaningless unless they include, or at least do not conflict with, the interests of the government of the United States. So in the same way the assumption that a particular social policy is in 'the interests of all’ should invite close scrutiny as to whose particular interests or what particular coalition of interests is being referred to or otherwise taken for granted.
Now, as I argued a moment ago, during the 19th century, important sections of the upper and middle classes did indeed come to see urban and social reform as a priority. They saw it as in their interests to do something about the poverty and misery of large sections of the working masses. The report refers to this. And, as I’ve also said, in working to achieve such reforms the bourgeois philanthropists of the last century they were working with the grain of economic development rather than against it. The Rowntree Report, in referring to the interests of all, is taking it for granted that the rich and powerful in our society still have the same interest in solving social problems as – important sections of them – had during the last century.
But in the late 20th century this is precisely what is problematic. Indeed we have to ask whether the dominant interests of the most powerful and wealthy sections of society are any longer associated at all with in urban and social reform. As part of this, we have to ask the further question of how far the general tendency of economic development in the present period is conducive to strengthening the cohesion of our cities and the communities within them.
In his last book before his death the American social historian Christopher Lasch wrote of the growing opting out of the elite.
Such developments may be further ahead in the western United States than in Europe but there is little reason to doubt that the tendencies are moving in the same direction. It does appear that the grain of economic development has, for some decades now, pointed in the direction of removing well paid stable working class jobs from the inner cities and older industrial areas, leaving behind a trail of devastation and decay. It appears, furthermore, that the shift, in big cities like London, to finance and services as the predominant type of economic activity employs fewer people. Some of them earn very high salaries but many earn very low wages. The general tendency of capitalist development which underlay the work of the 19th century reformers has reversed itself. The tendency is to dismantle communities and undermine social cohesion. That is precisely why politicians spend so much time today talking about the necessity to 'rebuild community' and why sociologists produce widely read books about the need for a return to 'communitarianism'
The economic forces underlying these developments are not difficult to fathom. The processes grouped together under the albeit imprecise heading of globalisation are not difficult to understand. But what is important to me is how little key policy documents such as the Rowntree Report think though the implications of such developments. The focus is entirely on the poor and the 'underclass' with hardly any thought given to the consequences of an elite increasingly disinterested – if commentators like Lasch are right – in a social policy aimed at holding society together. In looking at the process of social exclusion it is imperative that we realise that we are talking about not just the consequences of extreme poverty, but also the consequences of extreme wealth. In societies of growing inequality, social exclusion occurs at both ends of the spectrum. Self exclusion at one end, and involuntary exclusion at the other.
I read in the newspapers a few days ago (December 5th 1997) that bonuses to City Bankers and Financial Directors this year, despite the Chancellor’s call for wage restraint to avoid the return of inflation, were enough to lower the standard rate of income tax for the entire population by a half penny in the pound. It could also of course be used to fund the social exclusion unit or indeed, maintain the level of benefits for lone parents. We might be forgiven for believing that these people inhabited a labour market and an economy quite separate from most of the other things going on in Britain: that they have indeed ‘dropped out of society’ but at the top rather than at the bottom. But we would be right.
Put it like this. When the 19th century factory owner looked out from his office window on the slum tenements below he knew - if he was perceptive enough, and of course by no means all such gentlemen were - not only that he needed to employ their inhabitants but that he would also have to meet the representatives of their increasingly strong trade unions. The late 20th century financial executive looks out of his Canary Wharf skyscraper onto the desolation of the East End, but his gaze turns rapidly back to his bank of computer terminals which link him to Frankfurt, to Tokyo, to New York - places which are much nearer than the slums half a mile away and which have much more effect on his salary and the future of his business activities.
The poor down there appear continually less as workers to be employed, yet alone Unions to be negotiated with, and increasingly as risks to be managed. The language of class relations in this country is undergoing a subtle change: from active social groups whose interests are to be - even if grudgingly - accommodated through representation and negotiation, to risky populations to be managed by designing them out with high walkways and closed precincts, CCTV cameras and access control manned by the burgeoning private security industry. The public police may join in with occasional bouts of ‘zero tolerance' policing, a style of policing whose ultimate aim is less, as in the nineteenth century, to knock these populations into shape for work in an expanding economy that needed their labour, but much more to encourage them to remain out of sight, out of mind.
Now, if you regard the presence of large numbers of unemployed, disorderly people as a threat then you are half way back to the idea of the dangerous classes. ‘Real’ street crime like violent robbery or theft start to blur back into a generalised disorderliness which includes street begging, rowdiness and those types of incivilities which allegedly lead to more serious crime. This they often do, but not because of some inexorable inner logic of their own but because of the lack of sufficient counter pressure in the form of other more attractive opportunities and because serious criminality has already taken a grip on an area. We move into the general management of the lower orders rather than their social reintegration. In sociological theory these days a major theme is the 'death of the social' and the replacement of social integration by the management of risk.
Therefore, the simple appeal to the interests of all, I am suggesting, may be harking back to an imagined social unity celebrated during the heyday of the welfare state in the 1950s and 1960s but having a decreasing purchase on the nature of our society as it is developing and will develop in the 21st century. Large numbers of people will of course share an interest in remedying social exclusion in the poorest sections of society. Not least the poor themselves. But very powerful groups indeed will have hardly given it a thought.
Marginality and money
The second phrase I want to draw attention to is the reference to marginal groups left behind. Again the reference here is obviously to the very poor. This is where the social threat is seen to be coming from: the high crime inner city and outer housing estates. These areas are indeed heading back towards the nineteenth century. They have become the new rookeries in which the majority of residents - who of course are not involved in crime even in high crime areas - are condemned to a living hell of violence, and fear. I can take you to some of them. So can several other people who are here tonight.
These areas face two sets of problems, in reality two sides of the same coin. Firstly they suffer from a collapse of social regulation, or informal social controls. That is to say any sense of local community, of trust and leadership, of respect for the authority of parents, of older and experienced people in the locality is precarious if not absent. This is of course a result of the simple fact that increasing numbers of young people in these areas cannot see, in the adult members of the community, a vision of their own development. They feel locked in permanent 'youth' and feel resentment and anger at those who, a generation previously, were able to make the transition to adulthood through steady employment and building a family. The old institutions of the labour movement, traditional tenants associations are usually moribund, and for the same reasons. Newer forms of community organisation find it difficult or impossible to integrate communities without resources and without work. And the institutions of social welfare rather than marching into these areas as in a previous epoch, seem to be marching out. Neither the natural processes of community nor the social citizenship of the old welfare state are any longer in evidence. The shops are boarded up. The police rarely go to these places unless for a particular purpose and when they do people will often be unwilling to talk to them because of fear of reprisals. Community outreach workers maintain radio contact.
The other side of the coin is criminality itself as a form of social control. A popular media image, influenced by the riots at the beginning of the decade, is of wild young men uncontrollable because unsocialised; engaged in what sociologists might call symbolic vengeance on the society they have failed to enter - joy riding, drug taking, burglary, violence, rape. And criminality, like other maladies, once it gets into the system becomes hard to defeat even by well thought out policies.
But it would be a mistake to think of this simply in terms of rage. There is an economy here as well, even though it is a largely criminal one. Stolen property and hard drugs. These activities put food in the fridge in many instances even as they destroy lives. This economy exerts its control over the area. As the researches of criminologists like Nigel South of Essex University and Vincenzo Ruggiero here at Middlesex have shown, (Ruggiero and South 1995) the economic organisation of this bears increasing resemblance to that of the legitimate business world, with its proletarians, middlemen entrepreneurs and financiers.
This links to sectors of the legal economy in important ways. Firstly, in particular to the low wage ‘sweated labour’ sectors employing mainly migrants and women workers. These may rely on organised crime for their labour force - the networks established by the international drugs trade are now being deployed for people smuggling. They may also rely on hired thugs for labour discipline - trade union membership?, enforcement of health and safety legislation?, don’t even think about it! They may also, as South and Ruggiero have noted, rely on the occasional one-off drugs importing operation as a source of capital and liquidity.
The idea, currently being put about by the New Labour government, that large numbers of young people and single parents are going to move rapidly from welfare to work ought to elicit an inquiry about just what sort of jobs they are going to move into, at what sort of wages, and run by whom. The jobs are not all going to be provided by Tesco. The attraction of a government subsidy could, I put it no more strongly, attract all sorts of unsavoury employers to suddenly blossom in the inner city just as the privatisation of many welfare and community services has already been known to provide opportunities for less than acceptable individuals. Criminality begins to merge with normal economic and social life but certainly not as part of any tradition of popular resistance such as I referred to earlier. It is the direct opposite. It is an alternative economy of what might be called 'violent capitalism' and criminal markets, but one which actually links the people in these areas to global business processes every bit as much - indeed perhaps more directly in some cases - as if they had regular employment in the legitimate economy.
In this sense we should be wary of terms like marginality. Marginalised from what we consider to be acceptable forms of social and economic activity but in fact linked to others every bit as powerful which penetrate social economic and political life at a number of levels. But, secondly, we can see another dimension of the linkage of the criminal to the legitimate economy, in this case to the world of global finance, in the activities of the money launderers, the bankers for organised crime, who increasingly move rather in the financial City as well as the inner city where they rub shoulders with financiers, share dealers and the personnel of legitimate finance capital. The amount of criminal money alleged to be floating around in the global financial system, including the City of London is difficult to estimate but regarded as considerable and running into billions of pounds. Crime at the top and crime at the bottom of society is increasingly linked through the laundering of criminal money from the drugs economy – and other lucrative forms of criminal enterprise – in the banking systems of the advanced industrial countries. It is because the laundering of the profits of organised crime can penetrate deeply into an increasingly accommodating financial world that the inner city drugs economy can survive and expand.
This deep penetration of the criminal economy into the legitimate one is aided by changes which have accelerated the growth of general attitudes in the financial City which are highly conducive to both joining in or otherwise turning a blind eye to criminal activity if it is good for business. The attitudes of the financial City mirror those of the inner city. Just as the social exclusion of the young unemployed on the inner city and peripheral housing estates is part of a process of the breakdown of community and social regulation, the self exclusion of growing sectors of the financial and business elite involves a similar breakdown of informal social controls and standards concerning what is 'appropriate' business activity. The more socially excluded the elite, the less are they linked to the rest of society by its concerns and standards and more free to pursue naked self interest: that is to say the unrestricted and unfettered pursuit of profit.
Many criminologists who have studied business crime understood that what they were dealing with was an environment that was criminogenic per se. There is less need to explain the business criminal – the fraudster, the insider dealer, the seller of unsafe products, the violator of safety regulations – as a member of some sort of deviant subculture. It has rather to be remembered that "(c)orporations and organisations are goal seeking entities operating in an unpredictable and contradictory environment full of competitors struggling over scarce resources. Consequently their executives frequently find themselves in a situation where strict adherence to regulations governing their activities would not be a rational course of action to pursue" (Box 1983 p.53).
In recent years this tendency has accentuated, particularly in the financial markets of the City of London and other centres. The traditional of the business elite was, I suggested earlier, rather ineffective at regulating its own criminality. Nevertheless it was largely left alone. But even this old boys public school, gentlemen’s club culture was blown apart by the computerisation and globalisation of financial trading in the 1980s. The new system of regulatory bodies put in its place - the Securities and Investments Board and its various subsidiary bodies proved totally inadequate to the task of regulating a process which had gone global. A whole series of major financial crimes passed through all the fail-safe early warning systems and the skills of the new high powered auditing mechanisms. By the beginning of this decade losses from reported fraud totalled £8.5 billion while the combined losses from reported burglary, shop lifting and vehicle crime totalled £1.7 billion.
One of the key features of modern capitalism which lies behind such changes – and perhaps an indicator of how close we are to a global breakdown of the system – is the vast amount of money 'sloshing' around the globe which enlarges itself through speculation rather than through investment in productive activity. The financial executives and dealers who manage these funds often travel the globe – from New York to Singapore to the City of London and they are linked increasingly by sophisticated information technology of instantaneous communication. This in itself makes effective regulation virtually impossible as was revealed in the collapse of the old London Merchant Bank, Barings, associated with the illegal speculative activities of one of its operatives in Singapore. (Gapper and Denton 1996) A growing part of this speculative financial activity is, at the end of the day, little more than a sophisticated form of gambling and those who inhabit this world have naturally enough developed the culture and outlook of the gambler. In the words of the financial fraud expert Rowan Bosworth-Davies,(1997) echoing earlier studies of the culture of the financial markets by Christopher Stanley (1992), "Theirs is a primarily deviant, norm-evasive, criminogenic culture, not much given to the willing acceptance of regulatory control." (1997: 7)
This culture extends out from the financial trading markets into the whole world of business. Its no longer the old style business fraudster - the swindler who set up a fictitious company and then runs off with investors money, epitomised by the Barlow Clowes case in the 1980s - but new, far more complex forms in which crime becomes a way of doing business. Systematic insider trading, wilful mis-selling of private pensions often to vulnerable working class victims who had recently collected their redundancy money - a major scandal that still has not been rectified - pillaging company pension funds as sources of capital to shore up the results of incompetence elsewhere as in the Robert Maxwell case - for which it should be remembered no one has actually been convicted. Money laundering for the drugs economy fits smoothly into this process as just another form of profitable financial business. As Bosworth-Davies suggests, the company compliance officer – who usually has the responsibility for ensuring that the bank or finance company does not unwittingly get involved with money laundering and other criminal activities – is regarded as the 'business prevention officer'.
From where the criminologist is standing, the wild young men of finance capital begin to look remarkably like some of the wild young men on the inner city housing estates.
These two worlds, the inner city and that of the financial City, used to be linked by finance capital investing in industrial production and employment in city heartlands. They are now linked increasingly by criminal means. As legitimate business marches out of the inner cities, despite attempts stretching over several decades and governments of all political complexions to get it to return, so the businessmen who are marching into the inner cities of Europe and North America are the drugs capitalists with their own connections to the world of finance. They have all the flair of the nineteenth century entrepreneur and certainly have a concern for urban renewal - but not of the variety that you or I, or the vast majority of people who live in these areas would find remotely acceptable.
In conclusion I would like to re-emphasise the 'simple criminological proposition' with which I started out. The period during which social conditions conducive to the reasonable functioning of crime control, namely the general marginality and weakness of the criminal offender, have been quite short lived and may well, as we move into the 21st century, be coming to an end. The modern period began, I argued, with the blurring of criminality with social resistance against capitalism. It seems to be ending with a similar process of blurring: this time not between crime and resistance to capitalism but between crime and capitalism itself.
Under such circumstances it is going to become increasingly difficult to do anything about what’s happening at the poor and weak end of society without doing something about what’s happening at the rich and powerful end. Radical realism - in politics or social policy or crime control - involves grasping the totality of the situation, grasping the problem at both ends and understanding the simple fact that tackling tackle social exclusion at the bottom of society is possible only if it is simultaneously tackled at the top.
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