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Poverty, Power, White-Collar Crime And The Paradoxes Of Criminological Theory*

J. Braithwaite
Published 1991 · Economics

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Sutherland's aspiration for a general theory of both white-collar and common crime can be pursued by focusing on inequality as an explanatory variable. Powerlessness and poverty increase the chances that needs are so little satisfied that crime is an irresistible temptation to actors alienated from the social order and that punishment is non-credible to actors who have nothing to lose. It may be theoretically fruitful to move away from a positivist conception of need to needs socially constructed as wants that can be satisfied (contrasted with greed — socially constructed as insatiable wants). When needs are satisfied, further power and wealth enables crime motivated by greed. New types of criminal opportunities and new paths to immunity from accountability are constituted by concentrations of wealth and power. Inequality thus worsens both crimes of poverty motivated by need for goods for use and crimes of wealth motivated by greed enabled by goods for exchange. Furthermore, much crime, particularly violent crime, is motivated by the humiliation of the offender and the offender's perceived right to humiliate the victim. Inegalitarian societies, it is argued, are more structurally humiliating. Dimensions of inequality relevant to the explanation of both white-collar and common crime are economic inequality, inequality in political power (slavery, totalitarianism), racism, ageism and patriarchy. Neither of these lines of explanation is advanced as the whole story on crimes of the powerless or crimes of the powerful; but they may be a theoretically interesting and politically important part of the whole story.
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