22/11/17
Marxists or Radical criminologists argue that the capitalist economic system that we all experience on a daily basis is criminogenic which means that crime is a natural outcome of the values and norms that people are socialised into by capitalism and their everyday experiences of that economic system. David Gordon argues that capitalism strongly encourages people to believe in a free-market ideology, known as neo-liberalism that suggests that status and success can only be truly measured or achieved via the acquisition of wealth and consumer goods. Moreover the capitalist system encourages a ‘dog eat dog’ mentality as people and businesses are encouraged to compete with one another.
The criminogenic nature of capitalism also means that people raised in such societies often put their self-interest before the interests of the community or society in which they live often without conscience or regardless of the costs to others. In summary then, both Gordon and Chambliss argue that capitalist values such as individualism, competition, materialism and cultural goals such as the pursuit of profit and wealth create pressure on all social classes to commit crime. These values and goals produce a culture of greed among the ‘haves’ and a culture of envy among the ‘have-nots’.

Robert Reiner argues that the influence of the criminogenic nature of capitalism has become more widespread in the UK because of the rapid spread of mass media. In particular, Reiner claims it was no coincidence that the rise in crime in the UK began in the same year – 1955- that the commercial television channel - ITV - first went on the air. He suggests that the game shows that dominated this channel promoted a ‘get rich quick’ mentality amongst the general population whilst television advertising encouraged the idea that consumer goods and immediate financial rewards could be within the grasp of even the poorest sections of society. Other sections of the mass media encouraged the view that greed was good and that status should only be conferred on those who were celebrities and/or on those who already had material wealth.
However Marxists also point out that the criminogenic effects of capitalism are often made worse by the structural inequalities embedded in the organisation of capitalism. They argue that the everyday experience of inequalities in income and wealth, job opportunities, housing, power, education and health also push some people in the direction of crime because they are filled up with feelings of failure, humiliation, envy, hostility, grievance and frustration. Crime becomes a form of rational compensation for these feelings and may also fuel non-economic crimes such as drug addiction and domestic violence.
Some Marxist-Feminists, for example, Fran Ansley argue that the frustration caused by powerlessness and alienation in the workplace experienced by some male workers, especially those in repetitive and unfulfilling precarious jobs might result in crimes of power such as rape and domestic violence which can be interpreted as attempts by such men to assert their masculinity and claim back some of this 'lost' power.
Robert Reiner also argues that ‘there is no intrinsic end-point to the pursuit of monetary success –it is always possible to chase and want more’. He notes that consequently financial success breeds desire for more money rather than satisfaction. He concludes that the corporate and white-collar crimes committed by the rich and powerful are caused by the criminogenic pressures that result from a society that values monetary success so highly.
Similarly, Joel Bakan actually goes as far as to argue that capitalist corporations and those who direct and manage them have a legally defined mandate to ‘pursue relentlessly and without exception, their own self-interest regardless of the often harmful consequences these might cause to others’. Bakan describes such companies as by any reasonable measure as 'hopelessly and unavoidably demented’. He claims that these 'psychopathic' corporations' lie, steal and kill without hesitation when it serves the interests of their shareholders to do so’. They obey the law only when the cost of their crimes exceed the potential profits.
Stephen Box argues that in criminogenic capitalist societies the law (and the criminal justice system - the police, the courts and prisons) are shaped and moulded by the bourgeoisie or capitalist ruling class to work on their behalf. In this sense, both the law and the criminal justice system are part of the ideological superstructure of society, the function of which is to justify or hide the social class inequalities which originate in the economic system or infrastructure, that is, to make sure that the working-class do not challenge the organisation of the capitalist system. The law therefore has three criminogenic functions. Firstly, it aims to criminalise working-class behaviour therefore justifying heavier policing of working-class areas and the imprisonment of working-class people.

Secondly, the criminal justice system engages in the ‘selective enforcement’ of the law. For example, if we examine how the law and criminal justice system deal with benefit and tax fraud, we can see that both the criminal justice system and the tabloid headlines in the UK suggest that a feckless underclass is supposedly intent on milking the benefits system. As such working-class crime is presented as more costly and damaging to society than crime committed by more powerful sections of society. However, this is an ideological myth which do not fit the facts. Illegal tax evasion is a far bigger social scourge in the UK than fraudulent benefit claims. For example, in 2016, benefit fraud cost the UK economy £1.3 billion compared with the £34 billion lost to tax fraud. Those found guilty of benefit fraud are often those found on the margins of society in precarious employment such as single mothers who have worked more hours than they have declared to the authorities. Sometimes these sums amount to thousands of pounds but the average benefit fraudster is more likely to have over-claimed one or two weeks’ worth of benefits. Moreover people found guilty of benefit fraud are nearly always punished with a prison sentence and criminal record. In contrast, the average tax fraudster is normally a very wealthy individual who is attempting to avoid paying millions of pounds in tax. These cases are rarely pursued to court and often result in an official 'slap on the wrist' rather than prison or a criminal record. The priority given to each offence is also reflected in the fact that in 2016, the Department of Work and Pensions employed 3250 civil servants to investigate welfare fraud whilst HM Revenue and Customs employed only 700 tax inspectors in two special units to monitor the tax affairs of the richest people in the UK. You also need to contrast the thousands of police officers employed in the UK to police street crime committed by working-class people with the dozens of officers employed by the Serious Fraud Office which polices those crimes, for example, corruption, bribery, price-fixing etc committed by wealthy individuals and corporations. As Reiman and Leighton conclude - the consequence of all this is that the rich get richer whilst the poor get prison.

Thirdly, Box argues the wealthy have the power to prevent laws being passed which are not in their interest or if they are passed the law often defines the harms done by the bourgeoisie as less serious ‘civil offences’. A good example of this is when a worker is killed in the workplace because the employer has taken shortcuts in worker safety because the costs of such safety measures threaten profit. However this is not defined as ‘criminal negligence and investigated by the police. Justice for the victim cannot be pursued through the criminal courts. Rather it is defined as a ‘civil’ offence and it can only be investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)which does not have the same power as the criminal courts. Deaths at work caused by employer negligence and which were avoidable are rarely subject to criminal investigation or prosecution. For example, For example, between 300-400 employees a year are killed at work but if an employer is criticised by the HSE for negligence, the most punitive action the HSE can impose is a fine.

Marxists also argue that the official criminal statistics are also ideological because they give the impression that the working-class are both dangerous and a threat to more ‘respectable’ sections of society in terms of the crimes they supposedly commit and its damage or cost to society. Marxist analyses of crime are important because they show that the law does not serve all sections of society equally as it claims to do. Marxist sociologists have also drawn our attention to the crimes of the powerful – white-collar crime, corporate crime, green crime and state crime. These crimes of the powerful are more likely to have a global effect than working-class crime.