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Creating Corporate Criminals
Carolyn Baker

Sociologists have devoted volumes to analyzing crime and the factors in society which enable its development. Yet most of their research focuses on crime in lower educational and socio-economic groups. These are the folks for whom Wackenhut Corporation and Corrections Corporation of America build several thousand new prison cells per year.(1) However, as we reflect on the history of so-called white-collar crime in America, we notice that rarely do the ruling elite find themselves in one of these cells. Most readers recall Watergate and the hand-slapping incarcerations in "retreat-like" settings which its guilty parties received. Then there was the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s in which few of the guilty were convicted as the savings accounts of average Americans were looted by corporate mobsters to the tune of several billion dollars. Not surprisingly, Neil Bush, brother of the sitting President, deeply involved in Colorado’s Silverado Savings and Loan scandal, was never even charged with a crime. And now, in the current moment, every day brings yet a new revelation(s) of corporate book-cooking and pump-and-dump stock scams as we encourage our children to become "successful, responsible, solid citizens" — you know, like the corporate CEO.

Kent Heiner’s excellent article, "Patterns Of Organizational Corruption,"  brilliantly analyzes government and corporate corruption systemically, pointing out that organizational corruption is much larger and more complex than the individual players. I would take this analysis one step farther and ask: Just what dynamics in our culture offer the ideal soil, sustenance and sunshine for the burgeoning harvest of corporate crime with which we are now inundated? For the sake of alliteration, allow me to suggest "Four E’s", namely the emotional, educational, ethical and environmental factors and how we might alleviate their supremacy in the lives of our children.

A characteristic of cultures of abundance is emotional manipulation. This statement is not meant to marginalize those living in deprivation in America, nor does it mean that only the affluent engage in emotional manipulation. What it does mean is that in prosperous families, especially those where blatant display of emotion is frowned upon, children learn stunning manipulation skills. In case any of us have forgotten: All children endeavor to get what they want, a reality on which entire psychological theories have been constructed.

Recently, a friend shared a scenario with me which I believe is a case in point. Mother tells Johnny, who has been sick for several days, that when he goes outside for the first time while recovering from his illness, he may not ride his bike. Johnny goes outside and begins playing with the neighbor kids. Later, mom looks outside and sees Johnny riding a bike. She bursts out the door and attempts a firm censure by yelling: "I thought I told you not to ride your bike!" Johnny stops, approaches mom, looks innocently and sincerely into her eyes and replies, "But it’s not my bike; it’s Joey’s bike." Mom begins protesting, but before she can catch her next breath, Johnny is half-way down the street on Joey’s bike. Is Johnny reprimanded when he returns home? No. Is his manipulation made explicit and dealt with overtly? No. Did the manipulation work? Brilliantly.

And perhaps, as my friend and I joked at the end of the story, Johnny will choose to work for Enron when (if?) he grows up.

The above scenario is but one of thousands in which manipulation is allowed, even rewarded in some families, by what is not said or done, as well as what is. Twenty-first century corporate culture is a hothouse of manipulation.

In fact, one could argue that manipulation permeates American culture to the extent that we are manipulated and encouraged to manipulate from cradle to grave. What are mainstream media, mainstream politics and indeed most of our institutions if not mainstays of manipulation? Had Johnny been confronted about the manipulation by mom when he returned home, and had it been called exactly what it was, manipulation, and had the concept been explained as undesirable because of its long-term consequences, Johnny might have learned a valuable lesson and subsequently changed his behavior, that is, if some tangible consequences had been dispensed along with the lecture.

But home is far from the only contributor to the creation of corporate crime. Another factor is our second "E": education. Recently, one of the prime-time, news magazine TV shows aired a feature in which a high school teacher in an upper-middle class, Midwestern town was fired because she proved that several of her students had plagiarized their research papers. The students were expelled from school, but parents complained to the school board. Ultimately, the teacher was fired, and the students were allowed to return to school. When parents were interviewed regarding the seriousness of the charge against their children, some replied, "I know my daughter. She absolutely would not do that." Another parent said, "Well, maybe my son did cheat, but he really didn’t mean to cheat." When the students were interviewed, they showed little remorse and argued that it is virtually impossible to pass SAT tests, enter college and graduate with a degree without cheating.

And in our consideration of a corporate crime-creation, how could we forget the third "E": ethics? We develop our ethics out of our values, and values originate from parental instruction and modeling, educational environments and one’s sense of spirituality or moral principles. Increasingly, children from prosperous families receive little or no instruction in moral principles or they are indoctrinated with the hypocritical values of right-wing fundamentalism. These are the values of individuals who rail at a woman’s right to choose in the name of cherishing life but wrap themselves in the flag in the name of "punishing evildoers" in the so-called war on terrorism as it annihilates thousands or millions of innocent civilians.

As Native American scholar and writer, Vine Deloria, Jr. notes in GOD IS RED:

The fundamentalists could care less about human life after birth. They unquestioningly accept American military ventures around the world and cry for more blood with each invasion or carpet bombing of small countries. They steadfastly support the death penalty and see nothing wrong with its one-sided application to racial minorities. They close their eyes to blatant theft of American assets by government officials, savings and loan executives, and bankers, and oppose every social program that is proposed. (2)

One aspect of the image of the ethical CEO is his/her participation in benevolent community projects and religious organizations. Yet in his/her private world, the criminal CEO has virtually no inner life. Introspection and reflection are alien universes for an avarice-obsessed individual. Fundamentally, we are talking about a human being who has come to believe that there is no power greater than her/himself. And let us never forget that organizational corruption and corporate crime, from sexual abuse in the Catholic priesthood to Worldcom, are about nothing if not about power and control. In our privileged, sated society, most individuals, and especially children of prosperous families are unaware of the fact that they are some of the very few people in the world who are not suffering untold misery on a daily basis. Our children need to be exposed to the realities of other children and adults in deprived countries who subsist daily with poverty, hunger, disease and war. I’m not suggesting that we overwhelm our children with the world’s anguish or deprive them of their need to be children, but small opportunities from time to time, should be given them to get involved in making a difference in the lives of oppressed human beings. Teaching perspective on one’s well being in contrast to the overwhelming majority of humans on the planet can inculcate compassion, reduce material consumption and nurture a spirit of interconnectedness.

And as I write the word interconnectedness, the final "E" comes to mind: Environment. How many corporate criminals are profoundly cognizant of or deeply connected with the ecosystems? In fact, most of them are profiting from directly or indirectly contaminating the environment to such an extent that they cannot afford anything other than to remain oblivious to it. For the self-obsessed, voracious corporate predator, "nature" is likely to be synonymous with slamming down Bloody Marys on the beach at Club Med in the Caribbean or "killing the big one" during a Rocky Mountain weekend hunting expedition. Unequivocally, it has nothing to do with a relationship with forests, rivers, animals, the sky or earth. In the Judeo-Christian tradition of Western Civilization, these "things" are all to be conquered, subdued, owned and used as bargaining chips in the perpetual game of wealth-accumulation and ego-enhancement. I sometimes think that the worst punishment a corporate criminal could endure might be confinement in a primal forest with only water and no clothes or food. When survival depends on connection with the environment, the playing field is instantly leveled. If we do nothing more than teach our children to love spending time in nature and to cherish animals, plants and all aspects of the ecosystems, we will produce a stunning deterrent to the development of corporate criminals.

Economic pundits are now warning us in direst terms of an imminent economic implosion in the U.S. which will most certainly produce a chain reaction globally. A virtual bubonic plague of corporate corruption is terrorizing foreign investors, and may soon cause the dollar to plummet. This is truly the voracious predator eating its own tail — corporate America digging its own grave with greed. While the Harken-soiled President appoints commissions and threatens to double prison sentences of corporate criminals, the horrifying truth is that only one group ever has paid for corporate America’s sins: the American people. Five decades of CIA drug trafficking and money laundering through the U.S. stock market attended by gargantuan accounting fraud is a locomotive about to slam into the brick wall of oblivion — an economic train wreck that may cause the devastations of 1929 to pale by comparison.(3) (4)

In his article on organizational corruption, Kent Heiner addresses the issue of peers, superiors and subordinates who are aware of corruption but are afraid to blow the whistle — who using one form or another of denial, tell themselves that it is none of their business or that they do not want to get involved or very legitimately fear losing their own jobs — or in some cases, their lives. Yet it may be that a strong inner life and consistent self-reflection provide the courage to take a stand because irrespective of one’s religious or spiritual path, one has faith in the ultimate outcome of speaking one’s truth. We have only to notice recent whistleblowers such as FBI Agents Robert Wright and Colleen Rowley, or the less recent hero of the Watergate investigation, John Dean, to witness individuals who summoned the courage to speak their terribly distressing truth in spite of fear, pain and uncertainty of outcome. Let these be the role models we offer to our children — the truly solid citizens we beseech them to emulate.

Catherine Austin Fitts, former Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Bush, Sr. administration — an extraordinarily courageous whistleblower, emphasizes that there are remarkably honorable people in government and in the corporate world, but they cannot make a difference as long as we, common Americans, accept the treachery, greed, corruption and lies of the criminals in power. In addition to guiding our own children in the direction of emotional intelligence, integrity that promotes a sustainable universe and a sense of interconnectedness with that universe, we must demand that our legislators thoroughly and explicitly investigate the criminal empire of Wall Street and the criminal empire that the U.S. government has become. We must insist that they investigate and find the nearly 4 trillion dollars of money missing from government agencies and for which those agencies cannot account. Furthermore, we must demand that all corporate and government criminals take up the same periods of residence in the same cells as those street criminals for whom Wackenhut and Corrections Corporation are "generously" providing housing each year.


  2. GOD IS RED, Vine Deloria, Jr., p.57.
  3. Catherine Austin Fitts, "Narco Dollars For Dummies,"
  4. Michael Ruppert, From The Wilderness, "Global Economic Collapse," Subscriber Bulletin, July 8, 2002. See .