Trapped: When Acting Ethically Is against the Law

Trapped: When Acting Ethically Is against the Law

Trapped: When Acting Ethically Is against the Law

Trapped: When Acting Ethically Is against the Law

Synopsis

Since Enron's collapse in 2002, the federal government has stepped up its campaign against white-collar crime. In this timely book, John Hasnas reveals how the government's effort to enforce legal rules has created a Catch-22 legal environment in which businesspeople must either act unethically or illegally.

Excerpt

White-collar crime can be defined in many ways. It has been defined as crime committed by a person of respectable or high social status or in the course of one’s occupation, as crime that involves deceit or a breach of trust, as nonviolent crime undertaken for personal gain, as crime that involves a combination of these factors, and simply as business crime. None of these definitions specifies the class of offenses that I wish to address in this book, however. I intend to restrict my focus to federal law, and then even more narrowly to the particular subset of federal law that is designed to police the behavior of those engaged in business for honest dealing and compliance with regulatory requirements. Because all of the above definitions include state offenses, and many include nonbusiness-related crime as well, none of them correspond to the class of offense that I am interested in. Accordingly, for purposes of this book, I will employ the phrase “white-collar crime” in a somewhat idiosyncratic manner to refer exclusively to behavior that is the object of federal efforts to ensure honest dealing and regulatory compliance in business.

Under this stipulative definition, white-collar criminal law constitutes a discrete subset of American criminal law. It is distinct from state criminal law, which is directed against actions that either directly harm or violate the rights of others or constitute what is regarded as inherently immoral activity—the so-called morals offenses or victimless crimes. This traditional understanding of crime, which is the subject of the typical first-year law school course in criminal law, covers offenses such as murder, rape, kidnapping, and theft, as well as prostitution, the use of illegal narcotics, and, somewhat famously, taking a girl under the age of 16 out of the care of her parents without their consent. White-collar crime is also distinct from much of federal criminal law, which, in addition to prohibiting offenses of purely national concern such as treason or counterfeiting, prohibits “traditional” criminal activity when that activity transcends state boundaries. As used in this book, the term . . .

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