Crimes against Capital: Discovering Theft of Time

By Snider, Laureen | Social Justice, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Crimes against Capital: Discovering Theft of Time


Snider, Laureen, Social Justice


Introduction: The Significance of Crime Creation (1)

In America's one-sided class war, employers have taken to monitoring employees workplace behavior right down to the single computer keystroke or bathroom break (Ehrenreich, 2000: 88).

Time theft steals money as sure as someone picking your pocket.... It is America's biggest crime, and until its victims -- the owners and managers of American industry -- decide to do something about it, we'll continue to be stolen blind (Half, 1983: 80).

THIS ARTICLE EXAMINES THE GENEALOGY OF CRIME CREATION THROUGH AN investigation of the discovery and management of a new type of Crime against capital. Theft of time, defined as the misuse of the employer's time and property by an employee, is rooted in 19th-century Taylorist discourses on time management and productivity. However, it has come into its own in the workplaces of the 21st century, spurred by a combination of ideological and technological developments. The purpose of this article is to document and explain this phenomenon.

My interest in this subject comes out of earlier work (by myself and others) on the disappearance of corporate crime, crimes committed by business, as statute and fact. As readers of this journal are well aware, in countries all over the world, right-wing champions of neoliberalism have persuaded or coerced national governments to repeal legislation aimed at controlling or censuring the antisocial acts of capital (Snider, 1999; 2000). The most ardent evangelists of this point of view come out of the United States, not coincidentally the central nation with the lion's share of the world's power and wealth. This article will focus on the United States because it sets the tone for the rest of the world. By persuasion, coercion, or example, through its all-powerful media, its market force, government, military, or "international" associations such as the World Bank or the World Trade Organization, what happens in the United States is pivotal. As Braithwaite (1994) has explained, periphery apes center and, whether appropriate to its own history and culture or not, ideas and structures embraced by the United States are copied or modeled everywhere else.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as the gospel of neoliberalism gained strength, virtually every developed nation retreated from its historic obligations to assure the welfare of citizens through disciplining and sanctioning capital and began dismantling the welfare state. State law, it was argued, was expensive, unnecessary, inappropriate, and draconian. Corporations were depicted as complex organizations run by well-intentioned, well-educated management teams. Harmful acts in which they might -- accidentally -- engage were better handled by gentle persuasion or education, or by market mechanisms such as competition and licensing. Thus, pollution permits could replace laws against environmental crime, those who would fix or defraud markets would be automatically disciplined by free trade and globalization, and "voluntary compliance" or "self-regulation" would deliver better worker protection than state law, enforced as it necessarily was by bloated, bureaucratic government and fat-cat unions. (In this discour se, government was always represented as fat, soft, or inefficient, while business was the polar opposite - lean, mean, and "forced to survive in the real world.")

Such arguments fit well with downsizing, with deficit-cutting agendas in the nation-state, and with the newly discovered "need" to cut corporate taxes to allow business to compete in the "global marketplace." Thus, laws against false advertising and hazardous products, laws stipulating minimum wage levels, maximum hours of work, or overtime pay, and laws setting quality standards and punishing business for poisoning air or water were systematically repealed, reformed, and/or obliterated through downsizing. Through deregulation, decriminalization, and downsizing, corporate crime vanished. …

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