By Hans See
[This article published in Ossietzky 6/2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, Ossietzky | Wirtschaftsverbrechen.]
White-collar crime is pervasive and causes greater damage than any other type of crime - except perhaps wars. Experts believe that the number of undetected crimes is particularly high in the economic sector. It can be recognized only by the symptoms of the permanent economic crisis.
But according to public and published opinion, it is by no means the profit-maximizing gentlemen in pinstripes who endanger the internal security of states and communities of states with the "crime weapon of business". What is dangerous - say the politicians of order, and many are only too happy to believe it - are the foreigners, asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and moonlighters. Former Interior Minister Kanther: "Whoever talks about crime in Germany has to talk about foreigners." Maybe also about corrupt officials. That creates an election campaign mood. The issue of white-collar crime, on the other hand, is apparently impossible to address. None of the major parties has so far shown any inclination to take up the demonstrable threat to the welfare state and democracy posed by white-collar crime in the election campaign.
Recently, there have been massive attempts on the part of the business community to portray crimes committed by workers and employees to the detriment of their employers as white-collar crime. But the employee who steals from his employer or cheats on his insurance is not a white-collar criminal, he is a thief or a fraudster.
White-collar crime is usually about capital procurement, capital utilization and capital protection crime. But that means it is an enrichment crime of the rich, the established "upper world". It is the everyday crime of capital, the crime of the economy, which is rarely suitable for sensational reporting.
The economy - which is often forgotten or taken for granted - is still a democracy-free zone. It is governed by property rights, not democratic voting rights; the principle of the prince or leader still applies here, not representative democracy, and certainly not direct democracy. Free enterprise is therefore structurally contradictory to the social and democratic rule of law. A contradiction that can only be inadequately bridged by collective bargaining autonomy and other forms of unequal - but legally regulated - tug-of-war between associations and parties over the right limits of the social and ecological. The respective limits of entrepreneurial freedom of action are laid down in laws on a democratic basis. But:
White-collar crime ignores these democratically established laws and basically makes everything and everyone its victims in order to achieve - in addition to legal profits - additional illegal profits. It is primarily directed against competing business enterprises, but also against business partners, against capital investors, against insurance companies, in other words against capital itself. If the argument is heard that white-collar crime poses a threat, then it is at best with regard to the threat to the individual capitals themselves or also to the system.
White-collar crime is also directed against workers. For the crime of capital against capital destroys jobs, social security systems, entire social orders. Its victims include not only workers and employees but also consumers, patients, clients, road users, employees and users of cultural institutions, employees and members of social associations, trade unions, churches, who are not always identical with them.
White-collar crime therefore also undermines the fundamental legal and security guarantees of society almost unnoticed. It ruins the state and local communities, because it robs the state and social coffers - often by turning a blind eye or even with the active support of corrupt politicians and higher officials. And in doing so, it reduces to the point of ineffectiveness the political steering capacity that is indispensable for a social, democratic and ecologically responsible constitutional state. Thus, social, democratic and ecological politics degenerates into symbolic legislation, is reduced to non-binding promises, provokes with its inactivity and ineffectiveness the longing for the strong state, in the end even the police and leader state.
Economic crime has no regard for borders and regulations; it exploits people - and nature. When we speak of business breaking the law, it must be remembered that the representatives of business demand legal security, protection and freedom of property from the state. In the past and present, they have repeatedly had laws tailored to them like tailor-made suits. These laws are found primarily in social and economic law. From the point of view of those who have no or only insignificant capital, most of these laws enable or encourage completely legal enrichment at their expense and - in part - the plundering of the middle classes by lenders and monopolists.
The bourgeois constitutional state, which is closer to the entrepreneurs than to the workers, legalized and continues to legalize - despite the overcoming of the three-class suffrage and approved trade unions, also despite propagated social middle-class policies - economic methods which are suffered and judged as crimes by most of the victims, and not only by them. The workers' movement had drawn socio-democratic boundaries to legal exploitation. But now that the class-conscious labor movement and real socialism have been defeated, capital power smells morning air again. Now the profit-diminishing "democracy of convenience" is to be dismantled, which the entrepreneurs blame on the social politicians of all parties (except the capital-friendly FDP). The globalization argument, so-called international competition, must be used for this purpose. What is meant, however, is not competition between competing companies for better products, but the lowering of the democratic, social and environmental standards achieved in the original industrialized nations. Globalization and competition arguments are obviously sufficient to justify the subjugation of cost-effective basic principles of the constitution, achievements of modern civilization, namely the inviolability of human dignity, human rights and the free development of the personality, to the interest of a more profitable capital exploitation. They are also sufficient to subordinate equality of opportunity or even just justice of opportunity, the protection of health and the right to education, which actually also serve the collective entrepreneurial interests, to individual entrepreneurial freedoms.
Economic crime, as the deliberate violation of national and - to the extent that it exists in rudimentary form - international economic and social laws, has become a core problem of modern democracies based on the rule of law and social welfare. The laws are no longer there merely to protect the existing capitalist economic system; the welfare state is no longer merely an "idealistic total capitalist," nor merely a "night watchman state" that protects the rich from enemies of property, be they thieves or communists.
The Federal Republic is a social and democratic constitutional state. This state has to guarantee the protection of important, one should add, also survival-important legal interests of the people. All those who believe that the free democratic basic order, internal security or the economic system are threatened from the street, the factory halls or the trade union headquarters should familiarize themselves with the idea that the danger emanates more than ever from the democratically uncontrolled executive floors of our companies operating transnationally and bypassing applicable law. For if and to the extent that white-collar criminal practices aimed at achieving ever larger shares of illegal profits prevail there and, according to the laws of competition, draw all other market participants into the maelstrom of this maelstrom, then this economic system is threatened with self-destruction.
White-collar crime, which takes place under the broad cloak of state-guaranteed freedom of entrepreneurial activity and, under the benevolent gaze of financial administrations and courts, procures enormous competitive advantages and extra profits for itself, is a threat to this economic system.
The economic system of capital, which is based on the meta-democratic self-legitimation of capital, is being destroyed by the way in which it creates enormous competitive advantages and extra profits, eliminates and ruins law-abiding competitors, promotes the private monopolization of markets, and overrides the control and regulatory functions of market mechanisms.
This text is an abridged excerpt of an article written jointly in 1997 by Hans See and Eckart Spoo, the founder of this magazine (which then as now - with best birthday wishes - is dedicated to the actor Rolf Becker). We reprint it here on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the civil and human rights organization Business Crime Control, founded by Hans See and Dieter Schenk in Hanau on March 22, 1991, but also because of its high topicality. See and Spoo wrote it as an introduction to the volume of documentation on the first Frankfurt BCC congress, "Wirtschaftskriminalität - Kriminelle Wirtschaft" (Business Crime - Criminal Economy), published by both of them in the Distel-Verlag. The unabridged version can be read on the Internet at www.wirtschaftsverbrechen.de.