We are told that no one is exempt from the law. We are told that everyone is equal before the law. But it isn’t really true is it. The law in general has a built in perspective, a structural bias, which is to do with the protection of property and privilege, the preservation of the status quo. It can be summed up in the following observation by French novelist Anatole France: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”
One of the ways that this bias manifests itself is in the way that the crimes of the rich and powerful are perceived and are punished. At the extreme end of the spectrum we have the most powerful politicians. Those like Tony Blair who — I agree with Nick Clegg on this — are war criminals. Or Dick Cheney and others in various American administrations who have enabled torture.
Of more relevance to us here in NZ is white collar crime, and the non-existent or very light punishments that it attracts. Driven by the recession, white collar crime is on the increase: “White-collar crime cases explode”, “White collar crime booming”, and so on.
The Right loves crime as a political issue, they get to strut about talking tough about how crime must be “fought”, “stamped out” or “crushed” with harsher penalties (“sensible sentencing”) or aggressive “three-strikes” legislation. But on the subject of white-collar crime they are strangely muted. As Gordon Campbell put it earlier in the year:
On the government’s tolerance of white collar crime
This government takes a crush â€˜em and crate â€˜em approach to crime unless that is, the offender happens to be wearing a tie. In which case, judging by the Ministry of Economic Development discussion paper on business cartels released yesterday, we need to be very, very worried …
With white collar crime so much on the increase in NZ, and with the government talking so tough on other forms of crime at every opportunity, the structural bias in the law and its application will become ever more apparent in the coming years. I wonder how we as a country will respond.