15. Crimes of the Powerful
This chapter began by asking you to consider several events that have caused significant financial or physical harms: dumping toxins into a river near a First Nations community; the very rich and powerful evading taxes; a pharmaceutical company bribing physicians to prescribe a dangerously addictive drug; the U.S. Defence Department being unable to account for trillions of dollars in spending; and a chemical plant exploding, injuring and killing thousands. Events like these have resulted in the loss of billions of dollars and the injury and death of hundreds of thousands of people. Yet, when most people think about the crime problem, events like these rarely come to mind. With some exceptions, the crimes of the powerful have remained mostly marginal to the scholarly discipline of criminology and many criminologists (Hillyard & Toombs, 2004). Those who have examined crimes of the powerful, and provided some of the best scholarship, have often come from outside the field of criminology (e.g., Chomsky, 2013, deHaven-Smith, 2010; Greenwald, 2014; Reich, 2020; Reiman & Leighton, 2013; Schweizer, 2019; Washington, 2020). Imagine if another scholarly discipline — say psychology — neglected to study and discuss anxiety disorders, the mental disorder most prevalent in the population (Med Circle, 2020, para. 3). Students of psychology would be short-changed. Psychologists and other mental health practitioners would be unprepared as professionals to help their clients and educate the public. They would be unqualified to help. If the behaviours that threaten us the most and cause the most financial and physical harms —the crimes of the powerful—are similarly neglected, could we apply the same criticisms to criminology as a field of study? Could we apply the same criticism to the criminologists and other social scientists who research and teach criminology?