CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, August 3, 2006

WSJ Reviews CrimProf Stuart P. Green's "Lying, Cheating, and Stealing: A Moral Theory of White Collar Crime"

Stuart_2From Wall Street  Lousiana  State University CrimProf Stuart P. Green's new book "Lying, Cheating, and Stealing: A Moral Theory of White-Collar Crime"  was recently reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.  The review stated:

0199268584"When Enron's former chief executive Kenneth Lay died earlier this month, public reaction was sharply divided. On the one side were those pleased because Mr. Lay, convicted in May of fraud for disguising Enron's precariousness from investors, was in fact dead and thus no longer able to inhabit this lovely earthly realm with the rest of us. On the other side were those angered because Mr. Lay was now, being dead, saved from a gruesome prison experience. Certainly Mr. Lay's stewardship of Enron deserved a lot of criticism. But did it merit the bloodlust that greeted his death?

Stuart P. Green's "Lying, Cheating, and Stealing: A Moral Theory of White-Collar Crime" will be helpful to anyone thinking about such cases. Mr. Green discusses a set of malfeasances that, he is content to say, show a "family resemblance," among them: business fraud, perjury, insider trading and tax evasion. He then explores, lucidly and informatively, the categories of ethical error that propel a lot of white-collar crime -- not only lying and cheating but also promise-breaking, disloyalty and coercion. Mr. Green is not a sermonizer: Among other things, he wants to explain the subtle legal and moral distinctions between, say, criminal fraud and mere hype or between insider trading and shrewd investing.

And indeed, "Lying, Cheating, and Stealing" is strong on moral philosophy, not least in the way it illuminates the gray areas of business conduct. (For example: If it's OK to buy a cheap painting without disclosing your knowledge that it's actually a Vermeer, then what is wrong with insider trading -- buying stock in a company without letting on that it is a takeover target?) But the book is short on moral psychology -- on how the world looks to anyone at the center of a real-life crisis, with its pressure, confusion and emotion. Here Mr. Lay's story offers a good test case of the utility of Mr. Green's analysis.

The essence of the case against Enron's former chief executive Kenneth Lay is that he consistently told analysts, journalists and investors that Enron was in solid shape when in fact it was careering toward bankruptcy. As Mr. Green shows, there are moral defenses available to someone who spreads falsehoods. Perhaps a person never knew the truth in the first place, or could never know it, so that, although he speaks falsely, he does so believing what he says. Or perhaps a person makes a false statement reasonably expecting that it won't mislead others, because his listeners are skeptical enough to discount for what amounts to routine hype."

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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