Deviance and Capitalism
A second branch of conflict tlieory-vMarxlst/crltlcal theory-views deviance and crime as a function of the capitalist economic system. Although the early economist and social thinker Karl Marx wrote very little about deviance and crime, many of his ideas are found in a critical approach that has emerged from earlier Marxist and radical perspectives on criminology. critical approach is ba ed on the assumption that the laws and the criminal justice system protect the power and privilege, of the capitalist class. According to the social scientist Barry Krisberg (1975), privilege is the possession of what is most valued by a ‘particular social group in a given historical period. As such. privilege includes not only rights such as life, liberty, and happiness.but also material possessions such as money, luxury items, land, and houses.
As you may recall from Chapter I, Marx based his critique of capitalism on the inherent confl let that he believed existed between the capitalists (bourgeoisie) and the working class (proletariat), In a capitalist society, social institutions (such as law, politics, and education, which make up the superstructure) legitimize existing class inequalities and maintain the capitalists’ superior position in the class structure. According to Marx, capitalism produces haves and have-nets, who engage in different forms of deviance and crime. Why do people commit crimes? Some critical theorists believe that members of the capitalist class commit crimes because they are greedy and want more than they have. Corporate or white-collar crimes such as stock market manipulation. land speculation, fraudulent bankruptcies, and crimes committed on behalf of organizations often involve Iluge sums of money and harm many people. By contrast, street crimes such as robbery and aggravated assault generally involve small sums of money and cause harm to limited numbers of victims. According to these theorists. the poor commit street crimes in order to survive; they f nd that they cannot afford the essentials, such as food, clothing. shelter. and health care, some crime represents a rational response by the poor to the unequal distribution of resources in society (Gordon, 1973). Further. living in poverty may lead to violent crime and victimization of the poor by the poor. For example, violent gang activity may be a collective response of young people to seemingly hopeless poverty (Quinney, 1979). According to the sociologist Richard Quinney (2001/1974), people with economic and political power define as criminal any behavior that threatens their own interests. The powerful-use law to control those who are without p,?wer. For example, drug laws.