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Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Vol. 38, No. 4, 1975

Crime in the Office

Crime in the Office

Cartoon of lawyers leaving a building with the sign 'money incorporated'

It's easy enough to associate crime with young working class hooligans, drifters, hippies, 'unacclimatised' Polynesians and just about anybody who comes from a background of poverty, neglect, or of different nationality. These are the people who fill our courts and fill our prisons and other detention schemes.

About every week an 'outraged' mayor of some city will castigate some vandals who destroyed the star local amenity. We grow up in the belief that if it wasn't for criminals we wouldn't need to pay out to keep a police force, we wouldn't need to pay insurance or set up burglar alarms and that if all those criminals stopped being criminals then the 'country' would save millions.

At least that's what we've been told about crime - its poor people trying to get rich quick, or knocked-down people knocking back. But apparently it isn't A recent report in the New Zealand Company Director and Executive November 1974 by Detective Inspector C E Sturt states that solicitors, accountants, and company directors are as frequent offenders as other people and that their crimes result in several times the loss of money as the total cost of those crimes we are educated to see as the real 'crime problem.'

Sturt investigated crimes committed by high ranking professional people in the course of their jobs - thefts and frauds. In a hasty and somewhat superficial research undertaken for the period 1966-1971 of offending by white-collar criminals throughout New Zealand in the categories mentioned, it was found that moneys in excess of $2.5 million had, in face, been dishonestly obtained. It should be noted that this research concerned only those convicted, and amounts proved to have been dishonestly obtained. It is also of interest that in many of these cases greater amounts were suspected to have been stolen, but were not provable because of a number of reasons relating to the deliberate muddlement or destruction of records, or through lack of proper records being maintained, such reasons being compounded by lengthy time lapse between the commission of the offences and the reporting of them.'

The main problem with getting detailed figures on executive crime is that nobody wants to prosecute them. Firms just want their money back without publicity. But also there is a great deal of the 'old school tie' comradeship that prevents many crimes coming to court.

Business men aren't all that imaginative in their methods - they all seem to boil down to variants on cooking the books. Teeming and Lading' is the most often used method whereby the executive runs off and spends today's incoming funds and then adjusts the a accounts by paying back from the next day's incoming funds. However the process tends to snowball and can be detected quite readily.

Then there's always the fake company which takes your money and mysteriously disappears (rather like) and you never get those 17% interest rates. But if you know how to mis-programme a computer you are far less likely to be detected and this is supposedly the area for future expansion of white collar crime.

Sturt looks at white collar crime, its ease of execution and its mammoth profits and begins to wonder if justice is really just class justice. But he puts this in a way that would (a) completely confuse an ordinary person and (b) entirely please our academics of deviance and criminology. This is what he says: 'One could easily ask oneself whether the social control of deviant behaviour does, in fact, show a status selective bias.' - but I suppose as a policeman you can't question too obviously your own role.

Sturt concludes: 'I can quite validly claim that white-collar crimes have come to be synonymous with the crimes of businessmen and professional people, and that such crimes are as frequent as those in other areas of criminal offending. It is also a fact that the final cost of these crimes is several times as great as the final cost of all the crimes which are customarily regarded as the 'crime problem.'

If Sturt's figures on white collar crime are correct (and they are more likely to be lower than higher) then at least half of our police force should be 'set onto' the upper class and not the working class. We will need Task Forces' to keep an eye on deals concocted in the bars and boardrooms of the bourgeoisie. But what chance is there of this? Justice is class-biassed in New Zealand - it's just they pick on the wrong class.

page 5
Stretton and Friederike Taborn

Stretton and Friederike Taborn

For some time Friederike and I had wanted to come to New Zealand. We'd heard and read enough about the scenery to develop an insistent travel-itch, while the educational organisation which I worked for kept impressing on its employees how very useful if was for language teachers to do a course in linguistics.

Our total collection of artistically-embossed academic scrap-paper amounted at this time to three items. Friederike had the equivalent of a BA (including teaching certificate) in English and History from the University of Giessen, West Germany; I had a BA in English (mainly literature), and a teaching certificate from the University of Nottingham in England. Both of us had had some years of experience in teaching English as a foreign language, mainly in Germany.

So, 'Ah-ha,' we thought, 'Why don't we go to New Zealand and do linguistics there at the same time? Professor Pride of the English Department at Vic very helpfully arranged for us to take MA papers here, Friederike in linguistics and literature, me in linguistics alone. So in due course and with great glee we packed our bags in the depths of winter and arrived in the height of summer at a little collection of shacks called Auckland International Airport.

Well, this article is about our reactions to the academic bounties poured forth upon us during our course, and not a general comment on New Zealand but having already explained why we came here for such a short time - on one could understand why two Europeans could possibly want to come to the country with no intention of immigrating - and to counter accusations of rampant antikiwiism - it's only fair to say that we never for one moment regretted coming for that first reason. New Zealand truly is a lovely country, with so few patches of dullness that the two months we spent touring round were times we shall never forget.

But that academic part was a different, kettle of fish altogether. I guess it was no worse than my BA course in England, allowing for the fact that time mellows memories and a period of work makes one more intolerant of the escapist nonsense pursued by weirdly-motivated arts academics. At least the teaching staff here were incomparably 'nicer' people than I came up against at Nottingham. With the big exception of the guru-like director of the English Language institute, who addressed interminable tedious monologues to us on his Philosophy of Life and Language as to a pad of substandard blotting paper, we found the staff friendly and always prepared to help when we had problems. This is said in all honesty and seriousness, and with all thanks. Without this kind of support we should certainly have dropped out long before the end.

Alas, that's not all there is to universities, this world being still an imperfect one, and the first lesson we had to learn - or relearn - is that criticism is emphatically unwished for, particularly criticism of fundamentals, which is invariably interpreted as an unwarranted personal attack on the course-leader. There was never any time to discuss things that we thought worthwhile discussing: there was a schedule to be kept to. We were pupils again, in a benevolently authoritarian school where the Headmaster exhorted us to love God and honour the King, and Matron fed us with goodies to make us grow big and strong and obedient. In time we even managed to force ourselves to preface disagreements with 'Please don't take this personally, but...' or 'Excuse me, could I make a small criticism here?' This was really nothing new for me. It's all part of our great anglo-saxon heritage. For Friederike, however, it was totally surrealistic. In the three years spent at her German university she never encountered this stultifying reaction against reasonable and reasoned criticism such as she found here. The advanced nature of Ruskin's thought on female education was put before one of her literature classes. Her comment that Marx and Engels had had considerably more radical ideas ten years before produced an embarrassed silence from her fellow students and a hasty attempt to get onto something else.

She also made the discovery towards the end of this year that written exams are still used even today in some parts of the world as a test of ability at university level. In three years at Giessen she had never sat a written exam, though God knows German tertiary education is no model of progressive thinking. All assessment was internal (by essay and dissertation) and by oral examination. At least at Vic some degree of internal assessment was tolerated; at Nottingham it was entirely by written examination. Of course, all the academics will tell you that, yes, exams are a poor measure of a student's ability; yes of course he can't be expected to give any kind of impression of his knowledge or thought in three hours of nerve-wracking tension where the prices go to those who can think fast and write fast. And yet it goes on, year after year. Everyone's against it, but it all goes on. A member of staff refused me the loan of a book urgently needed for a project on the grounds that it would give me 'an unfair advantage' over other students. What lunatic said learning was the end of education?

The third lesson we had to learn, the hard way again, was never to question the value of what we were taught. Have you ever tried asking 'What's the point of it all?' On our first day we heard the sad tale of someone who had, and our own experience filled in the details. We still cannot understand how people can dedicate their lives to linguistics and imagine they're doing something valuable, and how they can defend with superior pose their high ethical purposes. Does it make any kind of sense that Noam Chomsky can claim to be politically left and produce a model of grammar - Trans-formational Generative Grammar - that is so insane that it defies all our concepts of what is reasonable and commonsensical, above all of what is valuable in life? Or does, after, linguistics have some military use? Large numbers of American linguists' 'research papers' are supported by grants from the American Army. Perhaps they hope to render those evil Reds sterile on a diet of TG grammar?

Can we even begin to set things right? We certainly made no effort in our year in New Zealand, but kept as quiet as we could, consistent with maintaining at least a modicum of integrity. We are convinced, having seen something of three European communist countries, that it is naive to view this university system as an outward sign of the inward rot of capitalist society. It is something more than that, something more universal. We can only look on it as a further monument, as if we didn't have more than enough, to our unwillingness to question established values, to ask what right we have to squander a country's resources and intelligence for a few scraps of official-looking cartridge-paper. Who's going to teach our children to think: asks the Education Department advertisement. The answers drop off the conveyor belt in neatly-spaced batches after up to five years spent in regurgitating numberless books and articles and lectures and journals in the form of hard indigestible pellets of Official Style essays; a fine inspiration for tomorrow's children.

We have no solutions. If fundamental criticism is penalised, then who's prepared to show enough moral courage to make a stand, to insist on change? Perhaps the only realistic thing students can do is to boycott courses like literature and linguistics, which in turn means that the student body as a whole must publicise the contents of such courses, with the comments of those who've been dragged through them. And who has illusions that that will ever be done?

We don't know just how typical these reactions are. Those who followed the same courses as ourselves were less critical, probably because they had been raised on these standards and had had no chance to look at them after a period in the real world. That's quite understandable, and perhaps that is just what the system depends on, why its destructive, soul-destroying inertia is self-perpetuating from generation to generation: it counts on silent ignorance.