Cesare Beccaria and white-collar crimes' public harm. A study in Italian systemic corruption

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Sketching some similarities between the thoughts of the great criminologist Edwin H. Sutherland and Cesare Beccaria’s, the well-known Enlightenment legal thinker, the essay stresses the harmful consequences of crimes by “the great and rich”, namely by the white-collar criminals. Such harm lies also in the so-called double standard of justice for white-collar crime and street crime respectively, which can be observed not only in legislator’s regulatory and sanctioning choices, but even in the different terminologies he adopts while coping with these two kinds of deviance. A particularly devastating aspect of corruption stems indeed from it often being perpetrated by offenders, to use Sutherland’s words, “of respectability and high social status”. Such features are well epitomized by the recent Italian episodes of “systemic” corruption. Systemic corruption is particularly elusive, because any attempt to crack down on it is bound to antagonize large sectors of the entrenched establishment. The decline in general institutional trust may reverberate to produce a diminution in the prestige of and confidence in the judiciary, leading to further complications in the prosecution of corruption. A more detailed analysis reveals the following features of corruption in Italy: (1) it is the result of highly rational choices by the persons involved; (2) it has flown from but not into a framework of stable and continuous relationships between public officials and private businesspersons; (3) it has been ”circular” in its effects and nature, as it expanded; (4) it has been extremely difficult to attack with the traditional tools of criminal justice since the obvious aim of the bribers and bribees is to carry out a secret transaction profitable for both. An adequate response to corruption should entail effective punishment for the criminals. There also is a need that, after having acted as whistleblowers, people could be preserved from the most fearsome sanction usually imposed against such behaviours. Moreover any anti-corruption policy should first and foremost seek to develop and cherish a civic culture, which involves at least two main elements. First, it should “fry the big fish”, namely crack down on the upper echelons of the corrupted politicians. Second, successful campaigns need to involve ordinary citizens, who can serve as fertile sources of information by way of hot lines, oversight bodies, call-in shows, educational programs, and village and borough councils. To this recipe a third ingredient could be added, particularly for Italy. There needs to be a reform of the deplorable “moral” condition of public administration that will enhance the status and self-esteem of civil servants, reducing the demoralization that has played so prominent a role in undermining their resistance to bribery.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteInternational Handbook of White-Collar and Corporate Crime
EditorHenry N. Pontell, Gilbert Geis
Numero di pagine21
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2007


  • corporate crime
  • corruption
  • corruzione
  • criminal law
  • crimine economico
  • criminologia
  • criminology
  • danno sociale
  • diritto penale
  • public harm
  • white-collar crime


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