Which do you believe presents the greatest threat to civil society: a corporation that commits crimes (e.g., murder, environmental crimes, or bribery, etc.), or persons who commit crimes that harm businesses (e.g., embezzlement, fraud, or larceny, etc.)?
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A good case can be made for both actions being destructive to civil society. The compact that is held between public trust and business transparency is destroyed by corporations that commit crimes and by individuals who commit crimes that harm businesses. Both sets of transgressions reduce the public trust in corporate culture and damage companies' desires to make profit.
With these points in mind, civil society is threatened more by corporations that commit crimes because the scope of their damage is larger. Individuals who commit crimes that harm businesses have a relatively smaller scope of damage. When civil society has to wrestle with corporations that commit criminal activities, the stakes are that much larger. For example, when Enron commits fraud and other criminal acts, it impacts the lives of millions of people. The individuals within the company and outside of it are profoundly impacted by corporations that commit criminal acts. In situations like Enron, it was not merely a "few bad apples." It was an entire corporate culture that embraced short term, self- interested goals at the cost of public trust and public entities. This was seen when Enron mortgaged off California's energy through deregulation and essentially held the state hostage through exorbitant pricing schemes. As a result, civil society was impacted in a profound manner.
At the same time, there is a symbolic element evident in the crimes committed by corporations. The corporation is representative of the very best in capitalism. The goals of capitalism are best realized through the presence of the corporation. As more nations in a globalized world are embracing capitalism, corporations occupy an even greater public presence. When corporations commit crimes, there is a symbolic breaking of trust with the public. This has symbolic ramifications in terms of how the public views corporations. The ability for a corporation to be viewed as an embodiment of the very best in society is challenged when it does wrong. While individuals who do crimes to harm businesses hurt the business, they do not threaten the image of society because there are many more who adhere to acceptable codes of conduct. However, when it is revealed that corporations manipulate the market or take shortcuts with quality assurance or commit crimes that endanger the public, a symbolic damage to the economic and social order is perpetrated. While businesses are harmed by the acts of individuals, corporations that commit crimes impact the social setting in a larger scope and thus their threat to civil society is greater.
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