Boardroom Scandal: The Criminalization of Company Fraud in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Hardcover | May 25, 2013

byJames Taylor

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Should businessmen who commit fraud go to prison? This question has been asked repeatedly since 2008. It was also raised in nineteenth-century Britain when the spread of corporate capitalism created enormous new opportunities for dishonesty. Historians have presented Victorian Britain as ahaven for white-collar criminals, beneficiaries of a prejudiced criminal justice system which only dealt harshly with offences by the poor. Boardroom Scandal challenges these beliefs. Based on an unparalleled sample of legal cases - many examined here for the first time - James Taylor presents a radical new interpretation of the relationship between capitalism and the law. Initially, there were no criminal sanctions against publishing false prospectuses, concealing losses inbalance sheets, and even misappropriating company money. But parliament became convinced of the need to criminalize these practices to protect the culture of stock market investment on which mid-Victorian prosperity increasingly rested. Persuading judges to play along was harder, with many invokingthe principle of caveat emptor to exonerate defendants. But by the end of the century, successful prosecutions of company executives were commonplace. These trials performed multiple functions: they stabilized confidence in times of crisis; they dramatized the class blindness of the law; and theywere increasingly seen as essential as faith in a self-regulating economy ebbed. The criminalization of fraud, therefore, has far-reaching implications for our understanding of nineteenth-century Britain. It also has relevance today in light of the on-going economic crisis and the issues it raisesregarding business ethics and the role of the state.

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Should businessmen who commit fraud go to prison? This question has been asked repeatedly since 2008. It was also raised in nineteenth-century Britain when the spread of corporate capitalism created enormous new opportunities for dishonesty. Historians have presented Victorian Britain as ahaven for white-collar criminals, beneficiaries...

James Taylor is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at Lancaster University. He is the author of Creating Capitalism and co-author of Shareholder Democracies.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:304 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 0.98 inPublished:May 25, 2013Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199695792

ISBN - 13:9780199695799

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Company Fraud in Historical PerspectivePART I: TOLERATION2. The Morals of Mania: The 1820s3. Mismanagement or Fraud? The 1830sPART II: CRIMINALIZATION4. Baffling Fraud: The 1840s5. Criminalizing Fraud: The 1850s6. One Law for the Rich? The 1860sPART III: ENFORCEMENT7. Offences Against the State: The 1870s8. A Mixed Economy of Prosecutions: The 1880s9. Regulating the City: The 1890s10. Epilogue: Following the Victorian Path