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Future Hindsight is a weekly podcastthat takes big ideas in civic life and democracy and turns them into action items for everyday citizens.

Jun 17, 2021

White Collar Crime

White collar crime, as originally defined by Edwin Sutherland in 1939, are offenses committed by someone of high social status and respectability in the course of their occupation. Today, we tend to define white collar crime by the nature of the offense, instead of the status of the offender. We think of financial crimes such as fraud or embezzlement, which have a devastating impact on huge portions of the country. Precisely because of the high status of white collar criminals, very few are prosecuted and held accountable for their actions.

Massive Scale

White collar crime operates on a massive scale. Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has pleaded guilty to federal crimes related to its opioid marketing scheme. Over 200,000 people have died of prescription opioid overdoses. In addition, embezzlement and fraud cost US citizens an estimated $800 billion per year. By contrast, property crimes like larceny and theft are heavily policed and account for only about $16 billion in costs per year.

Future Accountability

The Department of Justice can, and should, create a new division that focuses on prosecuting, convicting, and incarcerating big money criminals. Prosecutors need better tools to succeed, such as: strengthening laws surrounding white collar crime; ending the practice of anonymous shell companies to prevent money laundering; corporate transparency laws; as well as protecting and promoting whistleblowers and journalists who uncover these types of crimes.


Jennifer Taub is a legal scholar and advocate whose research and writing focuses on corporate governance, banking and financial market regulation, and white collar crime. Her latest book is Big Dirty Money: The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime.

Taub is a professor of law at the Western New England University School of Law where she teaches Civil Procedure, White Collar Crime, and other business and commercial law courses, and was the Bruce W. Nichols Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School during the fall 2019 semester.

You can follow her on Twitter @jentaub