23 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 243 (1985-1986)
The Challenge of Institutional Responsibility

handle is hein.journals/amcrimlr23 and id is 247 raw text is: THE CHALLENGE OF INSTITUTIONAL RESPONSIBILITY
By Senator Joseph R. Biden*
The German philosopher Hegel once said that the only thing people and
governments learn from history is that people and governments do not learn
from history.' Hegel was wrong. We can learn from the past if only we will take
the time to reflect on it. Recent white collar crime investigations and prosecutions
by the Department of Justice have involved such major corporations as General
Electric, E.F. Hutton and Company, General Dynamics, G.T.E., Rockwell In-
ternational, Eli Lilly and Company, and Smith/Kline Beckamn Corporation. What-
ever else we may conclude about the problem of white collar crime and, as we shall
see, hard and fast conclusions are as yet hard to come by, that list of corporate
superstars leaves no room to doubt that white collar crime is a problem that urgently
demands out attention, a problem that will challenge our capacity for reflection and
our willingness to act.
We need to take stock of where we have been and where we are going with
white collar crime. One thing is certain at the outset - public reaction to these
prosecutions is that something is terribly wrong. People believe that our system
of law and those who manage it have failed, and may not even have tried, to
deal effectively with unethical and possibly illegal misconduct in high places. The
American people believe:
that the government has been shortchanged and cheated on vital defense con-
tracts;
that fiduciaries we trust for investment advice have made fast bucks for them-
selves in the clandestine manipulation of the banking system's inevitable delays;
that while prosecutions have been brought, those -responsible but higher up in
corrupt organizations have not been held appropriately accountable;
that we do not have laws that adequately sanction such illegal conduct or serve
to prevent its recurrence in our larger organizations. And these suspicious public
perceptions are certainly not unreasonable. Even from a more cautious legal or
legislative point of view, the outcomes of these prosecutions raise a number of
pressing questions:
(1) Do they represent aberrations or a pattern from which we may draw more
troubling conclusions?
(2) If so, is corporate wrongdoing widespread?
(3) Are the people investigating that wrongdoing competent and conscientious?
(4) If so, do they or we have the tools necessary to get the job done?
Where should we look, in short, to make the necessary reforms to personnel,
to administration, to law or to some combination of all three? It would appear,
at least at first blush, that these prosecutions do not represent aberrations, but
we need to know a lot more about them to determiie the extent to which they
may represent a pattern. That there has, in fact, been wrongdoing at least in
some of the cases is evidenced by the guilty pleas of some of those involved.
* These remarks were made on January 28, 986 in slightly different form before the New York
University School of Law Center for Research in Crime and Justice by Senator Joseph R. Biden.
I. G.W.F. HEGEL, PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY 6 (rev. ed. 1906).

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