Boardroom Scandal

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

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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 a haven 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 in balance 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 invoking the 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 they were 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 raises regarding business ethics and the role of the state.

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  • Hardback | 312 pages
  • 158 x 238 x 26mm | 619.99g
  • Oxford University Press
  • OxfordUnited Kingdom
  • English
  • Ten black and white images
  • 0199695792
  • 9780199695799
  • 1,062,419

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James Taylor has established himself as one of the leading historians of corporate capitalism in nineteenth-century Britain, and his new monograph further augments his reputation. As with Taylor's previous work, this book is very readable because the author uses engaging and sometimes humorous vignettes to trace the evolution of the criminalization of company fraud. John D. Turner, Economic History Review Boardroom Scandal is both a thought-provoking and engaging book, a substantial work of historical recovery which will push future studies of both the nineteenth-century economy and criminal justice history in new directions. Rosalind Crone, History This book by James Taylor is an excellent example of an emerging approach to the study of the past that could be called forensic history. Ranald Michie, English Historical Review Taylor sets corporate fraud in a broader perspective, which encompasses the evolution of the law, political economy, and contemporary perceptions of who was right and who was wrong. He deserves to be congratulated for this excellent piece of scholarship. David Higgins, Enterprise & Society

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About James Taylor

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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