Role of Capitalism in Criminology


Globalization and civilization moved human society from a barter-trade system to the use of money as means of trade. Consequently, human beings find pleasure in money and would do anything possible to have money and accumulate wealth. Capitalism is an economic system that resulted from the use of money as an exchange mechanism. The economic system is centered around the private ownership of the means of production and business operations for profitability. The Marxists focused on how crimes are a natural outgrowth of a capitalist system. Moreover, the theorists believed that the criminal justice system operates for the benefit of the elites and against the interests of the lower class. Therefore, capitalism and its subsequent unfair criminal justice system are the primary sources of crimes in a society.

Marxist Perspective on Crime

The capitalistic economic system is broadly criticized by the Marxists who believed in a fair economic system. Marxism was propounded by the political and economic theorists: Karl Marx and Fredrich Engel (Wills, 2022). The theory uses historical materialism to understand social conflicts, class relations, and a dialectical perspective of social transformation (Delgado, 2021). One of the social conflicts propounded by the Marxists is societal wrongdoing and crime. The Marxist criminologist perceives power as being held by the Bourgeoisie, and whose ideology is reflected by the law (Head, 2021). Consequently, the justice system including the lawyer and magistrates serves the interest of the Bourgeoisie. The capitalistic criminology perspective is summarized in four concepts of self-interest, materialism, inequality, and favor of the elites in the society.

Self-interest and Crime

Capitalism causes crimes since it encourages individuals to pursue self-interest at the expense of other people’s pleasure. According to the Marxist theorist David Gordon, capitalistic systems are ‘dog eat dog societies’ (Thurkettle, 2021). Therefore, individuals are encouraged to pursue their selfish gain before other people’s interests, community interests, and environmental protection. Moreover, the capitalistic society pressures an individual to make more money, become more successful, and make more profits (Rocha, Pirson, and Suddaby, 2021). Encouraging selfish interests leads to crimes since individuals care less about any mechanisms that protect the dignity of other society members. For instance, many companies have developed goods and services that are dangerous to humanity for their economic gains. Therefore, capitalism encourages criminal conduct as long as the perpetrator’s interests are cared for.

Materialism and Crime

Capitalism encourages human beings to want things they cannot afford and do not need. The materialistic nature of capitalism has pushed corporations to commit consumer crimes through disinformation (Webber, 2021). For instance, companies like Coca-Cola and KFC spend billions of dollars in advertising their products. The advertisements give fantastical features that do not resemble the products’ grim reality (Sood, 2022). Consequently, many consumers have fallen victims to lifestyle conditions and diseases caused by the fast food and chemical present in the foods and drinks. Moreover, individual persons are persuaded to own things that are beyond their financial capabilities. The individuals end up in criminal activities like robbery and theft that may result in murder and injury of the victims. Capitalism encourages people to commit crimes to afford things that are beyond their capabilities.

Inequality and Crime

Classical criminology theorists believed that social factors like poverty and an unequal justice system lead to crimes. Capitalists, driven by materialism and self-interest, create a radically unequal society (Webber, 2021). The capitalistic system leads to the creation of social classes that are economically and socially different. David Rothkopf described the very top social class as the ‘super rich’ and the very bottom class as the ‘underclass’, in the developed nations (Madesen, 2022). Meanwhile, in developing nations, there are slum dwellers, street children, and refugees. The broad social gap between the various social classes leads to crime since the many members of the society live with falsified consciousness. Moreover, the people living in slums and streets are exposed to harsh social conditions and would engage in crimes to satisfy their basic needs such as food and shelter. For instance, individuals living in slums are less educated, and are likely to engage in social vices like rape, murder, and robbery. Meanwhile, individuals born in rich families are well educated, and often secure lucrative jobs that prevent them from criminal behaviors. Therefore, capitalism encourages social classism that breads criminal minds within an unequal society.

The Law Benefits the Elites

The elites, the Bourgeoisie, are involved in the formulation of justice policies in a capitalistic society. Consequently, the legal system favors the ideologies of the upper class in society. Meanwhile, the underclass is left at the mercies of the elites who prejudice them. The underclass is subjected to crimes against humanity like torture through slavery and sweatshops. Companies like Adidas and Nike have been associated with poor working conditions that are against human rights. Moreover, the companies have hostile management that increases atrocities against employees. The prejudicial activities by the elites cause anger among the underclass who in return engage in criminal activities as revenge. Therefore, in capitalistic society crimes are conducted by both social classes who act in retaliation to each other’s behaviors. Capitalism creates laws that favor the elites leading to social class conflicts between the super-rich and the underclass social classes.

Criticism of the Marxists’ Perspective on Crime

The Marxists propounded that capitalism is the primary cause of crime, but their arguments lack merit in various dimensions. Firstly, Marxism is incompatible with the biological criminology perspective. Unlike the biological positivism, the capitalistic view of crime negates the psychological criminal intent as observed in many criminals. Moreover, although capitalism creates an imbalanced social classis, the society provide equal opportunities to exploit the resources, and wealth accumulation depends on how smart an individual is when carrying out societal activities. Therefore, inequality is not solely caused by the capitalism, but by individuals inability exploit resources better than others. Moreover, capitalism is the driving force behind technological advancements and improved economy that reduces crime rates. Although capitalism is associated with crimes, its results create a competitive environment that encourages societal growth.


Capitalism, as propounded by the Marxists, leads to crime within society. Through capitalism, individuals are encouraged to pursue their self-interest at the expense of society’s interests. Moreover, capitalism promotes materialistic behaviors among the society members leading to crimes for self-satisfaction. Corporations in a capitalistic society are engaged in activities that are against the natural law of human dignity. The corporations misinform their consumers for their financial gains. Consequently, many deaths and lifestyle diseases are associated with the reckless behaviors of corporations. Furthermore, capitalism is the source of social inequality since it increases the gap between the rich and the poor. The system creates legal systems that are unfair to the poor. Therefore, social factors that exacerbate crimes are attributed to capitalism which creates an unequal economic system.

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LawBirdie. "Role of Capitalism in Criminology." June 27, 2023.