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Trapped: When Acting Ethically is Against the Law Paperback – February 7, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

"Deftly exploring the impracticalities and seemingly inane concepts which restrict our citizens and fill our penitentiaries, Trapped is very strongly recommended reading for anyone with an interest in business ethics, white collar crime, and their impact in a highly competitive marketplace."

--Midwest Book Review

"Did you know that in many ways the terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay have more rights than corporate CEOs and their employees? If you want to know more, get John Hasnas's book!"

--Mark Levin, author, Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America

"Ethical behavior is critical in business. John Hasnas shows that new laws and regulations too often force CEOs to choose between acting legally and acting ethically. This is a book for business people, policymakers, and everyone who has a stake in successful and ethical business enterprises."

--John Mackey, Co-founder and CEO, Whole Foods Market

"Most Americans think that they receive ample protections against unwise or excessive criminal prosecution. But they had better think again. John Hasnas's quiet dissection of the manifold laws dealing with such arcane subjects as money laundering, mail fraud, racketeering, and obstruction of justice shows how people who are innocent of any primary offense are all too often caught in a complex web of federal law dealing with white-collar crime as they go about their ordinary business. Granted, argues Hasnas, white-collar crime is harder to prosecute than street crime. But he convincingly shows that an aggressive Congress and compliant courts have tilted the balance too much in favor of criminal prosecution. We should all be troubled by the prosecutorial histories of Arthur Andersen and Martha Stewart, among others."

--Richard A. Epstein, James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago

"Mr. Hasnas does a good job of explaining the current state of criminal law for corporations, which have no Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, as well as Justice Department policies that offer leniency only to companies that cooperate by turning in employees."

--Floyd Norris, the New York Times

"Hasnas demonstrates very effectively that lawmakers and judges have placed corporate executives in an untenable position. Trampling on the traditional elements of criminal law may make it easier to prosecute alleged deceptive corporate behavior, but it also makes business an endeavor that may result in personal financial loss and imprisonment, despite one’s best efforts at compliance with the law.

Trapped makes a persuasive case for the need to return to our former, more traditional principles of criminal law. On the present course, we face the prospect that only the foolhardy and unethical will be willing to enter the world of business, while competent and qualified individuals will justifiably steer clear."

--Erica Little,

About the Author

John Hasnas is an associate professor of business at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Cato Institute (February 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1930865880
  • ISBN-13: 978-1930865884
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.3 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,874,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Not My Real Name on March 2, 2013
Format: Paperback
I initially obtained this book on the hope that it would furnish advice for those caught between the devil and the deep blue sea in a business deal. This book is somewhat that, but boy was I wrong about its recommendations. Instead of being something that argues to act ethically as we know it, it was an apologia written to govt policymakers on the merits of a market totally unregulated by criminal law. To be fair, however, I will present the book on the merits of what it is, not what I had wished it to be, because not everyone agrees with me, and you want to know more than my opinion about this book.

Hasnas, who currently works as an associate professor of Business at Georgetown U., embarks this book with a series of multiple-choice questions, each answer an option for a dilemma. For instance, you are the CEO of CORP. LLC. The SEC recently is investigating CORP. of insider trading, and you voluntarily cooperate with the investigation. You say you sold the stock according to a pre-arranged stop-loss contract (not unlike Russia fulfilling old arms contracts with Syria that the US accuses of violating non-retroactive sanctions), and the information that you're being questioned leaks. You go public and defend your reputation, asserting innocence. The SEC then indicts you for obstruction of justice (for telling federal investigators that you sold stock pursuant to a stop-loss order) and for securities fraud for attempting to prop CORP.'s value by attesting innocence when you had not even been accused. Your options, then are: 'a' - throw your whole weight behind supporting CORP publicly; 'b' - take no action; 'c' - consulting with private counsel to ensure no further damage comes to CORP.
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Format: Paperback
Hasnas is not a conventional thinker, and this book is antithetical to many in the mainstream who argue that corporations are not punished enough. Hasnas makes a compelling case for less government authority over white-collar crimes. He argues that the federal government has seriously overreacted to the difficulties prosecutors face in trying to obtain convictions. These include the mens rea requirement, attorney-client privilege, and the right against self incrimination. As a result of new statutes and case rulings in the 20th century, many of these individual protections have been eliminated and corporations are now forced to police their employees carefully to avoid criminal liability.

To those of you who have criticized Hasnas here for being too lenient on corporate crime, he does actually provide a solution in civil liability, where the burdens for proof are significantly lower. He is not arguing that corporations are never dishonest, and that they shouldn't be punished, only that the government has made more individuals than necessary criminally liable, including the shareholders of corporations (who often have nothing to do with the acts of management due to agency problems). Given the title, you could reasonably expect Hasnas to provide a strong critique of the current laws, since from a philosophical perspective, ethics tend to trump laws. There have been plenty of instances in history, where what is legal certainly has not been ethical ( Holocaust, Jim Crow laws, Slavery, etc.). Hasnas does not thoroughly answer the question about other regulations such as pollution, health, and safety regulations in a corporate context, as this book is specifically targeting cases in white-collar crime, where there is dishonest business dealings.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
John Hasnas gives us examples and scenarios that can help us to see his point on acting ethically when it is against the law. What can a business owner do? If you are in business, you will find this book extremely interesting. Being in the debt collection business this book is a great read, bill collectors are supposed to follow the law, act ethically all while being dubbed as the "bottom feeders" of society. Very interesting book and ideas.
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