Working for the ‘Free’ Market: state complicity in routine corporate harm in the United Kingdom

Tombs, Steve (2013). Working for the ‘Free’ Market: state complicity in routine corporate harm in the United Kingdom. Revista Crítica Penal y Poder(5) pp. 291–313.



This paper documents two forms of harms which are not ‘dramatic’, in fact, each is very low level, and each represents an instance of routine, normalized forms of harm which emanate from the business sector, and in the production of which the state is complicit. The focus specifically here is, in the first substantial section of the paper, on the economic harms produced by the retail sector of the UK financial services industry and, in the second, on the level and scale of airborne pollution in the UK from a range of business sources. While they are very different, they in fact have a lot in common, and tell us a lot about business and state practices. The remainder of the paper considers these state practices at length: despite misunderstandings and claims that governments are withdrawing from free markets, what one finds is a torrent of state intervention designed to create conditions of non-interventionism. It is no mere bystander to these harms, but intimately complicit in them through, variously, deregulation, reregulation and non-enforcement of law... Such state practices are documented in the third part of the paper, which focuses on what is termed regulatory re-shaping by central Governments in the UK since 1997. The results of such state activity may render such harms more likely, even more normalized. In conclusion, the paper considers briefly the relationship between rendering such harms visible and effective resistance to them.

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