August 8, 2002 (Ira Pilgrim)

Crime Doesn't Pay?????

If you do big things they print your face, and if you do little things they print only your thumbs.

Arthur "Bugs" Baer

A slogan that has been around for a long time is that "Crime doesn't pay." Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz has pointed out that "The adage 'Crime does not pay' is false; if it were true, there would be no crime."

It is one of many slogans that just aren't true. The fact is that crime usually pays very well, especially big money crime.

I have read about a solution to the problem of executives of large corporations cleaning up by what is essentially stealing money from the company's employees and stockholders. There is no such thing as "corporate crime." Corporations don't steal; people steal. One proposed solution was to send corporate criminals to prison for up to 10 years. Would that work? Never! A top executive would figure that if he stole half a billion bucks and spent 10 years in the pokey, it would be a clear profit of 50 million bucks per year. If he stole on tenth of that, it would still be 5 million bucks for each year in the pokey. It would be well worth it to a person to whom money was the most important thing in the world, especially if the prison was like Club Fed (The nickname of the federal prison to which white collar criminals are sent), which is essentially a vacation villa. Besides, history has shown that the chances of an executive being caught stealing is pretty small. It is even less probable that, if he is caught, he would be prosecuted and convicted.

The one thing that might be a deterrent would be to take the profit out of it. I propose a law that if someone is convicted of stealing money, all of his assets, bank accounts, homes, money in foreign banks should be impounded and used to pay the people who have been stolen from. However, no one that I know of has proposed this. I doubt that many politician would propose taking the profit out of crime, since their own bank accounts may be in jeopardy. If not their bank accounts, certainly their campaign funds.

Making it more unlikely that anything significant would be done is the fact that most of the top people in the Bush administration are multi-millionaires. This includes Secretary of State Colin Powell, who now has an annual income of seven million bucks. I know that he didn't inherit the capital that made that income possible, nor could he have saved it from his salary as a general. Not since Harry Truman have we had an elected president who wasn't rich, even though not all of them started out that way. It stands to reason that rich people would be sensitive to the problems of the rich and relatively insensitive to the plight of the unrich.

Last, but by no means least, is the fact that many things that should be considered crimes, such as stealing, are perfectly legal as long as they are committed by the wealthy.

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