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Sunday, November 14, 2004

  Crime Doesn't Pay

But not for the reasons you think. Has anyone ever seen a study about the decline in crime being a function of the lack of profitability in being a criminal? I was thinking about this earlier today. I make a good salary as a web developer. Even with taxes taking about 1/2 of it. I can't imagine making more money as a criminal without working much much harder.

In 1976, if you broke into someone's house and stole a VCR, you stole a $1000 item that you could probably sell for $500, or at least $250. Today, if you stole a VCR you would be lucky to sell it at all. Why buy a stolen vcr when you can buy a new one for $50? I recently bought a DVD player as a gift for $30. In a world where anything of value that an average person wants can be earned from two days of minimum wage labor, there is no need to buy stolen goods. The market for common stolen goods has dried up until there is no market demand for common stolen goods. In addition to the lower prices for high demand luxury goods, we have also had a huge expansion in the availability of credit for lower class Americans. So there is no need to deal with criminals to get the products they desire. I suspect even muggings are less profitable since people carry less cash due to Bank Cards and credit cards.

If I decided to become a full time mugger, I would probably work outside of cash machines, since that is where people have the most cash. Let's assume that $100 is the amount of cash most people leave a cash machine with, since all machines have quick cash $100. To make a median salary of $40,000 a year, a mugger would have to mug 400 people a year. Working 5 days a week, 50 days a year, you have to mug 8 people a week. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a real job to me. The only advantage to being a criminal is that you don't have to pay taxes on your criminal income. But you have that really bad disadvantage of going to jail, and no health coverage. Also, since your income is illegal, you are not able to qualify for mortgages or other financial advantages that come with having a legit job.

Old school crime that high school dropouts could make money on is no longer profitable. It seems that more criminals are moving into less socially destructive crimes, like retailing for illegal DVDs and counterfeit consumer goods. More highly educated criminals have moved into spamming, identity theft, and other forms of fraud.

Anyway something to think about, maybe the conservatives are wrong that increased law enforcement has decreased crime, and liberals are wrong that legalized abortion has decreased crime. Maybe crime no longer pays and that is why there are fewer criminals.
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