Dishonesty, looting and theft

By Legal Eagle

This post is inspired by a comment of Dave Bath’s on DEM’s cartoon about the London riots. Dave said:

Well, the looters of the City did worse damage, and government bent over backwards to (a) not remove moral hazard (b) not punish but pay to clean the mess.

If the rioters were wearing white collars doing this, allowed to run rampant to do enough damage as the City looters did with the GFC, they’d be barely through their quota in a few decades.

And replacing busted windows and burnt buildings is great for employment and the GDP. If the rioters wore white collars, the government would be given tax breaks for bricks and petrol.

The first thing I want to make clear is that in my opinion, the behaviour of white collar criminals who use fraudulent business practices in no manner excuses the conduct of people who are now looting and burning buildings. To my mind, such looting is inexcusable, no matter how disadvantaged one might be. It involves violence against the person and violence against property which cannot be condoned. Engaging in such violence and theft is also a great way to make sure that you stay disadvantaged, and have the long arm of the law pressing down on you even harder, as well as garnering distrust from the general populace who will not want to employ you. Lose-lose for all.

But I think it is worth having a conversation about different kinds of dishonesty, and the kinds of dishonesty most of us probably display every day. I have spoken in a previous post about Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational. He has two fascinating chapters on dishonesty. At 272-3, he asks:

Why are some crimes, particularly white-collar crimes, judged less severely than others, we wondered — especially since their perpetrators can inflict more financial damages between their ten o’clock latte and lunch than a standard-issue burglar might in a lifetime?

After some discussion we decided that there might be two types of dishonesty. One is the type of dishonesty that evokes the image of a pair of crooks circling a gas station. As they cruise by, the consider how much money is in the till, who might be around to stop them, and what punishment they may face if caught (including how much time off they might get for good behavior). On the basis of this cost-benefit calculation, they decide whether to rob the place or not.

Then there is the second type of dishonesty. This is the kind committed by people who generally consider themselves honest — the men and women (please stand) who have “borrowed” a pen from a conference site, taken an extra splash of soda from the soft drink dispenser, exaggerated the cost of their television on their property loss report, or falsely reported a meal with Aunt Enid as a business expense (well, she did inquire about how the work was going.

He and his colleagues conducted a bunch of interesting experiments. For present purposes there are two I want to concentrate on. First, Ariely put a six-pack of Coke cans in a fridge in a college dorm and kept an eye on what happened to them. 72 hours after they had been placed in the fridge, they were all gone. Next Ariely put a plate with six one dollar bills in the fridge. 72 hours later, all the bills were still on the plate. So were are less likely to take the property of others when it is hard cash and more likely to do so when it is an object (such as a Coke can). He notes that a lot of the dishonesty which goes on is one step removed from cash. We are more likely to take a pen from work than we are a one dollar bill from the petty cash tin at work – somehow, taking the dollar bill seems more wrong, although surely it’s no different.

The second experiment Ariely and his colleagues undertook involved three groups of students completing a simple maths test. For each correct answer the students got 50c. The first group was told to take their sheets to the experimenter at the front of the room, who would correct the answers and give them their money. The second group was told to correct their own sheets, tear up their answer sheets and tell the experimenter how many questions they had answered correctly in exchange for cash payment. The third group was told to correct their own sheets, tear up their answer sheets and tell the experimenter how many questions they had answered correctly in exchange for tokens. The tokens would then be taken into the next room where they could be exchanged for cash. Clearly, both the second and the third group had an opportunity to cheat. But would their honesty be affected by whether they were given cash or tokens? The first group (the control) solved an average of 3.5 questions correctly. The second group claimed to have solved an average of 6.2 questions correctly, which was consistent with previous experiments done by Ariely and others (given an opportunity to cheat, people will cheat a bit). The third group, however, claimed to have solved an average of 9.4 questions correctly. Both the experimenters and the students were surprised by the result. The students had predicted that the level of cheating for tokens would be no worse than the level of cheating for money. Ariely concludes in his book that a bit of dishonesty does not trigger our brain enough to prevent those who are generally honest from cheating, and furthermore, that we are less likely to think of taking items which are abstracted from cash as dishonest.

Now to return to our looters and our white-collar fraudsters. I wonder if these people passed by an unsupervised plate of money in an ordinary situation, would they steal cash from it? I suspect many of them would not. But we must be aware of the psychological remove between cash and things, and cash and abstract numbers in a bank account. I also suspect that much dishonesty starts out with the perpetrator thinking, “I’m just going to take a little bit!” And people also reason that everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t they do so as well? Perhaps the woman in DEM’s cartoon who is looting the shoes from the store was thinking, “Well, I’ve bought enough shoes from them in the past, and why should I not grab a pair when I’ve a chance?” Maybe white collar fraudsters have the same thought process. As I’ve speculated with regard to Bernie Madoff, I suspect that often these guys start small, just taking a little bit of clients’ money to cover the shortfall, and then it grows like Topsy while they frantically try to keep the system going, hoping that some honest money will come along. So yes, our white collar fraudsters and our looters are, in a sense, of a piece.

I don’t know what England is like now, but when I lived there (15 to 20 years ago now) I was horrified by the class system, the underclass and the total lack of education and opportunities for those who happened to be born in the wrong class, race and/or area. You were marked from twenty paces by your accent, your parents and your clothes, let alone anything else. [I’ve always seen Brave New World as an allegory about the English class system – create a class of gammas and keep them there.] Nonetheless, I’m not minded to make excuses for people who looted shops and used violence against others. This is not the right way to precipitate a conversation about unfair distribution of wealth in a society. Dishonesty is dishonesty, no matter who the perpetrator is, and theft is theft, whether it’s taking cash, grabbing shoes in a smashed shop window or inventing numbers on a balance sheet.

40 Comments

  1. Posted August 10, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Why are some crimes, particularly white-collar crimes, judged less severely than others, we wondered — especially since their perpetrators can inflict more financial damages between their ten o’clock latte and lunch than a standard-issue burglar might in a lifetime?

    I’ll just repeat my ‘legal history’ comment from DEM’s thread:

    Just in terms of legal history, people need to be aware that it took the common law a long time to take crimes against the person more seriously than crimes against property. In days gone by, the City fraudsters (or their medieval analogues) would have been punished far more harshly than someone who burnt down a shop or committed rape (the latter may not have been punished at all; it depended if the woman was married or a virgin; an unmarried non-virgin had no hope).

    It took a great deal of very diligent work over about 150 years by lawyers of all classes and backgrounds to ensure that violent crime (of whatever sort) was punished more harshly than property crime, particularly non-violent property crime. It meant judges like Lord Mansfield and barristers like Garrow convincing common law courts to take the Roman law view that people were more important than property seriously (initially, the courts were not receptive).

    [I will just point out that for some reason, the Romans always took crimes against the person more seriously than crimes against property, across the spectrum, from violent robbery to rape. No-one really knows why].

    When I see lefties wanting to ‘rank’ fraud with force when it comes to criminal retribution, the legal historian in me wants to lift up a corner of the carpet and crawl underneath. Just. Don’t. Go. There.

    I like that we now punish violence more harshly than fraud, and am surprised that someone as smart as Ariely is unable to draw the relevant distinction.

  2. Posted August 10, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always thought that dishonesty is actually self-regulating. People tend to do exactly what they think they can get away with and the dishonestly goes up incrementally from there as they keep getting away with more and more (which I think is why athiests have it wrong when they claim religion has no positive effects – a big sky-fairy waving a stern finger from the invisible realm can be quite effectively off-putting at times)

  3. Mel
    Posted August 10, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    Are the deeds of a blue collar criminal who shoots dead three people worse than the deeds of a white collar criminal whose actions lead to the deaths by suicide of six people who lost their life savings?

    Skeptic Lawyer tells us she is an “outcomes kind of gal”. If this statement is true, which outcome is the most serious?

  4. Posted August 10, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Are the deeds of a blue collar criminal who shoots dead three people worse than the deeds of a white collar criminal whose actions lead to the deaths by suicide of six people who lost their life savings?

    In the first case, the causal relationship is direct. In the second instance it isn’t. Now, you might be able to prove it, at trial or a coronial enquiry, but suicide is an intensely personal act, and in any case correlation does not establish causation. Gunning three people down (or running three people down, as was the case in Birmingham last night) is not.

    That’s why (after a hundred years of arguing, and very slow legal development), we take violent crime more seriously than fraud, and no longer — as an adjunct — consider suicide a crime. That article is well worth a read, btw.

  5. Posted August 10, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    LE – If clarification is needed for some (I don’t regard your post is suggesting otherwise), I wasn’t saying anything about justifying either.

    Also, both [email protected] and [email protected] have good, if opposing points along the theme of the post.

    Being callous, at least suicide ends one misery (albeit with misery to the family and friends), yet when the systemic white collar cheats cause massive problems with a socialized cost, and this causes significant cuts to pensions or services, the number of people impacted can be huge. (In a kind of pro hominem attack, the impact on DEM).

    So, if the deaths are from freezing on streets because of increased homelessness or in homes without gas, the poorer nutrition that leads to fewer capabilities (both to the individual and to the society), then these are deaths consequent to the crime, and certainly not intensely personal acts by the victims.

    Indeed, the damage by the shenanigans of the GFC, where private gain and social costs are quantifiable (at least the social costs can have easily calculable lower bounds in terms of unemployment benefits and decreased output), could be considered crimes against the state on a par with terrorism, or, indeed, much worse if you look at the cost of dealing with the GFC (and the current consequential crisis of government debts), versus that of dealing with planes crashing into the GFC, which one would have the more significant “victim impact statement”.

  6. Posted August 10, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    That’s why (after a hundred years of arguing, and very slow legal development), we take violent crime more seriously than fraud, and no longer — as an adjunct

    As it should be but a change is blowing in the winds of neuroscience and developmental psychology in particular. A couple of years ago Marion Diamond released some stunningly depressing research. She found that children raised under impoverished conditions had EEGs like that of brain trauma patients. One of the biggest problems with brain trauma is violent behavior. Additionally poor nutrition in the early years can have very significant impacts on frontal lobe maturation, and frontal lobe function is critical in preventing impulsive behavior and modulating stress responses. We are faced with a very unpleasant problem here because while we cannot attribute any of the above to individual cases of violence at a population level we can at least speculate that children raised under deprivation conditions are much more likely to demonstrate anti-social behavior. Thus if certain agents through their reckless behavior, whether those agents are public or private, create increasing poverty, those agents are setting the stage for future strife in society.

    I think the drive for equality is nonsense, I also think the idea that “everyone has a fair chance” is hopelessly naive ideologically driven nonsense. I do believe that the poor will always be with us but I also believe that it behoves a society to strive as much as possible to ensure that as many children as possible can be saved from the deleterious effects of childhood deprivation. This is not just about being nice, it is also about ensuring the future stability of society and maximising the productive capacity of society.

    Yes I’m engaging in so much arm waving here I’m getting cramps in my deltoids.

  7. Chris Bond
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    Hi, I’m somewhat baffled by the whole premise of this thread: “… the looters of the City did worse damage, and government bent over backwards to (a) not remove moral hazard (b) not punish but pay to clean the mess.”

    Am I correct in assuming that “the looters of the City” refers to the bankers in the City of London? Because as far as I am aware, none of them broke any laws. Nor did any bankers or financial wiz-kids in the USA who packaged up toxic sub-prime lending with AAA securities and sold the bundles to gullible third parties, nor the insurers of collateral debt obligations, nor the governments who failed to regulate the risks, nor the treasuries who pumped up the economies with low interest rates… or can someone point me to the legal judgements I must otherwise have missed.

    Or is DB’s use of the epithet “looter” in relation to the bankers just a non-legal outraged non-banker’s opinion… in which case, equating their actions to those of brick- and petrol-bomb-throwing, window-breaking, looting criminals, seems absurd to me. Of course governments bent over backwards to accommodate the stupidities of the bankers, governments were one of the root causes of the GFC. And as we are seeing in the USA and across Euro-land, all the GFC chickens have yet to come home to roost, so governments continue to try to support the status quo otherwise they are terrified they will be swept aside in the chaos that will follow a REAL global economic collapse.

    Bernie Madoff, now, there’s a real white-collar criminal. But there I side with SL’s argument that crimes against the person are worse than crimes against property. I would hope a petrol-bombing yob who endangers life as well as property, would get a lot longer in gaol than Madoff.

  8. kvd
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    [email protected] I thought Dave was just riffing off my immediately prior comment that SL’s “they looted Poundland” would make a good book title. Then everybody got serious on him.

    fwiw this layman’s take on the present position of the legal system within society is that it sometimes forgets its place, and strays into social engineering, rather than simply meting out justice according to the laws of the land. LE’s closing comments here are close to what I think should be the approach: never mind the possible causes of the crime; the looting and violence need to be judged individually and in accordance with the laws broken.

  9. Patrick
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    Indeed, the damage by the shenanigans of the GFC, where private gain and social costs are quantifiable (at least the social costs can have easily calculable lower bounds in terms of unemployment benefits and decreased output), could be considered crimes against the state on a par with terrorism, or, indeed, much worse if you look at the cost of dealing with the GFC (and the current consequential crisis of government debts), versus that of dealing with planes crashing into the GFC, which one would have the more significant “victim impact statement”

    Now you are being inconsistent as well as obtuse. If you want to compare these, then you have to put on the terrorism side of the ledger all the follow-on harm and expense caused by that act. By your reckoning, the suffering in Iraq and Afghanistan (but not the democracy in Iraq or any other benefit since we appear only to count one way here!) would be directly attributable to bin Laden. The US deficit as well, on the whole.

    But you don’t mean any such thing, because only certain people are entitled to be victims – only certain people, in other words, are not considered full moral agents. In other words the usual lefty contempt for the less well off and less able – the soft bigotry of low expectations run riot.

    LE, I don’t think there is a huge difference between the ordering of a killing and the carrying out of the deed, both are punishable as murder and rightly so. The more pertinent case to consider, beloved of the perpetually confused Dave, is that of the person whose minor omissions and negligence lead to death and suffering, such as someone who allows an unsafe plant to continue to operate, as opposed to someone who throws someone under the conveyor belt.

    In that case the common law, sensibly, would focus on causation and mens rea. I think that is not a bad guide to where the differences, if any, lie.

  10. kvd
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Sorry, I got distracted by an early client arrival, and hit send instead of walking away.

    I just want to add that if my take on the context of Dave’s comment is correct, then I agree with him – legalities aside. And secondly I was trying to get a sense of “strays into social engineering” more correctly as “strays or is forced into” – but I couldn’t get my thought organised before the client arrived.

  11. Mel
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    [email protected] You evaded my question.

    Obviously you’re only an “outcomes kind of gal” when the narrative suits your ideological convictions.

  12. Posted August 11, 2011 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    No Mel, I don’t assume proof. That leads to all sorts of problems, most of them too awful to contemplate.

  13. Posted August 11, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Mel, the problem I see with equating bankers to rioters is that while the collective result of their actions are both bad, the individual acts of the bankers weren’t clearly wrong, while the individual acts of the rioters are. It might be a different case if it were an organised labour movement seizing control of a factory and claim it’s output for themselves, but the riots are just wanton violence, destruction and opportunistic theft.

    The problem is more of a political one than a legal one. It’s up to the politicians to ensure there are rules in place to protect against destructive collective action. However, from what I’ve seen so far, neither politics nor the law handles risk at all well.

  14. Posted August 11, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    On the UK ‘underclass’, which I have mostly learned about by watching The Bill… a Social worker on the radio this morning (Radio National) was saying that about 20% of the teens that she deals with haven’t had their births registered. I was surprised by the BBM messages that were published early on, in which the police were referred to as ‘the feds’ – in the UK? And then, last night, I saw looters claiming that they were stealing out of shops ‘to get our taxes back’. The depth of ignorance that these cumulatively show makes the UK seem like anything but a modern Western democracy. It looks like the ignorance and lack of engagement with anything ‘official’ – presumably even school – is generational and structural, not new, and thus would be very hard to deal with. Certainly the present UK government wouldn’t be able to concoct a plan to deal with it. I wouldn’t imagine.

  15. Mel
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Desipsis, my story wasn’t about the GFC. I had Eric Krecichwost in mind, as the little fuck has a small but significant proportion of my savings owing to the Fincorp collapse. Krecichwost looted or recklessly lost $200 million in savings but will be out of jail and back in his ill-gotten mansion in time for Christmas pudding.

    Richie Rich’s like Krecichwost never make the front cover of the tabloids and they never attract the opprobrium reserved for people like Bradley John Murdoch, Peter Falconio’s killer, nonetheless they cause much more human suffering, including death through suicides, irrespective of SL’s Tory dissembling.

    ps- I simply accept my fate as one of Oz’s least competent investors 🙂

  16. Posted August 11, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    The depth of ignorance that these cumulatively show makes the UK seem like anything but a modern Western democracy. It looks like the ignorance and lack of engagement with anything ‘official’ – presumably even school – is generational and structural, not new, and thus would be very hard to deal with.

    Much closer to the heart of the problem. And much scarier because the problem isn’t restricted to the UK. Two comments I’ve heard from young people (18-25) recently.

    #1 How does this place make money – the place in question was the State Library. The guy had no idea that there could be an institution that wasn’t somehow involved in the marketplace.

    #2 What’s politics – This from a girl who just got out of juvenile detention who proceeded to express completely ignorance of the source of the law, its relation to the courts and how that fits in with voting.

    Houston we have a problem.

  17. Posted August 11, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Rioters and looters individually act on a small scale. Delinquent financiers act on a much larger scale. How you weigh up scale against the nature of the acts clearly complicates comparison.

    On Mel and Dave’s calculus, two paedophile Catholic teachers are worse than delinquent financiers: at least we have evidence of actual suicides rather than postulated ones.

    Comparing delinquent financiers to terrorists seems something of an insult to the victims of terrorism. Taking someone’s property due to fraud, or destroying its value due to incompetence or stupidity, seems not quite the same, morally, as killing and maiming with the intent of terrorising.

    Still less does acting on expectations that did not come off. Warnings about about returns and risk also come to mind.

    But there is a long history of rage against folk who lose people’s money when booms bust. Whether the expectations involved by those who entrusted their money were misguided is a question that gets asked less often.

    Trying to engage in such equatings is even worse when much of the damage done was due to inappropriate monetary policy. When people are trying to manage the financial and monetary system yet screw up because their framework is misguided, or their analysis of data is faulty.

  18. Posted August 11, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo – It all boils down to the same thing: Wall St hacks, Clerical child molestors, gangs and all those who excuse them, rationalize them, protect them:

    It just a bunch of very very very BAD MONKEYS. George Harrison has it right:

    Everywhere there’s something lacking
    What they need’s a damn good whacking

    And

    All thru your life I, me mine; I, me, mine; I, me mine….

  19. John Aus
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Comparing the relative criminality of various acts and/or omissions is an endless task and is unlikely to reflect the nuances of specific events. Prior contributors have attempted to say that such comparisons are not to be taken as representing an excuse for the aberrant behaviour of a subsector of British youth during the recent riots.
    However one can only wonder at why this thread arises at this time if not to rationalise /excuse such destructive behaviour as an inevitable consequence of the aberrant behaviour of a subset of Capitalists.
    I would like to propose some more useful questions: Should we to assume that only capitalism breeds disaffected youth? Could socialism devoid of individual responsibilty be the breeding ground for contempt for the rights of others; includings the rights of equally disadvantaged citizens? At what point does a mentor’s pursuit of his/her charge’s self esteem trump the obligation to tell it as it is?

  20. Mel
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Lazy boy, Lorenzo.

    “A tragic human face of the global financial crisis has raised its ugly head in new research that links a surge in European suicides to the economic downturn.

    The disturbing trend, detailed in an article published Friday in British medical journal, The Lancet, which analyses initial data from 10 European Union (EU) countries, indicates suicide rates are steepest in hard-hit economies like Greece (up 17 percent) and Ireland (up 13 percent).”

    “In related news, the BBC conducted an investigation earlier this year pointing to a rise in anti-depressant prescribing during the financial crisis. The organisation found that prescriptions for drugs such as Prozac increased by more than 40 percent over the past four years, “with GPs saying more and more people were coming to them with money worries”.”

    There are many studies on the relationship between suicide, depression and financial loss- loss of home, job, savings etc.- and one can extrapolate from these to particular instances.

    I’ll leave you alone to contemplate the relationship between pedophile buggery of boys and suicide as it is way OT 😉

    “Trying to engage in such equatings is even worse when …”

    Equating things that may at first appear incommensurate and reducing them to a dollar value is one of the major jobs performed by economists. Surely you are aware of this? It is also a reasonable and respectable ethical approach if one happens to be a consequentalist tradition.

  21. AJ
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    But there I side with SL’s argument that crimes against the person are worse than crimes against property. I would hope a petrol-bombing yob who endangers life as well as property, would get a lot longer in gaol than Madoff.

    I think part of the problem with this debate is dual purpose of criminal law, i.e. justice and deterrence. Crimes against persons might be due more punishment as a matter of moral principle than crimes against property. However the level of deterrence needed to prevent a rational person from assaulting someone and stealing their shoes is pretty low. The level of deterrence needed to prevent a person from defrauding people of tens of millions of dollars is pretty high.

  22. Patrick
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    The level of deterrence needed to prevent a person from defrauding people of tens of millions of dollars is pretty high.

    This doesn’t quite stand up, ten-million-dollar fraud is much less common than assaulting someone.

  23. Mel
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Ssshhh LE, the Tories don’t want us to think about those things.

  24. Posted August 11, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    But why do we concentrate on gangland killers as the Bad Guys, and not so much on the people like the guy whom Mel linked to?
    Dickens’ Hard Times is in part the story of a middle-class lad who steals money from his boss and has it pinned on the Christlike prole.

    His punishment is banishment. That is his father pays for him to escape justice by boarding a ship for some remote tropic where he dies writing letters of remorse to his sister.

    This is portrayed as if it was justice. And normal. I think the same double standard applies today.

  25. Posted August 11, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    This doesn’t quite stand up, ten-million-dollar fraud is much less common than assaulting someone.

    That’s just a sign that not many people have the opportunity to commit multi-million dollar fraud. It’s not a sign that those who are in the position to commit the fraud don’t require a significant deterrent not to do so. The layers of abstraction built into our financial systems, along with the token experiment LE mentioned, indicate that we do need to send a strong signal that the behaviour is unacceptable.

  26. Posted August 11, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    The whole statistical question of white collar crime is immaterial. The question is: do they get a cushier ride. I feel the answer is yes. We have the socialists fightin’ the liberalism (society is to blame); we have the liberalism fightin’ the socialists (these people are criminals and ratbags).

    And along with the feudalism we thought was dead lives on in the subterrenean swamp and grows stronger every day.

  27. Posted August 12, 2011 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    [email protected] Could we please specify what we are actually talking about? Greece is a case of a delinquent political class driving public finances into the ground. Sure, they hired bankers to fiddle the books, but it is not a banking problem.

    Ireland is more complicated, but it is a mixture of weird and wonderful incentives being created by incoherent planning rules, an asset price bubble, government panic and the euro being a very bad idea. So, neither case fits in with your delinquent financier story.

    That economic downturns are bad for folk is also a given. But, unless we buy the snake-oil medicine which says the business cycle has been abolished, again, not a case of delinquent financiers.

  28. Mel
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Very good, LE.

    In a similar vein, practically every small businessperson rorts the tax system as much as he/she can so that the business makes a paper loss. Things like laptops for the kids being claimed as a “business expense”, for example.

    As per the old Roger Woddis poem:

    “Workers are absentees
    Businessmen relax,
    Different as chalk and cheese;
    Social morality
    Has a duality –
    One for each side of the tracks.”

  29. Posted August 14, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    LE @32: I thought that article was one of the absolute best on the whole debacle. I’ve been recommending it all over the place.

  30. kvd
    Posted August 14, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]

    practically every small businessperson rorts the tax system as much as he/she can

    Everyone I’ve ever had business dealings with who has made a similar comment has turned out to be indicating their own inclinations, and has sooner or later acted accordingly. Not just “practically everyone”, absolutely every.single.one.

  31. Posted August 15, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Speaking as a small business person, given that the ATO is regularly unable to tell us what our tax liability is (and we are not a complicated business) and we employ someone to spend most of her 15 or so hours of week just to deal with government bumpf (and we are a small business), pay an accountant quite a lot of money to make sure we dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s on a ludicrously over-complicated tax system while I take home the princely income of less than average weekly earnings, actually, there is precious little “rorting”.

    Lithuania’s flat tax “tax return on a postcard” system looks better all the time.

  32. Nick Ferrett
    Posted August 16, 2011 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    I do not agree with the proposition that violent crime is categorically worse than white collar crime. White collar criminals are snivellers and connivers. A hold up or a break and enter requires either guts or desparation. A confidence trick or a ponzi scheme is the work of a coward.

    I do have more sympathy for the victims of violent crime than I do for the victims of the scams of the GFC. The latter were, for the most part, driven by greed themselves and after something for nothing. I don’t have problems with people engaging in that kind of behaviour, but I do have a problem with whining and hand-wringing when the risk doesn’t pan out as hoped. Most of them dropped money into investments without knowing anything about their operation, content to trust promises that they would make bucketloads without having to work for it.

    I’m a big supporter of the idea that you should be able to look for a good return on your capital, but I think that if that’s your game, you should accept the risks that go with blindly following advice. It’s like screaming that you were robbed because you lost all your money on some nag in the 4th at Eagle Farm.

  33. Posted August 16, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]…. those victims you talked about were playing the game and deserved bloody noses if not more.

    The /real/ victims of the GFC are those who lost jobs or suffered in government cuts because the governments put so much money into confirming that moral hazard is an entitlement of the big end of town.

  34. Nick Ferrett
    Posted August 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Dave, I don’t think the “real” victims were victims of the bailouts etc. They were buggered either way. If the organisations that were bailed out had been allowed to fail, those people (and many more I think) would have lost their jobs.

    They were really victims of bad/inadequate regulation over years. I don’t like a lot of regulation, but I think that if you accept the proposition that competitive markets are efficient markets, there should be sufficient regulation to ensure that people are properly informed. You can’t compete efficiently without access to pertinent information.

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  1. By Skepticlawyer » Twilight of the Institutions on August 13, 2011 at 4:50 am

    […] some of the astute comments on the riots offered on this blog: the relevant threads are available here and […]

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