Crime and corruption don’t pay. Better believe it, bub
The marginal utility of money diminishes sooner than you think, and, anyway, money isn’t power. Don’t start
After I watched yet another gangster movie on TV last night, I still haven’t figured out what the prize is for the kingpin, the godfather, the most feared gangster in the world. The end game is predictable, and yet they keep coming, and there are some recurring themes.
At the core of it all is a thirst for money and power that can never be quenched, stereotypically sought after by those who never started with much of either.
Every gangster has a lovely, if not doting, mother. She still lives in the same house in the old neighbourhood, goes to church regularly and cooks a fabulous dinner. Sons are always welcome at home, despite that they slaughter other humans for the price of a fix, for simple disobedience to the code, or just for show. “Johnny is still my little boy, a nice kid.”
In these neighbourhood origins of the billionaire-to-be drug dealer, there are street codes more powerful than the rule of law, that you dare not break. Codes governing loyalty, family, brutality, revenge, rites of passage (that sort of stuff) which found alliances between brothers of the hood. Alliances which can later be relied on as the bond of the handshakes that seal weapons trafficking, on a grand scale, that will kill thousands, whatever the cause being fought.Villains born or raised in the same house have siblings who don’t always want to follow the same career path, but everyone is at risk.
The road to glory is well understood. Hierarchy is sacrosanct and you must learn the ropes (or other weapon of choice) before you can be promoted.
Everyone starts off as some sort of intermediary, delivering either goods or messages to someone higher up in the organisation.
To leapfrog out of this drudgery, to sit in the back of the car, or the front of the bar, or to get a gun, you must do something illegal, the more vicious the better. Killing one of the opposing cartel members in cold blood, in the parking lot of a top country club, in brazen daylight, with a couple of witnesses, could do your CV the world of good. A straight bullet to the head would suffice, but a more ruthless bludgeoning to death with a blunt object might get you a few more rungs up the ladder.Leaders at the very top of the pile sometimes do the dirty work themselves, not so much to get it done but to reset the standard of brutality for the aspiring young killers down the chain of command. A massacre, for instance, with an automatic assault weapon, in that same car park, would do wonders for your promotion possibilities, as would something more intimate, like cutting off a thumb with that trusted old penknife your late father gave you for your 11th birthday, or putting some drain-cleaning fluid to good use.
It is not possible to get away with this criminal, cruel behaviour, on such a broad scale, without some institutional support. Law enforcement agents get involved and get tempted. They too have a hierarchy, often correlated with the level of criminals they’ve busted. If you limit yourself to pickpockets and shoplifters, you’re not going to make detective.
The worlds of the lawbreakers and lawmakers intersect. Informants, or criminals looking to cut a plea bargain, are the ultimate sources for the big busts. Lines become blurred and the different risk-reward equations simply don’t tally. They’re not even measured in the same currency.The best players on both sides aren’t that different. To win wars you must fight as dirty as your opponent does. The end justifies the means. Before you know it you’re caught in a stream and it’s impossible to get out.
When you’re public enemy number one, when you’re top of the FBI most wanted list, and the pinnacle of your “career”, what have you got?
Surrounded by bodyguards you spend your latter years in hiding. Your prize is measured by all the sex, booze and drugs money can buy, but it’ll never be enough, and sufficient doses are, in any case, available to ordinary men. More likely though, some rival will kill you well before your allocated years are up, or you’ll spend the last of them in some top-security prison, feared by a few, but alone.
Crime and the corruption that abides it don’t pay. You can’t check out once you join in, and the marginal utility of money diminishes sooner than you think, and, anyway, money isn’t power. Don’t start.
Mark Barnes is CEO of the Post Office.