by Martin Siegel
Copyright © by Martin Siegel, 1997

The real meaning of living in a marketing economy is simple: everything is marketing. What doesn’t sell doesn’t exist. Crime sells aplenty, despite political proclamations over and again as ruinous to society. The fact is that it has few rivals as a contributor to the general weal. Ours is a wealthy country, but city streets and public schools from coast to coast show this is not to be confused with a wealthy population. Without crime the United States would be scarcely recognizable and much the poorer.

THE POLICE, of course, benefit the most. One would be hard put to name a major American city not crying out for additional cops. And where would these officers go if conditions were otherwise? Would they be satisfied working in fast-food chains or as full-time security guards (more below)?—there being few sectors of the marketplace offering similar labor-intensive employment at equal salary levels. Also worth considering is the dictum that a very thin line exists between cop and criminal, many times razor thin at that if one believes the news. A policeman out of a job, with knowledge of the weakpoints in the system, is not a pleasant thought. Happily, opportunities for police work abound. Metropolitan transit and housing authorities, which not so long ago did not have police departments, offer positions only slightly less remunerative. Combining city, transit and housing, much gainful employment is to be had; a vast sector where downsizing’s shadow seldom causes worry. Schools may go begging to pay for teachers and paper clips, but monies to finance million-dollar surveillance helicopters, police car video cameras, never-ending internal investigations and upgrades to nine millimeter handguns float from the heavens like autumn leaves, whatever the season.

THE NEWS MEDIA would be in a panic without crime. Just as the advertising that fills their coffers is based upon undermining a mass psychological need, flagrantly exaggerated anti-social content means sales for newspapers and magazines, as well as higher ratings for their television counterparts. It is so sick that when prestigious magazines call the Unabomber a misguided genius or television news give terrorist organizations “credit” rather than “responsibility” for their heinous actions, no one seems to wince. (Notice that it’s easily a $600 suit the anchor and meteorologist wear as they banter between scandal and arson.)

THE SECURITY INDUSTRY is thriving. Stores, malls, trendy bars, and other public establishments are hiring guards, most of whom are moonlighting cops or ex-cons feeling good about carrying a gun in public view. Meanwhile, burglar detection devices are becoming as typical as microwave ovens and refrigerators. The yield means substantial incomes for the sales force, manufacturers and even a token share for the laborers of third-world countries that produce these electronic stress-relief gadjets. Similarly, Asian martial arts gyms are flourishing; signifying a sense of mental ease garnered in return for the money spent for the three or so years it takes to advance from white belt to black. Because of the fears of parents, schoolyards nationwide show kids laughing about their front kicks and side kicks. In all manner of ways, the products and services feeding off anxiety and apprehension are creating and distributing new wealth.

LIKE CEREBRUS, the three-headed beast guarding the gates of Hell, the triumvirate of lawyers, judges and juries must be reckoned with. No matter the public disdain for attorneys, or that late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger said that most are incompetent, our way of solving things is getting increasingly litigious by the hour. Factor in huge support staffs: legal reporters, clerks, bailiffs, additional police at the courthouse, probation officers, the requisite phones, computers and other supplies, and that’s quite a bundle—in every town, village, suburb and city. To put a new turn on the popular phrase, grief is good.

THE ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS would collapse if public interest in criminality was allowed to wane. Shows like NYPD Blue and Life: Homicide on the Street, nothing but depravity video-texts costing a million or more each episode, have little meaning without fear. It’s not just the actors, producers and directors, but the sea of underlings, the celluloid and silver for film and videotape, makeup, teleprompters and even the humdrum such as coffee, booze and beer. Television, especially, is so smooth that we forget that everyone on prime-time—whether joking or murdering—and in professional sports stands at the top one percent of the income pyramid. As it is, it’s a win-win for the media: Silence of the Lambs earns (self-serving promotional) awards while Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy unify public disgust.

TAKING ENTERTAINMENT to a different page, crime is so rampant that mystery novels presently duel “how-to” books as best sellers in retail. The high cost of paperback reprints proves their popularity. Ted Koppel has written one, Jim Lehrer of PBS has dipped his pen, so too has Margaret Truman (though supposedly with a ghost writer arrangement), as well as many others one might not expect. William F. Buckley has swivelled his nose from skies to write several (perhaps explaining his license to carry a handgun while in New York).

The limits of this medium preclude lengthier discussion. Suffice it to give an example of the egalitarian mechanics should a single teenage thief be caught.

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Someone paid to handle 911 calls has added work
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The police respond, probably with two or three cars carrying four to six officers
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Lawyers get involved both for the thief and the victim
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Stenographers and numerous clerks take relevant testimony and send correspondence
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Judges, magistrates, bailiffs and more police convene for the court proceeding
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Press coverage results if the misdeed is horrific enough to be deemed newsworthy
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Imprisonment brings ample food, clothing, shelter, recreational and educational materials
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A host of social workers, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists stand ready
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Fuel is added for more judges or more police or more prisons or all of the preceding
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Long distance calls are made to inform relatives
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Any number of stress medications will be taken, etc.

This partial list is if one petty thief is caught. Ignored are the heavy hitters: the slick and burgeoning recompense from mass merchandiser checkout scams, employee theft, mail order and computer fraud, the invisible machinations of Mafia-controlled political and judicial figures (few of whom ever spend a day in a real prison), and others the reader doubtless can furnish.

IN SUMMARY, crime has made the United States a welfare state for rich and poor alike, more so the former than the latter. If the benefits were not as omnidirectional and ingrained from metropolis to township, an honest soul choked by the hypocracy of pretending differently might well shriek: