The Big Score

First Posted 26-Feb-2015

This one is as nuts as some of my recent posts, maybe more. A friend of mine, who did a long bit in prison, still wants to hit the big score and dump a bunch of cash into his neighborhood. His idea is that if the score was big enough he could buy off all the poor people and in one fell swoop, fix the problems in his neighborhood. People would love him, he’d get his (new) Cadillac, young women would want to be with him, and so on. It’s a fantasy that only works on TV or in Hollywood. In Real Life, it’s a non-starter.

diamond_dollarThese ideas come up. It’s a popular fantasy that you could dump enough cash into one locality to end poverty there. Let’s play with it for a bit. To make the score big enough we are talking $32.1 billion or so. There are roughly 26,000 people in this guy’s neighborhood. It’s a nice mix, with the median income being about $28,000.00/year. To make the math easy, we’ll say the median income is $30,000.00/year. Median age is 38. So, we are talking about $30,000/year for almost 40 years for 26,000 people. $31,200,000,000 to create enough cash that all 26,000 could spend $30,000.00/year for 40 years and not be broke. Show me a single crime that can pay off 31.2 billion in once score. IMHO, doesn’t exist. So, the size of the score is one problem.

The other concern is 26,000 instant millionaires who may not have the life skills necessary to be disciplined with $1,200,000.00. The feeding frenzy potential here is pretty intense. 26,000 to 1 that everyone would behave with their 1.5 million is lottery odds. If 1,300 (5%) misbehave that’s still $1,560,000,000.00 worth of cash dumped into the grey & black market economies. The possibilities are scary.

that’s the number in play if we are going to give everyone in his neighborhood enough money to retire comfortably. It is that much money. Enough that the size of the wad of cash starts twinkling in the eyes of the politicians and the one holding that bankroll suddenly has friends in high places he didn’t have before. It is a big impact on the social and political scene in which it appears.

That’s enough cash dumped into one zip code that it would change the character of the neighborhood. Before the money Highland Park is perceived as a a ghetto. It isn’t, actually. The medium income is decent and the majority of the folk in the area work. It’s only a small number of bad actors that get the attention and drive the news narrative about this zip code. After dumping $31.2 billion into it and just the cash makes it a desirable place to be. Suddenly lots of folks want to buy the 19th century homes in the area, driving property values and initiating the sort of gentrification that would permanently alter the character of Highland Park.

It would mean my friend could not live there and pay the same rent he currently pays. I reckon he includes himself in the group of folk who would collect their $1.2 million so maybe this doesn’t matter. My friend, in his naiveté, believes that he could do this and it would come out the way he wanted it to. People would behave, invest the money wisely, and be able to afford a reasonable income for the rest of their lives. I disagree.

This is so much cash that it would take on a life of its own. The challenge of mastering it rather than becoming a slave to it is daunting. With this much money in play could he live a disciplined life? He could totally, stupidly indulge every one of the seven deadly sins and have plenty of money left over for his philanthropic largess. Right now, he’s living on Social Security Disability. There isn’t enough money in his life for him to get into much trouble. $31.2 billion, though, is a lot of potential mischief. It’d take a remarkable person not to be drawn into at least a little excessive behavior. He’s not that remarkable. He’d do something and depending on what he did, make a mess of it, maybe a irrecoverable mess. This too, $1,560,000,000.00 given to the drug & crime lords in his neighborhood from a guy whose expressed purpose is to eliminate economic misery and the monetary motivation to commit crime. Somehow, having 1,560,000,000.00 loose in the black market doesn’t seem like a crime reduction plan. It seems like a cash fueled bacchanal that would spike crime and have the opposite result from what is intended. Then, the cash would be gone at some point and what then?

That 5% that fueled the bacchanal would have to deal with a community hangover of prodigious size. The money is gone so the lifestyle it supported would collapse. The support systems that existed before the windfall may have been pushed aside by all that cash and thus, wouldn’t be there when the hangover began. It would be an epic economic crash, an epic community hangover. You can poke around to find stories of lottery winners or others that had a sudden windfall of cash and instead of it solving problems, it creates them. I don’t see any difference here. Even if 95% of the folk who got their $1.5 million dollar gift from my bank robber friend did behave, the other 5% that didn’t would still have a big effect on the community. 2,000 people in a small geographic area who are suddenly rich and then suddenly facing Sunday morning, hungry, broke, hung-over and in trouble. Bad news, I’d say. I made much of Robert Lupton’s, “Toxic Charity“ and Dambisa Moyo’s, “Dead Aid“ last year. These two writers talk about the damage that can be done by ignorant resource dumps of the sort that my friend imagines as the answer. More money isn’t the answer. Intelligent engagement with the community and a long term plan for micro-investment to promote economic development is a better answer than $32,100,000,000.00 dropped into the ghetto he lives in. One last thing. Alongside this wish for the one big score is a core belief that he doesn’t want to do more time. If he did pull off a $32,100,000,000.00 job, he’d be prime beef for the FBI. He’s already done 30 years in prison. He’s in his 60’s. If he did this, he’d die in prison. There is no way they’d let him get away with it. So, the two don’t go together. He can’t have his big score without doing big time. The whole thing is nuts.