A Tale of the Beggar And The Billionaire

Imagine the following scenario.

In the US, a black homeless man “robs” a bank. He only takes a single $100 bill out of the wad of cash offered, because he was hungry and had to pay to stay at a detox center. Regardless, he had the good graces to return the money the day after. Net financial loss to the bank? $0. Years he was sent down to the slammer for: 15.

In another country, a billionaire fleeces the state by using offshore companies to sell his company’s oil production (and sees nothing wrong with it). Politicians and businessmen who oppose him get this nasty habit of turning up dead. Net financial loss to that country’s treasury, and ultimately taxpayers? Many billions of dollars. Years he was sent down to the slammer for: 14.

Now imagine that one of these cases becomes the focal point of universal condemnation of that country’s brutal, lawless, and authoritarian human rights regime – from Amnesty International and PACE, the US State Department and the German Bundestag, and regular scathing editorials from the biggest media titans. The country’s own liberals work overtime to campaign for the case to be overturned.

Which case would you guess I’m talking about? Surely it would be Roy Brown, the indigent beggar right? No way, sucker.


  1. The American “justice” system is broken beyond repair, I am afraid. It has no purpose other than to protect the moneyed and destroy the (preferably black/Hispanic) poor.

  2. What’s that, AK, you don’t subscribe to western values, or something? 🙂

    The pauper wasn’t creating wealth and freedom with his greed like Khodorkovsky, the entrepreneur. You need to read some more Ayn Rand wisdom to set you straight. And that trail of corpses that Khodorkovsky left in his wake, well, sh*t happens. They probably didn’t read Ayn Rand and so deserved to go in the name of the “greater good” aka “gangster greed”.

    • Yalensis says:

      @kirill: You may be interested to know that I have developed a very simple, but 100% accurate litmus test to detect an Ayn Randite (even one who is trying to conceal himself in a crowd):
      You simply hold up a copy of their Holy Book (=”Atlas Shrugged”) in one hand, a cigarette lighter in the other, and threaten to burn it. Any Randite in the crowd will immediately go apeshit, lunge at you, and try to rescue The Book. It works every time!

  3. “He approached the teller with one of his hands under his jacket and told her that it was a robbery.”

    That does deserve punishment in my eyes. Not as much punishment as Khodorkovsky’s scams and probable contract killings, but still. And yeah, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t pull stunts like that if I was hungry. Plus, in 20 years in America I’ve yet to actually see a single starving person. Supermarkets here throw out food that’s a day over its expiration date. I have it on good authority that the homeless are universally aware of that inexhaustible resource and that that is one of the many reasons why they do not appear to be any thinner than the average person. Why should I believe that guy’s tale of being hungry any more than I believe Khodorkovsky’s crap? The hold-up part of the story – now THAT would have had witnesses.

    “Regardless, he had the good graces to return the money the day after.”

    That’s a generous interpretation. The hold up would have been filmed by the bank’s security cameras, his face would have been shown on local news stations. Unlike Khodorkovsky’s crimes, this was a very dumb one. The guy might have realized that soon he’d have been caught anyway and figured (apparently incorrectly) that the system would be more sympathetic to him if he’d turn himself in.

    The Khodorkovsky stuff shows for the millionth time that with enough repetition people will believe anything. And that includes smart, honest people. A scamming, power-hungry billionaire as a martyr in a fight against corruption? Done. Even those who are capable of thinking for themselves rarely do it. No idea is so absurd that it’s impossible to make billions believe it.

    Some say that humans must have developed language and reasoning not in order to find out anything factual about the world, but in order to be able to fool each other more effectively. I’m guessing that this is more than half true. Most factual knowledge is probably just an incidental byproduct.

    • Chimpanzee do use specific signals to fool each other and so make the leopard warning sound when they want others to run away.

  4. I’ve had a running argument with a co-worker about Khodorkovsky, and this is some of the reasoning I’ve used:

    Let’s imagine for a moment that Khodorkovsky is innocent. He’s not of course, but just for the sake of argument let’s say that he is. Let’s also say that worldwide there are 10 million people in jail. The order of magnitude sounds plausible. Let’s say that 1% of them, or 100,000, are actually innocent. Again, sounds plausible. Even 2% wouldn’t seem like a stretch.

    In this imaginary universe, wouldn’t it seem like a huge coincidence that out of those 100,000 unjustly incarcerated people, the one enjoying the biggest media support would be the richest one of them all? And the one who still has hopes (and, sadly, some chances) of one day single-handedly running the biggest country on Earth? If the people defending him really cared about miscarriages of justice, wouldn’t the guys they supported have been kind of average instead? Statistically that would have made so much more sense.

    Co-worker: but all the oligarchs did it.

    Me: so they should all go to jail. And if that’s not happening, one is better than none.

    Co-worker: he was singled out because he went into politics.

    Me: and I can easily imagine what his regime would have looked like. It would have looked like a continuation of the Yeltsin years – more thievery, more people killed in separatist wars on Russian territory, more poverty, more brain drain. Thank God that a magathief’s political ambitions have been thwarted.

    • Your reasoning is sound. But I guess he just overstated it in a game about political influence and one by one all Russian oligarchs become more law abiding citizens or prison inmates. Btw. Germany is an interesting case because of the Bundestag. Have you ever looked up who is now rich in Germany, how they became rich and what they paid the Jewish owners of companies they or their parents took over during Aryanization? That’s a really big crime, but if you’re gangster enough and supported a mass-murderer (who is claimed to have been a lunatic, but I doubt that) you can even afterwards help rule a democratic country for decades by financing the political landscape (the only ones not so affected by that money pouring are the greens).

  5. Yalensis says:

    Here is another case in America where a man stole only $1.00 with the stated intention of going to jail because he needed healthcare. I wasn’t aware that American prisons even offered healthcare, but maybe they do have some basic medical services. Maybe even some basic detox services. I am not saying that was Mr. Brown’s motive, in this other case you mention, I don’t know. But is fact that many American counties and cities are simply broke and cutting back on all social services: mental health counselling, substance abuse rehab, food stamps, etc. Now, they still do have Medicaid, and an indigent person can get on Medicaid and thus get some healthcare. But it is very difficult to get on Medicaid, lots of paperwork and red-tape to get through, not something that an illiterature alcoholic indigent would be able to do by himself, without assistance from a case manager (and cities laying off case managers because of the budget cuts, so indigents can’t get case managers any more, vicious circle…)
    Two other quick points:
    1.) Poverty is rampant in America.
    2.) The main cause of poverty is a lack of money.

  6. It would be interesting to compute how many billions years some people at wall street should get