A futile exercise you might think, since crime and criminals have always been with us, and always will be, at any rate until evolution might conceivably wash the instinct from our collective psyche in a few billion years. Nevertheless, it's an interesting exercise to wonder how much wealthier, happier, and less stressed we'd all be if the bad guys weren't around. Or, since they make up a large percentage of the population, if they were miraculously transformed into good guys.
It's almost impossible to calculate the true value of crime across the globe, since it not only comprises the financial loss to economies but also the indirect costs such as the social and emotional drain on families, the lost productivity and burden on businesses, the cost of the criminal justice system and the social services involved, etc, etc.
However, a few general statistics are illuminating; these numbers are of course imprecise themselves since crime by its very nature is a secretive pursuit. However, one can get a vague idea of the extent by examining the calculations of such bodies as the United Nations office on drugs and crime, the various offices for National Statistics, the national police and justice records, etc.
These records indicate that the direct annual cost to humanity of crime, in general, is probably around 2.5 trillion $US. That is 25 plus eight zeros. Cybercrime alone is reckoned to cost over $1 trillion and growing. The drug industry is worth $500 billion. Human trafficking is perhaps $200 billion. Identity fraud in the USA alone is reckoned to cost around $60 billion, so multiply that many times for the world as a whole. And on it goes…
Then one has to add the invisible toll on individuals, families, and businesses caused by the stress, lost time, and expenditure on security. Plus, the burden on the taxpayer for running police forces, the justice profession, prisons, medical and social care effects, etc.
So, let us take a wild guess and assume that the overall cost of criminal enterprise to the world might be somewhere in the region of $4 trillion annually. And, since there are roughly two billion families on the planet, this amounts to two thousand dollars a family. The average family earnings globally are about $10,000. Therefore, we would all be 20% better off if there was no such thing as crime. And a good deal less stressed as well.
One has to wonder why the criminal instinct is so prevalent. Of course, there are examples of clever and ruthless villains who have become immensely rich through the proceeds. But they are a small minority when compared to the vast mass of felons, and they always run the risk of life in prison or a nasty death. Most criminals are small-time crooks or gang members who could be earning just as much in legitimate jobs, and without the constant fear and stress of getting caught. Doubtless they all dream of making the big killing that will see them set up for life, but how often does that happen? And wouldn't they have just as good a chance by running a successful business, or inventing a brilliant new process or gadget? Is it simply initial laziness that starts people off as teenagers who find it easier to nick stuff from the shelves, or flog drugs to their mates, than work to make some dosh? Is it that one generation passes on their family skills and tricks to the next, and so promotes the habit? Or is it actually something that goes much deeper? Is it the adrenalin of beating the system? The urge to put one over on the world? The challenge is to win the game of non-conformity and prove that one isn't just a member of the submissive herd.
This brings us to another question; does the instinct also equate to the urge to go to war, an even more illogical drive, but one that has also dogged mankind throughout the ages? War after all is invariably the result of trying to steal someone else's territory; larceny on a grand scale. Look at Ukraine.
It is reckoned that the world spends about $2 trillion a year on maintaining its defence forces. The damage to nations caused by the Second World War amounted to over $20 trillion in today's money. The First World War probably not much less. Add in all the other endless wars and skirmishes, with their incalculable loss of life and property, and the price to the world's economy probably exceeds that of crime. So, make that a 40% burden on household wealth caused by crime and fighting both together. What are we doing to ourselves?
Well, I for one would dearly love to add another 40% to my income. It would pay for that home renovation I've been wanting, or that Caribbean cruise for the family, or maybe just a general improvement to our standard of living. And for the millions living below the poverty line, it would mean a gleam of hope and happiness in their fraught existences.
Here's to the good guys!