We Can’t Steal Anything Anymore Either


A friend’s brother showed me how to unlock my dad’s 1992 Toyota Previa with a coat hanger. Then he showed me how to reach under the dash and hotwire it. Neither of us even knew how to drive yet. That kid went on to pursue a lucrative career in grand theft auto before settling down with a wife and two kids.

New cars can’t be slim-jimmed (although you can still throw a rock through the window), and engines require the microchipped ignition key to mobilize. The only cars that still get stolen are old ones. Mostly Honda Accords and Civics, because Hondas last forever. The old Chevys and Dodges took themselves out of contention years ago.

Stolen Accords

Honda introduced their engine immobilizer in 1998. Old Hondas don’t fetch much at the chop shop  — Far less than a stolen iPhone on ebay. So career criminals turned to stealing phones [2].

Then yesterday California passed a law mandating kill switches for cell phones to deter theft. It’s tough being a professional outlaw these days.

We don’t have much sympathy for thieves, but the people engaging in petty theft are almost always the underprivileged. Throughout much of American history, organized crime was the only way for poor immigrants to climb the social ladder:

Irish gangsters dominated organized crime in the urban Northeast in the mid to late nineteenth century, followed by the Jewish gangsters—Meyer Lansky, Arnold Rothstein, and Dutch Schultz, among others. Then it was the Italians’ turn. They were among the poorest and the least skilled of the immigrants of that era. Crime was one of the few options available for advancement. [3]

After a few generations of crime, these demographics became established, law-abiding members of society.

The early settlers and founding fathers, as well as those who “won the West” and built up cattle, mining and other fortunes, often did so by shady speculations and a not inconsiderable amount of violence. They ignored, circumvented, or stretched the law when it stood in the way of America’s destiny and their own—or were themselves the law when it served their purposes. This has not prevented them and their descendants from feeling proper moral outrage when, under the changed circumstances of the crowded urban environments, latecomers pursued equally ruthless tactics. [4]

1. Here’s Why Stealing Cars Went Out of Fashion –NY Times
2. Stealing iPhones is more profitable than crack for San Francisco’s pro thieves –iDownload
3. The Crooked Ladder –NewYorker
4. 9780226136714

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