Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How to Be a Successful Thief

Today, as community service, out of the kindness of his heart, the Quill Pig is going to offer a practical course in thievery. I don’t want the introduction to be longer than the course itself, so…
The first rule in thievery is not to kill your victim if you can avoid it. If you kill him, all you’ll ever get from him is the one-shot deal you get at the time. He won’t ever produce anything else for you to steal, and you’ll lose precious time finding another victim. If you keep him alive and healthy, he’ll eventually accumulate something else worth stealing, and since you know where he is and how to get past his defenses, you’ll be able to get the next lot of goods from him with a minimum of effort.
The second rule is to steal from your victim neither too much nor too often. Even if you don’t steal so much that he dies, eventually he may decide that the likelihood of his goods being stolen is so high that it’s not worth the effort to accumulate them to begin with. Or he might move out of territory you control in hopes of a better life. In that case, you’re no better off than if you killed him.
So the first corollary of the second rule is that you need to find the point of diminishing returns—the top of the Laffer curve—and not go past it. Take as much as you can while your victim is still producing as much as he can.
The second corollary is that you can maximize your booty by encouraging your victim to keep producing at maximum output, even if he knows you’re going to be taking as much of it as you want. You do this by spinning your holdup line—“Do as I say or something worse is going to happen to you”—as a promise: “If you do as I say, I’ll make sure nothing worse ever happens to you.”
The really nifty thing about that promise is that it’s meaningless. If something bad does happen, you tell him that it would have been worse if you hadn’t been there protecting him. And if what happens is arguably the “something worse” he thought you were protecting him from, just say that given the resources you had, no one on earth could have prevented it. Then magnanimously give him the choice between giving you more booty and shutting up.
The third rule is to remember that power flows from the barrel of a gun, and make sure you’re either the biggest gun in the area or allied with it. It’s a waste of time building up that juicy income stream only to have someone else knock you off and drink the benefits of your hard work. Eliminating your rivals, or at least keeping them at bay, will require resources, but you can get those from your victims by convincing them that you’re defending them from your rivals, that they benefit when you’re the king of the hill. They’ll pony up every time.
The corollary to that is if you can’t beat your rivals, ally with them. You may even have to become their vassal and contribute some of your booty to them, but if you do as they say, they’ll make sure nothing worse happens to you. That’s a promise
So there you have it. Follow my advice and you’ll be living the good life the rest of your days. And, if you keep reading, you’ll see how the good times can roll even beyond your time on earth.
The rest of the post is for those of you whose consciences are uneasy at the thought of being a thief, especially those who think that thievery is somehow outside the pale of biblical ethics. Rest assured, my friends, it is not. I call as my witnesses Zacchaeus, Cornelius, and the unnamed centurion of Capernaum (Matt 8).
All three of these biblical heroes were in the employ of the Roman Empire, in its day the biggest gun from ’way up in Europe to ’way down in Africa. Nobody but nobody told the Romans what to do, and nobody before them and few since them have done a better job of making good on the promise “if you do as I say, I’ll make sure nothing worse happens to you.” (They did it, of course, by first saying, “Do as I say, or I’ll make sure something worse happens to you.”) The Pax Romana made Christian mission possible by providing the infrastructure and safety from (lesser) bandits that allowed Paul and Barnabus to preach the gospel all over the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
It was in the context of the Pax Romana that Paul wrote in Romans 13 that “there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God … he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves … rulers hold no terror for those who do right.” Less than a decade later, those “powers” separated Paul’s head from his neck ISIS style, but nobody’s perfect.
So here’s the secret to living like a thief with no fear of divine reprisal: What is theft at a small level ceases to be theft when enough people get into the act. Once the person at the top of the pile has the right title—“king,” “emperor,” “president,” “premier,” and “leader” seem to qualify—then “I’ll make sure nothing worse happens to you” is no longer spin, it’s gospel truth.
And presto change-o, you are no longer a thief, you are a power that be, ordained of God. Your lackeys are no longer thugs, they’re soldiers and policemen. Your finger-breakers are now tax-collectors.
As time goes on, you can buy the love of those who used to resist you. Who can help but love you when you feed their hungry, heal their sick, educate their ignorant, care for their aged, build roads, and catch criminals, not to mention supporting the arts and providing sports venues? And as those who enter your employ (see the corollary of the third rule) will live better than they would have otherwise and better than their neighbors, you will have an aura beyond words.
Yes, indeed, Jesus had it right when he said, “Those in authority over [the Gentiles] are called ‘benefactors’” (Luke 22:25). He just missed the boat when he said, “But you are not to be like that.”

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