No Illusions Podcast #61 – Politics & Ethics

My guests again today are J. David Markham, my regular co-host on the much-loved Napoleon Bonaparte Podcast, and his friend of 35 years, a regular guest on this show, Doug LaFollette, the Secretary of State of Wisconsin.

This week I try to get down to basics – how do we form our political beliefs? Is government really about ethics? What political ethics do we want our society to strive towards? Are psychopaths screwing up the world? Do they make up a large percentage of the 1%?


Aristotle, politics, ethics

Pink Panthers & Capitalism

Pink Panthers & Capitalism

Police in southern France have arrested a member of the “Pink Panther” gang of jewel thieves, who had been on the run since he escaped from a Swiss prison three months ago. – ABC NEWS

I love reading about these real-life French diamond thieves, “The Pink Panthers“. They are straight out of a Hollywood film – pulling hundred-million-dollar heists on the French Riviera & breaking out of prison with helicopters. I imagine George Clooney, Frank Sinatra or Robert DeNiro is leading them. I’d love to see what goes on in an outfit like this. Are they really professional, smart guys like DeNiro in HEAT or Ocean’s Eleven? Or just a bunch of thugs?

According to Interpol they have snatched over 330 million euros ($436 million) since 1999.

They certainly sound pretty suave.

In a recent heist, a member of the gang threatened to blow up a high-end jewellery store in Cannes with a hand-grenade. While his accomplice points a gun at staff, the robber filled a sport holdall with expensive watches and headed for the door. Suddenly, he stopped and turned. “Desolé,” he said to the terrified sales staff, “C’est la crise.” (Sorry, it’s the economic crisis). – The Guardian

I think this kind of heist is capitalism at its purest. The guys with the most capital to spend – on weapons, anti-security equipment, lawyers, fences, fake identities, etc, or, if you’re on the other side, on layers of security – wins. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, my friends, a battle for who can steal the most resources and get away with it.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Some of us yearn for a world where people treat each other in a kinder way, realizing it’s in our own best self-interests to have a world where people are healthy, happy, well-educated and able to provide for their families. That’s the promise of socialism. Is it going to be hard to get there from here? Certainly. Should we stop trying just because it’s hard? I don’t think so.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Pink Panther gang, check out the work of David Samuels.


How To Embezzle $100 Million

How To Embezzle $100 Million

Step 1. Start a financial services firm.

Step 2. Make sure you are the only person in the company who sees the bank statements.

Step 3. “Using a combination of Photo Shop, Excel, scanners and both laser and ink jet printers… make very convincing forgeries of nearly every document that came from the Bank.”

At least, that’s how Peregrine CEO Russell Wasendorf Sr. did it – for over 20 years.

He wrote a suicide note explaining the whole scam before attempting suicide. He failed at that and has now pleaded guilty to fraud and embezzlement.

What about the Regulators? Why didn’t they catch him?

“It was relatively simple to deceive the Regulators” according to Russ. Good to know.

He ended his suicide note with “I am ready to die. I guess this is the only way out of a business I hate so much.”

It’s a far cry from his most recent “Chairman’s Letter”, where he wrote

“At PFGBEST, our consistent hallmarks remain: respectful and conscientious care of customers and their accounts; a keen sense of their evolving needs; and, the talent and resources to provide analytical, flexible and customized solutions.”

Guys like Wasendorf are fascinating to me. How high would he score on a test for psychopathy? Surely he would score highly on many of those factors.

You have to wonder how many CEOs, politicians and entrepreneurs are psychopaths? And what is it about capitalism that allows them to prosper?

Of course, the history of socialism and communism has it’s fair share of psychopaths as well. Why is it so hard for us to design a socio-economic system that weeds out psychopaths?