Legalizing Crime

The state has a monopoly on behaviour usually deemed criminal. It murders, kidnaps, and locks up people. Sovereignty has come to be identified with the unbridled – and exclusive – exercise of violence. The emergence of modern international law has narrowed the field of permissible conduct. A sovereign can no longer commit genocide or ethnic cleansing with impunity, for instance.

Many acts – such as the waging of aggressive war, the mistreatment of minorities, the suppression of the freedom of association – hitherto sovereign privilege, have thankfully been criminalized. Many politicians, hitherto immune to international prosecution, are no longer so. Consider Yugoslavia’s Milosevic and Chile’s Pinochet.

But, the irony is that a similar trend of criminalization – within national legal systems – allows governments to oppress their citizenry to an extent previously unknown. Hitherto civil torts, permissible acts, and common behaviour patterns are routinely criminalized by legislators and regulators. Precious few are decriminalized.

Consider, for instance, the criminalization in the Economic Espionage Act (1996) of the misappropriation of trade secrets and the criminalization of the violation of copyrights in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (2000) – both in the USA. These used to be civil torts. They still are in many countries. Drug use, common behaviour in England only 50 years ago – is now criminal. The list goes on.

Criminal laws pertaining to property have malignantly proliferated and pervaded every economic and private interaction. The result is a bewildering multitude of laws, regulations statutes, and acts.

The average Babylonian could have memorizes and assimilated the Hammurabic code 37 centuries ago – it was short, simple, and intuitively just.

English criminal law – partly applicable in many of its former colonies, such as India, Pakistan, Canada, and Australia – is a mishmash of overlapping and contradictory statutes – some of these hundreds of years old – and court decisions, collectively known as “case law”.

Despite the publishing of a Model Penal Code in 1962 by the American Law Institute, the criminal provisions of various states within the USA often conflict. The typical American can’t hope to get acquainted with even a negligible fraction of his country’s fiendishly complex and hopelessly brobdignagian criminal code. Such inevitable ignorance breeds criminal behaviour – sometimes inadvertently – and transforms many upright citizens into delinquents.

In the land of the free – the USA – close to 2 million adults are behind bars and another 4.5 million are on probation, most of them on drug charges. The costs of criminalization – both financial and social – are mind boggling. According to “The Economist”, America’s prison system cost it $54 billion a year – disregarding the price tag of law enforcement, the judiciary, lost product, and rehabilitation.

What constitutes a crime? A clear and consistent definition has yet to transpire.

There are five types of criminal behaviour: crimes against oneself, or “victimless crimes” (such as suicide, abortion, and the consumption of drugs), crimes against others (such as murder or mugging), crimes among consenting adults (such as incest, and in certain countries, homosexuality and euthanasia), crimes against collectives (such as treason, genocide, or ethnic cleansing), and crimes against the international community and world order (such as executing prisoners of war). The last two categories often overlap.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica provides this definition of a crime: “The intentional commission of an act usually deemed socially harmful or dangerous and specifically defined, prohibited, and punishable under the criminal law.”

But who decides what is socially harmful? What about acts committed unintentionally (known as “strict liability offences” in the parlance)? How can we establish intention – “mens rea”, or the “guilty mind” – beyond a reasonable doubt?

A much tighter definition would be: “The commission of an act punishable under the criminal law.” A crime is what the law – state law, kinship law, religious law, or any other widely accepted law – says is a crime. Legal systems and texts often conflict.

Murderous blood feuds are legitimate according to the 15th century “Qanoon”, still applicable in large parts of Albania. Killing one’s infant daughters and old relatives is socially condoned – though illegal – in India, China, Alaska, and parts of Africa. Genocide may have been legally sanctioned in Germany and Rwanda – but is strictly forbidden under international law.

Laws being the outcomes of compromises and power plays, there is only a tenuous connection between justice and morality. Some “crimes” are categorical imperatives. Helping the Jews in Nazi Germany was a criminal act – yet a highly moral one.

The ethical nature of some crimes depends on circumstances, timing, and cultural context. Murder is a vile deed – but assassinating Saddam Hussein may be morally commendable. Killing an embryo is a crime in some countries – but not so killing a fetus. A “status offence” is not a criminal act if committed by an adult. Mutilating the body of a live baby is heinous – but this is the essence of Jewish circumcision. In some societies, criminal guilt is collective. All Americans are held blameworthy by the Arab street for the choices and actions of their leaders. All Jews are accomplices in the “crimes” of the “Zionists”.

In all societies, crime is a growth industry. Millions of professionals – judges, police officers, criminologists, psychologists, journalists, publishers, prosecutors, lawyers, social workers, probation officers, wardens, sociologists, non-governmental-organizations, weapons manufacturers, laboratory technicians, graphologists, and private detectives – derive their livelihood, parasitically, from crime. They often perpetuate models of punishment and retribution that lead to recidivism rather than to to the reintegration of criminals in society and their rehabilitation.

Organized in vocal interest groups and lobbies, they harp on the insecurities and phobias of the alienated urbanites. They consume ever growing budgets and rejoice with every new behaviour criminalized by exasperated lawmakers. In the majority of countries, the justice system is a dismal failure and law enforcement agencies are part of the problem, not its solution.

The sad truth is that many types of crime are considered by people to be normative and common behaviours and, thus, go unreported. Victim surveys and self-report studies conducted by criminologists reveal that most crimes go unreported. The protracted fad of criminalization has rendered criminal many perfectly acceptable and recurring behaviours and acts. Homosexuality, abortion, gambling, prostitution, pornography, and suicide have all been criminal offences at one time or another.

But the quintessential example of over-criminalization is drug abuse.

There is scant medical evidence that soft drugs such as cannabis or MDMA (“Ecstasy”) – and even cocaine – have an irreversible effect on brain chemistry or functioning. Last month an almighty row erupted in Britain when Jon Cole, an addiction researcher at Liverpool University, claimed, to quote “The Economist” quoting the “Psychologist”, that:

“Experimental evidence suggesting a link between Ecstasy use and problems such as nerve damage and brain impairment is flawed … using this ill-substantiated cause-and-effect to tell the ‘chemical generation’ that they are brain damaged when they are not creates public health problems of its own.”

Moreover, it is commonly accepted that alcohol abuse and nicotine abuse can be at least as harmful as the abuse of marijuana, for instance. Yet, though somewhat curbed, alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are legal. In contrast, users of cocaine – only a century ago recommended by doctors as tranquilizer – face life in jail in many countries, death in others. Almost everywhere pot smokers are confronted with prison terms.

The “war on drugs” – one of the most expensive and protracted in history – has failed abysmally. Drugs are more abundant and cheaper than ever. The social costs have been staggering: the emergence of violent crime where none existed before, the destabilization of drug-producing countries, the collusion of drug traffickers with terrorists, and the death of millions – law enforcement agents, criminals, and users.

Few doubt that legalizing most drugs would have a beneficial effect. Crime empires would crumble overnight, users would be assured of the quality of the products they consume, and the addicted few would not be incarcerated or stigmatized – but rather treated and rehabilitated.

That soft, largely harmless, drugs continue to be illicit is the outcome of compounded political and economic pressures by lobby and interest groups of manufacturers of legal drugs, law enforcement agencies, the judicial system, and the aforementioned long list of those who benefit from the status quo.

Only a popular movement can lead to the decriminalization of the more innocuous drugs. But such a crusade should be part of a larger campaign to reverse the overall tide of criminalization. Many “crimes” should revert to their erstwhile status as civil torts. Others should be wiped off the statute books altogether. Hundreds of thousands should be pardoned and allowed to reintegrate in society, unencumbered by a past of transgressions against an inane and inflationary penal code.

This, admittedly, will reduce the leverage the state has today against its citizens and its ability to intrude on their lives, preferences, privacy, and leisure. Bureaucrats and politicians may find this abhorrent. Freedom loving people should rejoice.

Selling For Millions – The Top 10 Essentials For A High Company Valuation

It’s a common aim for entrepreneurs when they start their business. Building it up and selling it for at least a million, or maybe even multiple millions.

It’s certainly possible and many people have achieved the magic number but for every one that does there are thousands who never make it even close and never quite work out why. So what are the common factors in a multi-million pound sale? Here are the top 10 factors that contribute towards achieving that goal.

1. Multi-Million Sales And Profits

It may be obvious but this is the traditional and still the best real way to achieve a multi-million exit. That’s not to say it’s easy, you need to work hard to get to one million’s worth of sales and even harder to get to the next ten million. However, if you can achieve multi-million pound profits then your chances of a multi-million sale of your company are greatly enhanced, although still not guaranteed as it depends on the type of business you’re in.

2. A Very Scalable Business

When a buyer is looking to acquire a business they are looking for the future potential that will come from that company. The price they pay is a reflection of what they expect the future returns from the business to be. This means that the greater the potential of your business the greater the value. And the most important element in that potential is how easily the business can grow, its scalability. If your business is wholly dependent on you doing all the work because you have very specialist skills then there is a definite restriction on how much the business can grow as you only have 24 hours in the day. If you have a product or service that can be easily replicated at a low cost (e.g. software) then the company can grow far more easily with limited additional expenditure. This makes your company much more valuable because it has far greater potential for growth.

3. Valuable IPR

Businesses that achieve high valuations often have very strong Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). These are the patents, copyright, trademarks and legally protected inventions and brands that the company holds. If you have intellectual property that is legally protected so that other companies can’t easily copy it, then you benefit from scarcity value. If you have good IPR then it means customers have to come to you for the product or service, which makes what you’re selling more valuable. Large corporations and VCs like to acquire strong IPR with a company as it gives a greater justification if a high price is paid and it gives them exclusive access to the rights. It can be tough to achieve the higher valuations you want without IPR.

4. A Desirable Customer Base

Sometimes a company is bought simply to provide the buying company with access to the customer base. The alternative is for the buyer to generate the sales and customer base themselves but this takes time. If you have a loyal customer base of regular, high spending, credit worthy clients, then the value of your business is significantly enhanced. A buyer will be looking to see what value they can get from selling their products and services to your customers and they will also have expectations of increasing the value of sales to those customers. And that could mean millions for them and for you.

5. A Hot Sector That’s In Demand

This can be one of the best ways of achieving a high sales value but it’s very challenging to get the right sector at the right time and find the right buyer. For all the Facebooks and Bebos that get it right, there are many thousand also-rans who didn’t catch the market’s imagination. It’s not necessarily about being first but it’s about being early, fast growing and getting attention from the right people.

6. A Great Brand

If your company has spent significant time and money generating a very strong brand in the market and your brand name is the first one that people think of in your sector, then your chances of a high price sale increase significantly. Brands have huge value to businesses as they can keep customers coming back, through brand loyalty, and attract new customers, through brand recognition. The brand may be the most popular or it may be associated with high value, bringing higher value customers with it. Again, it can be a challenge to create a really strong brand but if you succeed the value can be huge.

7. Exclusive Rights

If your company has the exclusive, legally enforceable, rights to a territory then they can be worth a significant amount to a buyer. If your competitors can’t break into a particular geographic market because you have an agreement with a supplier that no-one else can sell their products or services in that territory then they will often want to buy you simply to gain that access. The alternative for a competitor could be that they have to ignore that whole territory or country which could bring down their own valuation. Whilst you should never over-pay (ideally you shouldn’t pay much at all) for exclusive rights, they are well worth having if you can agree them.

8. Highly Successful Marketing & PR

Sometimes a business achieves a high valuation purely on what appears to be hype and promotion. This is about being in the public domain and getting noticed. It’s certainly a lot harder to achieve a multi-million pound exit when no-one has heard of you. Of course, if you really want to get all the way to completing an exit you will ideally need to have a decent business to back-up the marketing, although it’s been achieved before without much substance. Getting your company known through marketing and PR should be a natural goal of the business anyway, as it generally allows you to sell more if done properly. However, it can be a dangerous route to start marketing programs just to gain the attention of people who might want to buy your company and you should always carefully measure the effectiveness of any campaign.

9. A Great Balance Sheet

If your business has a very strong balance sheet, with lots of assets and not so many liabilities, then you can achieve a multi-million sale of the business just on that basis. Generally, this will mean that you have achieved one or more of the other options in this list already, particularly the high sales and profits one. Another way of looking at this is that you are less likely to walk away with a multi-million deal if you have a very weak balance sheet that is burdened with debt. If you’ve had to borrow a huge amount to get your business to its current state then when you sell you can easily find all the money just goes to pay back the debt and you’re left with very little in the end. The stronger your balance sheet, the better your chances of a good deal that pays your millions when you sell.

10. Something To Plug The Gap In A Large Corporate

This covers a few of the previous factors because it really comes down to a large company asking themselves whether it would be best to spend the time and money to build up a customer base, brand, IPR and revenue stream themselves or whether it is better to just buy it ready made. Generally, this solution works for niche businesses that focus in a very specific area. Large companies will often conduct strategy reviews that look at how they are serving their customer base with a particular set of products or services. This will often give rise to a gap in the service offering that they will want to fill to provide a full service. If you have the business that fills that gap and you can get yourself in front of them, there can certainly be a multiple million sale on the cards.

Overall, all these factors will benefit your business whether you want to achieve a multi-million sale of your business, whether you want to create a great lifestyle business or whether you just want to create something you can be proud of. And on the way it will allow you to create jobs, boost the economy and benefit your local community. And if you sell for a large sum, just think of all the good you could do with that, along with maybe just a few small treats for yourself.

Five Things Women Are Doing With a Fake One Million Dollar Bill – It’s Not What You Think

Everyone dreams of having a million dollars and now they can — even if it is fake.

There are several businesses today that print fake money and sell them as novelty items — and you don’t have to don’t worry about whether they’re legal or not.

The Federal Reserve has officially declared that fake million dollar bills are legal to print, legal to sell and legal to own. They have also declared that the bills are not counterfeit because the US government never printed one.

The novelty bills being produced today look very much like real money. If anyone made a $20 bill or a $100 bill that looked that real, they would be in real trouble.

The real news is that women are making the most use of these fake bills and leaving men in the dust.

Five things women are doing with a million dollar bill to enrich their lives and increase their income

  • Attract the opposite sex: Women write their phone number on one and know it won’t be lost. Also, they’ve found that it’s a great way to start a conversation.
  • Trade show give-aways: Women hand them out and really draw a crowd to their booths. One women opened a briefcase full of the fake bills and the crowd at her booth blocked the aisle.
  • eBay: Many women include one with ever eBay shipment. Women say it’s easy to make customers happy when you include a little something extra with each eBay shipment.
  • Women in sales use use them to get past the gate-keeper: Women open a briefcase full of the fake bills and they get in to see the person in charge in a heartbeat. When the gate-keeper tells the boss that some woman with a briefcase full of money wants to see him, even corporate CEOs come out of hiding.
  • To say “Thanks a Million”: Women are mailing or handing their customers one of the bills and saying, “Thanks a million” and they’re doing this in all kinds of situations.

Bottom line: You can’t own a real million dollar bill, but you can use novelty fake ones to get you closer to making a million dollars and you can greatly enrich your life in the process. I don’t know why, but men are not taking advantage of this opportunity the way women are.