Blue Collar Crime
Last night I had a dream in which I worked at some sort of hard labor. I walked to work, and apparently worked the night shift. I really recall the walk better than the job. On the way to work I passed the site where a crew on the day shift had been breaking up rocks. Maybe it really involved prison, though I don’t think I’ve ever dreamt of prison before, in which, I hasten to add, I’ve never resided. Anyway, one of the striking things about this site was that it was littered with abandoned sledge hammers. They were, essentially, brand new, free of evidence of impacts on the heads and each with a pristine handle.
On the way home the next morning I grabbed one.
So, I got to thinking. Was I participating, in the dream, in blue collar crime or not, and just how big a drag has it on the economy? What about white collar crime? Those were expensive tools, about thirty or forty dollars each at least, But they were abandoned, just going to waste. Probably not true, really, as surely someone would have liberated them, But the theft from the company was a fait accompli.
Who bears responsibility? Was it the worker who just walked away? The guy (me) who liberated the tool from becoming trash? The foreman who did not track it? The company itself, Which just passes the cost on to the source of payment for the project by including the cost of the tools lost in its bid on the original application? In all these cases, of course, the victim of the theft is the one who bears ultimate responsibility for the project. More often than we like to admit, that turns out to be the taxpayer, or, for lack of a better term, “us.”
And what about white collar crime? We’ve all done our share of that, I’d bet, if you count the pads of paper and staple pullers that wind up on our desks at home. Or maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, before the cops come to get me on some anonymous tip, let’s look a bit closer at both phenomena, blue and white.
First of all, very little of the total expense probably is represented by expensive tools, although the ease with which you find good Polaskis and McClouds in the garages of Forest Service employees belies this claim. Truth is, they are not as easy as the pad of paper to walk away with, nor as easy to rationalize the theft of.
Secondly, I’m virtually certain that, like the cost of cheating on our taxes, the cost is much higher than we are inclined to admit.
Thirdly, the worker is much more likely to suffer reprisal for the crime than the company or the supervisor. For one thing, its fairly easy for foremen to make it easy for honest employees to remain honest, or to catch those who don’t want to be. Unless we’re talking the pad of paper, of course. in the dream, I carried the sledge hammer along the highway, in clear view of all passing cars, and was passed by my foreman. Would he fire me, even though my crew had not used sledge hammers that day? Maybe. Would the probable defense provided me by my union in those circumstances imply culpability on their part?
It’s not always so easy to know the best thing to do. After all, wasting a good tool isn’t right either, so what right has the foreman to fire me? Yet he might. And no one would probably blame him.
But nobody is going to fire me for a pad of paper. Or at least I hope not.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave!