The biggest crime in America: unregulated capitalism

Our priorities are all screwed up. The wrong people are in jail.

In dollar terms, what group of Americans steals the most from their fellow citizens each year?

The answer might surprise you: It’s employers, many of whom are committing what’s known as wage theft. It’s not just about underpaying workers. They’re not paying workers what they’re legally owed for the labor they put in.

It takes different forms: not paying workers the federal, state, or local minimum wage; not paying them overtime; or just monkeying around with job titles to avoid regulations.

No one knows exactly how big a problem wage theft is, but in 2012 federal and state agencies recovered $933 million for victims of wage theft. By comparison, all the property taken in all the robberies of all types in 2012, solved or unsolved, amounted to a little under $341 million.

One of the nice things about stealing that much money is that you can buy off people to cover your criminality. Also, we have these ideological fanatics — Libertarians and Republicans and Conservatives — who will leap to the defense of the Invisible Hand’s right to pick pockets.


  1. says

    in 2012 federal and state agencies recovered $933 million for victims of wage theft.

    Not to worry! Conservatives will simply defund these agencies at the behest of our parasitic capitalist class, et voilà! The problem will disappear.

  2. Kreator says

    They should just be thankful they were given a job in the first place! The employees can change jobs if they want!

    Did I Libertarian right?

  3. rskurat says

    There was a saying floating around back after the 2008 meltdown that went something like “The best way to rob a bank is to run it or own it” mainly referring to bonuses but all the other shenanigans like preferential loans and real-estate deals, which are merely corruption by other means.

  4. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 4:
    yeah, I remember stories of “golden parachutes” given to CEOs who drove their companies into ruin, not quite bankruptcy, but acquisition by competitor. Or who downsized the company to a fraction of its workforce and given huge stockbonuses (1000’s of shares of $100/shr given for $1/shr) for reducing their salary to $1 only to see the stock value skyrocket into billions (essentially).
    Failure at being CEO meant being fired with a $10,000,000 severance check.
    I always said, with all my friends, “I could fail just as well as that CEO, let me try, I try to cope with that pittance of a severance check.”

  5. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Keep in mind the article only scratches the surface in terms of what wage theft is. It also includes things like illegally docked pay, illegal fines and fees an employer will deduct from an employee’s wage, and stolen tips, just to name a few more. People can be very creative in finding ways not to pay their employees what their owed.

    irisvanderpluym wrote:

    Not to worry! Conservatives will simply defund these agencies at the behest of our parasitic capitalist class, et voilà! The problem will disappear.

    Don’t forget, repealing the laws. It’s taken as an article of faith that American businesses are far too burdened by red tape, and that it clearly needs to be eliminated for the sake of the beloved Job Creators class. As a side benefit, when wage theft is legalized, it will no longer considered theft, and the numbers will drop! Win-win!

  6. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Need more coffee. The “what their owed” should be “what they’re owed.”

  7. says

    ck, the Irate Lump:

    Don’t forget, repealing the laws.

    Yes indeed. Or an old favorite, narrowing the purview of an agency. Like blocking the CDC from studying gun violence.

  8. Andrew G. says

    The authors of certain books had some choice comments on this issue:

    Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

    Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

    Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
    and his upper rooms by injustice;
    who makes his neighbors work for nothing,
    and does not give them their wages;

    You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.

    You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.

    Funny how those who supposedly regard these books as divinely authored or inspired so rarely mention this.

  9. robro says

    What’s really disturbing is how many wage earners are out there right now supporting the efforts of Conservatives, Libertarians, and Republicans…and even some Democrats…to get elected on platforms of reducing government regulation and interference of business. Many people lack a healthy self-interest.

  10. penalfire says

    The first thing to go in a free market would be corporations. Limited liability, government-guaranteed rights abroad that do not extend to individuals, patent monopolies, etc., violate free market principles.

    The left grants too much by using their language. The greatest abuses are not from the free market, but from before-tax upwards redistribution of wealth.

    I wish the left would stop referring to the U.S. economy as a “free market” or even as “capitalism.” At best what we have is government subsidized entrepreneurship.

  11. Zeppelin says

    It’s really bizarre to me that we in the West keep going on about democracy, but allow people to spend half their day under the power of dictatorial autocracies — corporations. Surely anyone who actually values democracy would insist that corporations be structured democratically, as well. Instead we let people run them like their own shitty little empires.

  12. whywhywhy says

    The biggest crime in America: unregulated capitalism

    Well only until the laws get changed to make wage stealing legal…

  13. unclefrogy says

    gee-wiz! I thought it was Unions that were stealing money from the working people with dues for political power.
    uncle frogy

  14. says

    When people say “less government, more freedom”, I’m always wondering what they mean.
    Usually it’s “there’s some regulation whose purpose I don’t understand, therefore it’s bad”. Few understand that when capitalists say it they mean that they actually want to remove your freedom unless you can pay for it.

  15. erichoug says

    Not good. I’ve been in the business world for going on 20 years now and one of the things I’ve learned is that you don’t screw with your employees money. It’s not just the law, it’s smart business sense. Turnover will kill you and your employees are almost entirely responsible for your success or failure. So make sure you pay them what you owe them.

  16. wzrd1 says

    My company is one of those thieving types, classifying every IT worker as a programmer, thereby avoiding all overtime laws and paying a flat salary, whether one works 40 hours per week or 80 hours per week.
    Of course, whenever I’m asked to work beyond 40 hours, I have an important meeting elsewhere, up to and including a staff meeting with God or something.
    Thus far, I’ve not been challenged on that bit, as the last time I vociferously objected, to the point of minor tirade and walked out, there was a datacenter wide interruption, with wildly diverging malfunctions.
    Getting space weather reports of upcoming geomagnetic storms can be a handy thing for planning one’s strategy in the high tech world. :)

    True story. Although, I’m still at a loss to explain why they’d choose a location so close to an area where the telluric current flow is so high and variable.

  17. mond says

    Its not just the USA capitalists that do it.

    British billionaire Mike Ashley admitted paying less that the minimum wage at his sports goods distribution centre.
    His company will now pay back more than a £1 milllion to workers.

    From some of the other stories to come out of the distribution centre, underpayment of one wages is just the tip of the iceberg in the shady work practices.

  18. Trickster Goddess says

    About 15 years ago I worked part time for a while at a supermarket owned by the largest food retail conglomerate in Canada. I caught them shorting my hours on my paycheque and confronted the supervisor about it. The supervisor told me that he was under orders from head office to cheat the employees on their hours. Most people never check so they get away with it. If they get caught, they apologize and correct the “error”, then a couple of months later start doing it again.

  19. Ichthyic says

    Give a man a gun and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank…

    …and he’ll take away all your guns!

    no. wait…

    Damnit! I never get this one right.

  20. Ichthyic says

    I’m surprised the Aetna threatening to dump Obamacare thing didn’t come up as a reference here.

    because, after record profits.. it was funny to see them saying Obamacare was making them LOSE money.

    and then, we find out the real reason was because Obama did not approve their mega-merger plans.

    so, IOW… they extorted an entire country so they could try and get federal approval for their mega merger plans.

    even REGULATED capitalism has fucking run amok.

  21. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Ichthyic #24, do you have a link? I wouldn’t be surprised, and tentatively accept your assertion, but I would like to see a link.

  22. Gorogh, Lounging Peacromancer says

    As an aside, just comparing the $933m figure with the $341m figure may give a skewed impression, too. I can imagine that most theft and robbery is reported and some value attached to it, whereas much of the wage theft etc. may go unnoticed, unreported or unprosecuted…

  23. says

    Germany only recently introduced a federal minimum wage. After that employers went creative deciding that some things simply weren’t work time ( like home care workers going from home A to B) or deducting “benefits” ( like waiters having to pay 1,50 per hour for “private consumption” )

  24. vaiyt says

    The reason people disobey rules is because there are rules. If the rules are removed, then people will be free to obey them.

  25. ponta says

    When I was younger, I had two employers steal from me. The first was a movie theater run by a couple of jerks who conned us out of being paid overtime. Eventually it got to the point where we were not only not paid, we were simply told to falsify our timecards or else not get paid. I quit and sued in small claims court, and won—mostly because they were dumb and thought I didn’t have their bank details.

    The second employer: the YMCA. An overseas branch. My contract said they got all my income as my visa sponsor (I’m not even sure if it was legal then, it sure isn’t now), but they commonly “let” us do outside work and keep the pay. After having gotten their express approval to do $700 an a specific job, I did the work—and only after the paycheck came, they said, “Thanks for the donation” and kept it. Then they announced they were cutting back on letting us out of the contract clause.

    My manager wasn’t actually even a Christian—he pretended to be one to get his position. He was the one who promised the money. The branch president was an actual Christian, though—and he was the one who made the decision to go back on the branch’s word and take my money.

    They also scammed me out of an apartment. When I arrived, they claimed they were “helping me” with the apartment down payments. When I quit the job but stayed in town, they kicked me out of my own place; turned out the part I “agreed” to pay was the non-refundable part—their “donation” was fully refundable—and the way they set up the contract, they got to keep the place while I got the shaft. In essence, they got *me* to pay for *their* apartment.

    At least the theater scumbags in my hometown didn’t pretend to be upstanding citizens.

  26. says

    Penalfire #11:

    I wish the left would stop referring to the U.S. economy as a “free market” or even as “capitalism.”

    You are right that the US (and most of the world’s) economy is not a free market. But it certainly is capitalism.

    Capitalism is a societal condition in which capital translates directly into political power. This is undoubtedly true in our world. It is a system in which the weight of your vote depends on the amount of capital you command. Capitalism is essentially in opposition to a truly free market in which everyone would have a fair chance to make some money. Capitalists generally do not want that, because they want more for themselves and so they seek to undermine the market. Free market libertarians who believe in some sort of idealistic version of “capitalism” are these capitalists’ useful idiots.

    Someone once told me he was a proud capitalist and that he really believed in the system.
    I asked him what he had in the bank.
    His debts (student loan, mortgage etc.) exceeded his modest savings and possessions.
    I laughed, but I took pity on him. I have met real capitalists, but he was not one of them.
    As far as I know he is still working just to make his payments. Perhaps when he is retired, capitalism will give him a rest.