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MLA Full: "The Largest Theft of All Time." YouTube, uploaded by vlogbrothers, 29 March 2019,
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APA Full: vlogbrothers. (2019, March 29). The Largest Theft of All Time [Video]. YouTube.
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I thought this video was going to be a fun top ten list, then I realized that most of the theft in America is the rich robbing the poor. Literally! Not even in a roudabout way...literally not paying them for more than twenty billion dollars of work every year. This literally theft. No one goes to jail. Ever. It's cool. Don't worry...we have a minimum wage...ish.

The folks who defend wage theft say that:

1. Minimum wages prevent certain work from getting work done by undocumented immigrants and the very very poor. These people wouldn't have jobs at all otherwise! The laws are too strict!

2. Most wage theft is just poor management. The companies don't know it's happening! It's just the floor managers who are causing these problems! It's not a CEO's responsibility to know what their employees are up to! (that is exactly what their job is.)

3. It's not as big of a deal as big fancy non-profits think!

It is, of course, extremely difficult to measure...but surveys of workers regularly show a huge variety of different kinds of wage theft. Worried you might be being stolen from?

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{NOTE: Italics indicate narration; time stamps appear when there is an important visual on screen}

Good morning John.  I thought this was going to be a fun video, but it's not.  I'm sorry, it took a turn.  And it ended up making me real mad, so, join me on this journey!

In 2005, a group of 25 guys rented a property in the center of Fortaleza, Brazil and dug down underneath it, tunneling more than 250 feet to a bank vault.  On Saturday they broke through the vault and on Sunday they removed 3.5 tons of R$50 bank notes; a total that, converted to today's values, is around $100 million.

This was, depending on how you count, the largest bank robbery of all time.  And it's basically nothing compared to the largest thefts of all time.  For those, I had to look beyond what we traditionally think of as theft.  For one, it turns out that wasn't actually the largest bank robbery in history by a long shot.  For that, we turn to 2015, when a group of hackers in China, Russia, and Europe were able to extract somewhere between $300M and $900M from different banks using pretty common malware techniques, and none of them were ever caught, and none of the banks ever released how much was stolen, and none of the money was ever recovered.  And I didn't even know about this, and it happened like 4 years ago.

But of course the biggest thefts turn out to not be from banks-they're doing just fine actually-the biggest thefts are from people.  The list of very big scams is very very long, but let's look at the case of Gregor MacGregor.

During the mad rush of Europeans attempting to get rich by investing in South America in the 1800s, Gregor claimed that he was the "Cazique of Poyais" and began taking investments in a country that did not exist.  Now this wouldn't be quite so brazen if he hadn't put dozens of his investors onto two ships with women and children sailing free and then sent them over to Poyais where they arrived in an untouched jungle where most of them died.  So the murder angle makes this one a biggie for me.

When the Poyais bond market collapsed because it didn't exist, $4.5 Billion was wiped out.  Let's put that on the graph next to the "biggest robbery of all time." (2:00) And yet, even that ain't much when compared to Bernie Madoff.  He ended up stealing around $20 Billion??!  And he did not just steal from rich people, a lot of the money invested with him was from pension funds who were just trying to make money so that people retiring could live.

But here's where it really went South for me.  Instead of individual one-off crimes, I decided to look at property crime in general. (2:24)  All robbery, all theft, all burglary, all auto theft per year added up is less than Bernie Madoff stole.  Now this is per year, Bernie stole over a number of years, so it's not really a fair comparison, I guess. 

But since we're adding stuff up and looking at property crime, let's also add in the largest kind of property crime: wage theft.  (2:43) That's when an employer steals a worker's labor by not paying them the legally required wages and benefits.  Per year, somewhere between $20B and $60B of labor is stolen from workers in the U.S.  More than Madoff stole every year.  More than all other property crime.  More than every stolen car, burglary, shoplifting, all that stuff combined.  And yet while there are hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers who work on all those property crime bits, there are around 1,000 who work on wage theft.  And the companies doing it find it more efficient to pay the fines than to actually pay their workers, as Walmart has done 96 times in the last 20 years.  I myself know about wage theft because I actually got a wage theft settlement after working for Walmart for a summer.  (9:25)

So John, the biggest theft of all time, it's one that's ongoing, one that everybody knows about, that has profoundly more impact on the already disadvantages, one that most people have been a victim of, and one that almost no one has ever gone to jail for.  That... is quite a heist.  I'll see you on Tuesday.