White collar criminals, defined

Though far from being criminals of the first order, Malmström and Mohrén were, as has been said, rather good at their job. The big-time criminal does not get caught. The big-time criminal doesn’t rob banks. He sits in an office and presses buttons. He takes no risks. He doesn’t disturb society’s sacred cows. Instead he devotes himself to some kind of legalized extortion, preying on private individuals.

Big-time criminals profit from everything—from poisoning nature and whole populations and then pretending to repair their ravages by inappropriate medicines; from purposely turning whole districts of cities into slums in order to pull them down and then rebuild others in their place. The new slums, of course, turn out to be far more deleterious to people’s health than the old ones had been. But above all they don’t get caught.

This remarkable passage, so utterly contemporary, was published in 1972, and in Sweden, as you might guess from the character names. Yet, yet … how much has changed?

I’ve been re-reading The Locked Room, the crime novel from which it came. It, along with the nine other Martin Beck books, was written by the Swedish husband and wife team, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. I re-read all the books every couple of years, because they are nonpareil, perfect and enthralling every time I pick them up.

I hadn’t been reading The Locked Room to discover relevance to our own society. But there it is, anyway.

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