I was robbed twice this week. Please don´t get me wrong, Mexico is a safe place to visit, however, just like in several big cities you have to be ware of petty crime. In my case, on Monday, I was stolen external car parts while I was at the gym and then on Wednesday (having borrowed my sister´s car), I parked the car outside of work and when I tried leaving I realized I was robbed the main throttle idle actuator, the computer, plugs, among other parts of the car.
First, you need to know that in Guadalajara, there is a street called “5 de febrero” (this is no secret, it’s known by everyone) it´s full of car workshops and here is precisely where you can find any stolen car parts. So, the way it works is that a group of youngsters go out into the city, steal all kinds of parts from different cars, sell them at “5 de febrero” and then they re-sell it to the owners when they go out looking for them. Of course, you can always go to the car agency and pay three times as much for new ones –your choice-. There are many aspects of these facts that could be analyzed, all actors of society are involved but what I want to look at today is the youngsters’ ability to sustain these illegal businesses.
Who are these thieves? They are young (14-25 approx) low income men (mostly) that may or may not be originally from Guadalajara, several come from other cities in the country looking for better opportunities since Guadalajara is one of the biggest cities in Mexico. Clearly, they have an understanding of demand and supply and they basically control the market since they make it their business to create the demand. They have an economic need and are hungry to have more than what they have at the moment. They enjoy the rush and adrenaline that comes from stealing. They have a big network: partners at the moment they steal, buyers for the parts they steal, contacts in workshops, relationships with the cops –they steal in broad day light and it makes no difference if there´s police circulating the area, which could imply possible involvement-, among others. Are these not characteristics that an entrepreneur may need? -perhaps the rush of stealing could be translated into the rush of making a good negotiation or a big sale-
In several occasions low income youth are turned down for jobs that require for them to have a higher education and either way they are quite low paying jobs. Let me just clear out the fact that I´m not in any way justifying the actions of anyone stealing, this is just plain wrong. I will however try to analyze their logic. They decide to take their futures into their hands and start a business. Not a legal business, but a paying activity that does in fact have some of the characteristics of a business. An activity, that in a way they are able to control how much they make in relation to how much they sell. They know that if they want to make more money they have to sell more car parts, fix more cars, etc.
Jeffery T. Ulmer and Darrell Steffensmeier, in their chapter “The age and crime relationship” in the book The Nurture Versus Biosocial Debate in Criminology: On the Origins of Criminal Behavior and Criminality state:
“it is now a truism that age is one of the strongest factors associated with criminal behavior. In fact, some have claimed, that the age-crime relationship is invariant, or universal across groups, societies, and times.”
They later note social factors that shape and structure criminal involvement, but they do mention that evidence shows a rise of crime in adolescence and a sharp decline when entering adulthood. They use the following chart to analyze age distribution in the US across historical periods.
Specifically for Mexico, even though it isn´t a chart of historical data, OAS.ORG (Organization of American States) published the following:
This data shows that in 2008 the delinquents detained by the state were mainly between the ages of 18 to 25, – consistent with the argument above. It doesn´t show at which point it rises, it doesn´t specify types of crime, it´s a general view and it’s based on the perception of the offendee.
Now Ulmer and Steffensmeier also mention:
“Although youth has always been seen as a turbulent time, social processes associated with the coming of industrialization and postindustrial age have aggravated the stresses of adolescence, resulting in increased levels of juvenile criminality in recent decades than in the more distant past.”
In this particular case it seems as though acquiring an organized illicit activity provides them enough money so that they can pay for their basic needs such as a roof, food, water, but it also gives them a kind of stability, a status, a sense of belonging, and reduces their stress levels associated with not having any of these. It appears as though, the possible generation of stress due to performing an illicit activity is less for some reason.
So, having stated that their basic needs are being covered, the following enumerates some of the entrepreneurial characteristics that they portray through their behaviour:
- Identify a problem
They understand the need for cars been fixed at a cheaper price than at the original car agency or dealer. Once the car warrantee runs out, most people will look for a cheaper alternative to fix their car, car parts or simply get a routine check up. In addition to this, they understood that even though they stole alien car parts, people are willing to pay them for getting back their own parts, which may not happen with other types of goods.
- Understand the market
They know everything there is to know about cars, why people buy the different types of cars, where in the city they can find the different types of cars, where in the country they could sell the whole car for or if just car parts are enough. They know where they can sell and re-sell, they understand their competitors and they know their competitive advantage. They even adapt to change and use technology to improve their processes.
- Negotiation skills
They are fully aware that the local police could drive by or that the person that could buy from them will probably be very angry. They however understand their needs and negotiate their way to continue their business as if it was fully legitimate.
- Competitive/they know their business and do it well
Not only are they creative enough to have a strategy to get the parts of the car they need in less than five minutes (and quick exit strategy in case they have to run from the police), but they also make sure not to actually damage the car so that they can “fix” it later on and warrantee that they could leave the car “as good as new.” This way, they compete in price, “quality” and time, since they could be faster than the legitimate car agency. Basically, they are very good at what they do and they are always up to date with the car industry.
No matter the ups and the downs of the market, the risks involved or the hard times they may face, they get back up and they either try a different strategy, a different zone or a different car brand but they stay in business.
All of these could be transferable into a legitimate business. Higher education or not they are out there making a living, couldn´t they, with the right guidance, find a profitable business that doesn´t break the law and that doesn´t harm other people? Of course the questions fall like a cascade when analyzing this topic, such as, what is the right guidance? Is it something that could interest them? If so, how can one approach them? Who should approach them? Would they be better off in university? If they went, would they find a job that could allow them to earn as much as they did? Does the educational system take into account the needs of low income youth once they graduate, or does the system serve the interests of the privileged and only educate youth to serve them? When do ethics come in? Can their ethic be modified? What are the human development factors in play?
I´m incredibly angry and basically broke, having had to pay for two car thefts, I just really think their skills could be put to good use for both themselves and society as a whole. Too many actors are in play, too many facts of a broken system but still, there is something there that could be turned around I believe.