Every week we get two magazines: The Economist and The Spectator. I know you should be able to tell my political affiliations from that, but don’t bother trying: even I don’t know what they are. And if I tell you that my favourite part of the former is its obituary, and of the latter Melissa Kite’s cinema review, you can see that I am not what one might call an intellectual consumer of print media. But years of obsession mean that I can spot the words “money laundering” at a hundred paces, and as I skimmed past Schumpeter’s business column en route to the obituary in The Economist this week (Alastair Burnet, in case you’re interested), I screeched to a halt.
The column is subtitled “Management lessons from Mexico’s drug lords”, and apparently the cartels are weathering the current economic downturn by matching product to market: cannabis is selling well in the US, while the main markets for cocaine are Britain and Australia. Thankfully, when health and safety have no influence and the penalty for selling contaminated cocaine is no higher than that for selling pure, you can save on pesky quality control costs. Staffing issues are tricky, “given that more than 10,000 employees are violently retired each year”, and public relations have to be handled delicately – mainly by paying generous contributions to your local police force, or by building churches. As a Mexican bishop, Ramón Godinez, explained: “There is no reason to burn money just because its origin is evil. You have to transform it. All money can be transformed, just as corrupted people can be transformed.” You heard it here first: money laundering is actually doing God’s work. I wonder who will be the first money launderer to float that as a defence.