Breaking Bad Questions

Friends finally convinced me to watch Breaking Bad. Here are a few questions about the series, in no particular order…

Why do all of the meth customers seem to be in extremely poor health? The Wikipedia article on meth says that the drug was heavily used by the Germany military during World War II yet it is hard to imagine a fearsome or successful army of meth heads from Breaking Bad. The Wikipedia article says that Americans interested in losing weight took the drug all through the 1950s and 1960s. They weren’t called “meth-heads”. What makes meth circa 2010 so much more dangerous than meth circa 1940 or 1960? [This Washington Post article says that many meth users are “functional” so perhaps this is like peanuts, which have gone from “staple” to “poison” during my own lifetime.]

I got on the subject of Breaking Bad with a divorce litigator that I interviewed for a book project. She asked “Why does Jane [Margolis, Jesse’s girlfriend, an attractive apparently healthy young woman,] get so excited about $ 500,000 in cash? If she wanted money without working she could just collect child support.” [Note that Jane lives in New Mexico, a state where unlimited child support is available and a couple of one-night encounters with high-income guys would have her at $ 500,000 in profits within a few years. (New Mexico courts will also order a father to pay for day care on top of child support, so she wouldn’t actually have had to take care of any children.)] Regarding the risk that Jane would lose custody of profitable children due to her heroin use, the attorney said “Only if she came into the courtroom with a needle stuck in her arm.”

Similar question: Lydia Rodarte-Quayle seems devoted to a child and also to making cash via some means other than working. She lives in Texas, a state where child support is capped at about $ 20,000 per year (only a $ 10,000 per year profit over the USDA-estimated cost of having a child in the home). But instead of taking the risk of being involved with drug trafficking, why wouldn’t she simply move to Wisconsin, California, or Massachusetts and collect her millions through legal tax-free child support? [See the “Women in Science” article for more details on real-world child support profits.]

I was talking about the show with a friend from Israel and he said “When they’re setting up the meth lab under a commercial laundry on the show why don’t any characters mention the Ayalon Institute’s ammunition factory under a commercial laundry[, built and operated in the 1940s in Israel]?”

With a business executive friend we wondered “How is that Gus can kill his henchman Victor  and then be confident of hiring a replacement? Most legal American businesses struggle to recruit reliable help.” Why is it apparently so easy to find people to work in an illegal enterprise where there is a risk of imprisonment? [see my talent management consultant posting]

What do actual criminals do to launder illicitly earned cash? Walter and his wife have to run a car wash to launder a few million dollars. But don’t major drug operations make more money than that? Could they not just drive a lot of cash across the border and deposit in a bank in a countries where not as many questions are asked? What do real-world drug lords do with U.S.-generated cash? [I did a quick Google search and found this CBS News article about HSBC helped to launder billions (separately, the daughter of the top HSBC exec became a child support profiteer, working her 6-year-old daughter for about $ 600,000 per year (NY Daily News)). But the article doesn’t say how it actually works. Do customers just back up a minivan full of cash to the bank’s loading dock?]

And why didn’t Walter move himself and his family across the border after he’d made $ 20 million or whatever but before he’d been caught? He was able to get $ 11 million in cash into each 55-gallon oil drum. Couldn’t he have smuggled a couple of those across the border? At that point he and his family become tourists in one or more foreign countries. U.S. law enforcement might look for Americans spending beyond their legally declared incomes here in the U.S. but would the police in Germany investigate an American tourist who was paying for hotel rooms, groceries, and car rental in cash? How about the police in Argentina or Brazil?

Is making pure meth truly challenging? If the drug cartels that make a lot of meth are big and well-organized, as the media and government tell us that they are, why can’t they do as good a job as other Mexican manufacturing enterprises? Aren’t there Mexican pharma firms making drugs at least as complex as meth and to international standards of purity? If so, why couldn’t people who had worked in legal pharma in Mexico set up a factory making meth as good as what Walter and Jesse were making?

Why are these criminals always chatting on their phones, wired and mobile? Wouldn’t they be worried about wiretaps? At least take the trouble to speak in codes?

Finally, could it be that Breaking Bad will discourage young Americans and Mexicans from choosing crime as a career? None of the criminals on the show seem to be able to hold onto their savings or lives in the long run. Aside from missing out on a lot of excitement and a few spending sprees they all would have better off working at Walmart.

[And yes I do recognize that the show is fictional and some of the above is likely just to make it more dramatic. An expat family living in a resort hotel in San Carlos de Bariloche and periodically dipping into their cash barrel to pay for hot chocolate wouldn’t make for must-see TV.]

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

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