Being Phil Laak … Gambling against the system

Losing the money to the law isn’t worth the risk

If you are going to gamble, it is not only important to do the math, but to also recheck the math every so often. The math sometimes changes.

Let me explain by example.
In California, we have freeways. (They call highways highways on the east coast because of tolls etc., but here in the hippy dippy trippy world of California the highways are called freeways, because (yup, you guessed it) the highways are free.) The freeways here often have carpool lanes. And if Johnny Law catches you in one during rush hour it will set you back $481. Additionally, you will be late to wherever you were going. And in some cases, you will end up in a traffic school class (~$25) to avoid higher insurance costs.

The steep fine does the trick for most. A $481 ticket is just too pricey. Just knowing it is against the law is plenty for many. And others are tempted but just never pull the trigger. And then there are the occasional few who look at it as more of a math problem than anything else.

Cost (per ride) = (Chance of getting pulled over) x (Frictional costs associated with getting caught.)
From 2000 to 2002, I made the twice weekly commute from my place to Lucky Chances Casino. The 90 minute ride was cut to a mere 30 minutes when I was willing to skirt the law and hop into the carpool lane. I wondered. What if I were to make a habit of this? What would my average cost per ride be? Guessing I was about 5 percent per trip to get nailed by Johnny Law, I was able to estimate the actual cost per ride. The fine back then (2000-2002) was about $350. To that I added an additional $150 in frictional costs (aggravation etc.)

5% * $500 = $25
25 dollars?!! Sign me up. At the time, I felt like this was a bargain. I rode that carpool lane with zero cognitive dissonance. It was pure. Never got pulled over either! For two year straight, I never once even had a sweat. Probably a combination of running good and being way off on my guess of it being 5 percent to get nailed. (200 rides and never once getting nailed. Surely the 5 percent estimate was way too high.) Anyway … To this day I am still filled with warmth and satisfaction whenever I think about it. Interesting that such a small thing could have such a lasting glow over a full decade later.

OK, big deal. I beat the system for a bit. Whoopdedo.

Phil Laak

So what is all the fuss about RE-checking the math?

Last week, I found myself in rush hour traffic and happened to have a decent pile of cash with me. (A mostly rare event as I am a huge fan of just wiring whenever the amount is significant.) As I was crossing over to the carpool lane, I had a pre-cog flash of what a disaster it would be if I got nailed for being in the wrong lane and had my pile of cash taken from me. Civil forfeiture was on my mind and it got me to recheck the math for sure.
What is civil forfeiture and how does it change things?

Civil forfeiture laws allow the government to take cash, cars, homes and other property suspected of being involved in criminal activity. The property owner does not have to be charged with a crime to permanently lose his property.
I encourage you to watch a very funny and incredibly eye opening video. Go to YouTube and search for “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Civil Forfeiture” It is both funny and informative. The amounts being seized keep increasing year after year and I was very keen on keeping my cash in my hands, not the governments.

Yup, the cost of getting caught was way too high now. Even though I run good with the carpool gambit, this was no time to toy with the gods of justice. The idea that a $481 driving infraction could somehow lead to a civil forfeiture case was for sure a super long shot. But it was enough to tip the scales. Had I gambled and somehow lost my pile of cash, I think I could still find a way to have a laugh about it. But in the meantime I was going to keep a wide berth. I warmly embraced the rush hour traffic.

I set Pandora to a relaxing station and settled in for the snail’s pace ride along with all of my fellow law-abiding citizens. The traffic did not tilt me that day. Just the opposite in fact. I was enveloped with a feeling of comfort as I safely got that cash to where it was going.

Moral of the story. If you solve a problem once, great. But just make sure to make the proper adjustments along the way. And not to kill an ant with a sledgehammer, but you really should check out that John Oliver video. It is no accident that it has over 4 million views.

January 2015