During the last days of 2008 there were some robberies that occurred in New York City that caught some attention from the local press in connection with the general raise in crime that has occurred during this period of economic decline. However, 'petty' theft of tens, or hundreds, or even thousands of dollars during armed (and unarmed) physical assaults pale in comparison to the scale of deceit and robbery that can occur through legal means.
For example, hedge fund manager Bernie Madoff is accused of swindling investors, some as notable as Steven Spielberg, out of billions of dollars and, while under house arrest, was caught with checks made out to family members and associates worth approx. 173 million usd in an effort to hide his personal fund from persecutors. In addition, think of all the loan officers, banking institutions and appraisers who made a financial killing during the housing bubble and stand to profit from the subsequent government bailout. In contrast, the average bank robbery nets approx. $2,000. From a practical standpoint, if one is going to commit a crime in order to profit, while-collar crime demonstrably trumps petty larceny anyday (I mean you get the same prison sentence more or less).
But the point here isn't to condone or condemn either but to point out some of the things that are 'legal'. Various legal edicts, Papal Bulls, laws, statutes, constitutions, and the like have been passed since the Code of Hammurabi in 1760 BC providing the legal context by which the "State" and religious institutions have codified their actions. Think about 'The Conquest'. The vanity of man, whether 'Men of God' or not, who would draw up a map of the New World and divide it amongst two European powers. Lands with their own history and culture, claimed in the name of Kings and Queens. Rebellion amongst the Indians only fed the stereotypes of their 'savagery' and justified the continued occupation by the Spaniards. Similar to arguments that Iraq must remained occupied until the violence dissipates without the admission that the violence may be in part due to the actual occupation. Or how, sixty years ago, Israel was craved out of occupied lands by the legal proclamations of the dying remnants of the British Empire and today are denying sovereignty to the very people whose land was taken in order to create the Israeli state in the first place.
It would be illegal go into someone's residence and physically remove them but you could buy up all the land around them, inflate the prices, in order to 'force' out residents. Crime doesn't pay, unless one can change the law and legalize the 'action'. Sort of like rendition, torture, and waterboarding (practiced since at least the Vietnam War). Petty crime, most associated with deviants, inner cities, and minorities, allows for small-time gains but to really obtain substantial wealth through deceptive means necessitates legal, institutionalized and socially-accepted channels through which actions can be executed. Any great fortune, it is said, has infamy as a partner and perhaps if people realized a suit and a briefcase was more effective than a doo-rag and a weapon, my friend with 'street dreams' wouldn't have court records...or at least Swiss bank accounts in addition to their legal issues.
"Mas puede la pluma que la espada" (The Pen is mightier than the sword)