The Economics of Boardwalk Empire
Searching through the numbers on the real life "Nucky" from HBO's Boardwalk Empire, we attempted to answer the question if crime really does pay. And from what we can tell—until the death or jail part—it certainly appears to.
The corrupt political boss Enoch "Nucky" Thompson portrayed by Steve Buscemi in HBO's prohibition-era epic Boardwalk Empire is based on a very real character who went by the name of Nucky Johnson.
The show's producers made the decision to tweak the character's surname in order to have more creative license when portraying the man who ruled the Atlantic City underworld from 1911 to 1941.While the show has played fast with some details and kept true to others, the final product is a captivating mix of fact and fiction. Author Nelson Johnson (no relation to Nucky) who penned the book Boardwalk Empire that the show is based on has commented that the show's Nucky is about 60% true to the historical Nucky.
As we here at Bundle are proud number-nerds who are far more partial to data and figures than we are to the human issues and existential questions inherent to the show, we thought it might be fun to rifle through some of the economics of Nucky Thompson (or Johnson, whatever) and run it all in 2012 dollars to decipher if crime does indeed pay.
As we found—until the jail or death part—it kinda does.
One thing that both real and fake Nucky share is that they conducted business from their homes at the beachfront Ritz Carlton Hotel, the tallest building in Atlantic county until the end of the 20s. The real Nucky was known to inhabit a suite of rooms for which he paid $5,000 per year in rent, roughly $57,000 per year in today's money. (This is all in addition to the three maids to maintain the place and apartment in New York City, and surely other, undisclosed properties.)
While $57k is not an outrageous amount for a home, keep in mind that was just to rent. Today, according to LendingTree.com, the average American today spends $12,732 per year to pay for the house they own based on a 30-year mortgage.
Today, the Ritz is still there, but reborn as a condominium. According to acboardwalkrealty.com, units at the Ritz today run from $68,000 for a 386 square foot studio up to $550,00 for the two-bedroom, 1,241 square foot penthouse suite. The latter is probably more Nucky's fashion, and he could have more than owned it for just 10 years of what he was paying to rent it.
The real Nucky was known for traveling around town in a chauffer-driven, $14,000 powder blue limousine. In 1941, the year of Nucky's arrest, $14,000 would translate to about $219,408 in today's money. According to americanlimousinesales.com, a new 2012 American-made stretched limousine can be picked-up for $75,000. However, a modern-day Nucky may have opted for a non-stretched luxury vehicle such as the Rose Royce Phantom, which runs about $300,000 in the US. So, he had a pretty good deal for back in the day. The Most Car-Crazy Cities In America.
And with all that money Johnson saved on transportation, he could use in other parts of his life, such as on his noted penchant for the finest clothes of the day. For example, during those cold south Jersey winters, he was known to don a $1,200 raccoon fur hat. In 2012 dollars, that's $18,806. For a hat. Click Here For The Most Exclusive Clothiers Near You.
On the surface, it would appear that Johnson had an apparent superhuman knack for stretching out his official Atlantic County Treasurers' salary of $6,000 per year (or a little less than 70 grand in today's money). Of course, Nucky had other forms of income.
At the time of his arrest for tax evasion (how many racketeers and traffickers of the day went down), Nucky was thought be earning $500,000 a year in bootlegging and "protection" money. To put this in some context: that would be $6,658,352 in 2012 money when the Volstead Act passed in 1919, and $7,836,020 by the time Johnson was finally arrested in 1941.
As part of his eventual sentence, Johnson was sentenced to ten years in prison and a $20,000 fine ($313,440 in today's money). Johnson was released on parole after serving four years at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, eventually taking a pauper's oath to avoid paying the full fine.
After his release, Johnson lived with his wife and brother in a house owned by relatives. He never returned to politics, but instead ended his working days returning to the booze business with the Renault Winery, the oldest commercial winery in New Jersey and one of the few wineries that survived Prohibition operating under a special license to produce sacramental wine. Enoch Johnson died in 1968 at the Atlantic Country Convalescent Home at the age of 85.
Many of Nucky Johnson's underworld expenses have, of course, been lost to history. But from what information we do have, it was obvious that he was a rich and powerful man who, in time, returned to a more earthbound middle class existence. Minus four years in the clink, he cruised along on a 31-year long criminal career that began in 1908 as the Sherriff of Atlantic Country. Taken as a whole, not a bad deal that included several decades at the top of his own little seaside empire.
Middle image: The Atlantic City Boardwalk shortly before Prohibition
brought in a vast new source of regional income.
Lower image: A rare victory against booze
You may also be interested in:
- Three Classy (But Secretly Affordable) First Dates
- The Best Cities To Pick-Up Women, Statistically Speaking
- Hot Dog-onomics: Breaking Down Ultra Premium Dawgs, Inch By Decadent Inch