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This diary entry is written by neoeno. ( View all entries )
 
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Ethical ShopliftingCategory: (general)
Tuesday, 27 May 2008
06:24:29 PM (GMT)
Brought this subject up on the FT and received a bit of resistance. This was my
question:

Stealing products, selling them (with the price down a bit), and donating the money
to charity: Ethical or not?

For the purpose of this we will assume I'm stealing from a mid to large chain of
shops. Well call them, oh.. I don't know, Bainsbury's.
We'll also take on an ethical utilitarianist point of view.
Try to keep an open mind. Most people who haven't considered this in depth will
believe that shoplifting is wrong simply because that's what we're taught. Not to say
you haven't thought about it, but still.

So who loses out if I steal the product.. we'll call it Quoke?
Well, the Quoke company won't lose out, because its already sold the product to
Bainsbury's.
On the surface of it, it seems Bainsbury's loses out. But... Bainsbury's isn't a
person, and people are what matters tbh. So which people lose out?
  • The workers? Nope, they've got a fixed wage.
  • The security staff? Maybe, they might lose a bonus for letting too much shoplifting go on, but then again, who imposes that? Bainsbury's, not me.
  • The shareholders? Maybe, they all get a slice of the profit of the company, so they might conceivably get less profit. How much less? Perhaps a few fractions of a penny if it's a big theft. But is that even true?
Shops aren't stupid, they know people are going to steal their goods. They put in loss-prevention systems to minimise the loss they make when someone tries to steal something, but they'll only put in as much as is worth their while (i.e. if their security system costs more than they would lose to shop lifters were it not there, they'd get rid of it). Furthermore, the shops aren't going to just take the hit on their profit. No, they shift the price onto the buyers. So, when you buy a product, you're also paying a little slice of the amount that shoplifters cost the company. So, again, it seems like shoplifters are making things worse by driving prices up. But, again, the company could easily take the hit, and they have far more money, so who is the 'criminal' here? The shoplifter who steals (consider what their reasons might be), or the company (who has FAR more money than you and the shoplifter combined) that reflects the cost back onto you rather than taking the hit itself? What's more, who drives up the prices more, the shoplifters or Bainsbury's? (Clue: It's Bainsbury's) And, what do you think happens to the surplus of money that occurs if people don't shoplift as much? They don't give it back, that's for sure. Not such a simple question, right? Going on to the next stage, we'll look at who loses/gains from me selling the item back for less than its price in the shop.
  • The consumer? They win, since I'm selling it to them for a cheaper price. Though, again, the consumers as a group do lose from the last stage. But the person who bought the product off of me is better off.
That's it. Simple. Next stage: donating the money to charity. Say I donate to... the red cross. Who gains/loses?
  • Someone who needs medical attention gains, perhaps their life is saved, perhaps they keep a limb, who knows?
So, here is what we have identified: Losses: The consumers as a group pay a small amount more. Gains: The woman whose life is saved. Even if we leave it at that, we can see pretty easily that the net ethical capital is in favour of shoplifting. The loss itself... I'm not even convinced it's a true loss. The customers pay the surplus whether I shoplift or not, they don't have a choice one way or the other. And, if you're angry that the shoplifters are takin' all ur moneys, ask yourself: when I purchase, who pockets the most of your mone? It isn't the shoplifters, it isn't the workers, it's the people who own the business. Sure, if they just took home a fair wage, it would be fine. But they don't, they take home maybe more than you'll earn in your whole life. Do they need it? Very probably not. Do they need it more than the charities? Most certainly not. Is it fair? Is it fair that they have loads of money when most people don't have a snowdrop's chance in hell? No. -Steve P.S: Yes, this entry is angry, but it's something I'm rather passionate and (yes) angry about, for obvious reasons.

Comments 
Oroborus21 says:   27 May 2008   683915  
well there are at least a few problems with your economics..and its
wrong just in principle..theft or to steal

....simply put if something doesn't belong to you, it is wrong to just
take it....even the smallest child understands or should understand
that and doesnt need any utilitarian argument bout it....society (and
the law) only recognizes very special and limited circumstances that
are exceptions to this axiom and even then will often require
compensation afterwards...

but let me list another "victim" which you left out in your
analysis...

when you take something that you didn't pay for it is a wrong to the
person who does buy the item....(im not talking about the economics of
it) im talking about a personal moral wrong to the person who pays for
their item...

what makes you better than him or her?  

that he or she should pay for the item incurring some damage to
himself/herself and others not is a system which is fundamentally
unfair and elitist

also the principle of a charity (and i sit on the board of one) is to
take money from persons who have GIFTED their own valuables/money to
the charity...

this is a harmonious principle that is karmic....and good for the
giver, the receiver and the benefactors....

but one cannot righteously and legitimately GIFT something which does
not BELONG to them..(possession is not equal to ownership)...so if a
thief has given a stolen item to charity it is a taint in the Karmic
chain....
 
neoeno says:   27 May 2008   592899  
You're making the mistake of equating morality with societal
normality. Private property is in no way a natural law. The fact that
the smallest child can be convinced of something says nothing of its
credibility.

The reason a small child might not steal is because they recognise
that it causes harm to others. This is a largely universal ethical
principle, do no harm. This does _not_ equate with do not steal, they
are connected in some instances but not in most.

Lets make this more direct. If I were a starving homeless person, and
the only food for miles and miles was stored in a shop with a
ruthlessly profit-orientated owner, such that the decision was
basically steal or die, would it be ethical to let myself die or steal
the food?

In some, mostly dead, societies, if someone said "Oh, I've decided,
this land is mine", they'd be laughed out of the tribe. The very
foundation of capitalism is the seizure of mine and your resources. If
I were to set up camp on a bit of land I hadn't paid the owner for, or
even plant some seeds and harvest the crop, I would be told to move
along. Why? Do I not own the land, the rain, the sun, just as much as
the person who owned it? What gives them that right? They steal my
possessions, the only way I can live is either give away my labour
(more on this in a second) or steal it back.

In some, mostly dead, societies, if someone said "Oh, I've decided,
this land is mine", they'd be laughed out of the tribe. The very
foundation of capitalism is the seizure of mine and your resources.
Theft.

On labour. Capitalism is based off the idea of profit (taking more
than you give, what does this remind you of?), and labour is no
different. I give my labour, they give me money that equates to far
less than my labour was worth (otherwise profit could not exist). How
can they get away with this? Because I have no choice if I want to
survive and follow the laws of the land.
 
neoeno says:   27 May 2008   914963  
Two ways we are stolen from, every single day, on a massive
scale. Sure, I could take on a spirit of nonviolence and just let them
do it, with the hope that some karmic deity is going to sort it all
out, but it hasn't worked for the past one hundred and fifty years or
so, and it certainly isn't going to work now. To quote Jay-Z:
They say an eye for an eye, we both lose our sight
And two wrongs don't make a right
But when you been wrong and you know all along that it's just one
life
At what point does one fight?

If it's wrong to take back enough to survive, if it's wrong to take
back to try to help people survive rather than the fat cats buy
another private jet or execute a few more union leaders in Colombia
(see: Coke Cola), then paint me a sociopath, 'cause it sure seems
right to me.

-Steve.
 
Oroborus21 says:   28 May 2008   914747  
Morality and "natural law" are distinct things. Any definition of
morality clearly states that morality is predicated upon a system
agreed upon by a society.

I have no problem with societies which do not recognize individual
property rights and prefer instead some form of common or communal
ownership or even operate under a system of no ownership (many native
american cultures had such systems), but that is not the system
described in your shoplifting scenario.

In your shoplifting scenario, it is clear that there is an expectation
of individual property rights, otherwise it would not be "stealing" or
shoplifting at all.

The fact is no matter how you attempt to justify the utility or
purpose of the goods or devalue the loss to the property owner, it is
still a violation of the property rights of the owner to shoplift.

Moreover, you didn't address one of my basic objections which is that
when the vast majority of persons must pay for their loaves of bread
to allow and condone a few to take their bread without payment is by
definition an elitist and unfair situation.  (Even in welfare or
subsidy situations at least it is understood that the government is
paying on behalf of those who can't afford to pay for themselves.)

As for your starving person example, this is one of those extreme
cases which I classified as a general exception which society (the
law) recognizes, namely it is called "necessity." But note as I said
previously, even in such cases of necessity (usually these are
"emergencies"), while the normal "rules" may be bent or the usual
punishment may be modified, in almost all cases, ultimately some form
of compensation is required after the fact.

But even without that, your scenario is flawed logically because it
assumes the question negatively of whether there are any possible
alternatives that do not require the shoplifting. In your
illustration, it is easy to see that even a "ruthlessly profit
orientated shopowner" would be satisfied by any number of alternatives
including gifting the bread and writing it off as a tax deduction to
more likely, putting the homeless person to work for an hour sweeping
the floors or stacking boxes or any number of jobs which might "earn"
him the right to the bread.
 
neoeno says :   29 May 2008   892942  
I'll repeat: You're making the mistake of equating morality with
societal
normality.

Morality is not a social phenomenon, it is personal and individual.
Society and nature, to an extent, define the starting points, but that
doesn't mean they're not subject to change in accordance with the
individual's values. It is absurd to say that anything that doesn't
conform to the 'mainstream' morality is immoral.

In your shoplifting scenario, it is clear that there is an
expectation of individual property rights, otherwise it would not be
"stealing" or shoplifting at all.
Circular logic. It's pretty obvious that I have to use the word theft
to explain the issue. To just totally ignore private property, while
great, would be a quickly stifled view and not very interesting to
write about.

The fact is no matter how you attempt to justify the utility or
purpose of the goods or devalue the loss to the property owner, it is
still a violation of the property rights of the owner to
shoplift.
Rights defined by whom? The state? Themselves? Who gave them the right
to set rights? Again, no one, but the populace were coerced into
accepting the decrees.

Moreover, you didn't address one of my basic objections which is
that
when the vast majority of persons must pay for their loaves of bread
to allow and condone a few to take their bread without payment is by
definition an elitist and unfair situation.
I did address this actually, just not directly. A large portion of my
post is purposed to explain how the whole system is unfair to the
working class (used figuratively here, as those who work and buy). If
I had a bunch of slaves and did all my whippin' stuff on them, and
some escaped and led free lives, would that be unfair? Damn right it
would, but the unfairness isn't the fault of the escapees, it's the
fault of slave driver. The struggle that the escapees won would
undoubtedly help inspire and thus free others.

And this is a point you very clearly failed to address: the general
unfairness of the [current] capitalist system (in the context of
shoplifting, purchasing, and labour).
 

 
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