Years ago, when we lived in Boston, we were broke and (by and large) unemployed. It was a very cold winter, and our heat had been cut off. We had a fireplace – but we didn’t have wood to burn. I therefore became fairly expert at shoplifting those faux-log things from the nearby Caldor’s. I didn’t feel bad about it then, and thinking back on it I still don’t feel guilty. It’s okay to shoplift from large corporations to get things you actually need. The harm to Caldors of losing the faux-logs is considerably less, realistically, than the harm to us of having nothing to burn in our fireplace.
Other kinds of shoplifting – if done from Wal-Mart or the equivalent – don’t particularly bother me, although I don’t shoplift anymore myself. (It would be nice if I was too moral to shoplift, but truthfully I suspect I’ve just got too vivid an ability to imagine consequences.)
To tell you the truth, other than a very poor relationship of risk to
reward, I don’t see what’s so immoral about stealing small amounts from
Wal-Mart. The harm caused by shoplifting from mega-corps seems extremely diffuse and theoretical; no one will miss a meal or shiver in the cold because someone lifted a walkman from a Fred Meyer.
Now, I do understand that overall, the efforts of thousands of shoplifters combined DO make things worse – they reduce profit for the chain, and (arguably) they therefore cause Wal-Mart to raise prices. (Or perhaps to pay Wal-employees less). But on the other hand, the shoplifters also create jobs for all those Wal-Mart security people who wander around trying to spot shoplifters.
In any case, the aggregate harm of thousands of shoplifters is rather like the aggregate harm of millions of Americans driving more than they need to, or eating meat, or any of hundreds of other minor harms to the zeitgeist. Yes, it’s bad, but it’s bad on such a minor level that I can’t feel any real anger at the individuals involved.
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