“I just stole to eat.”
—Joseph Peterson, a homeless man in San Francisco, lamenting the demise of the Whole Foods in his neighborhood and attempting to draw a material distinction between the rampant theft from the store by those seeking to sell what they stole, and his own shoplifting.
And there it is! In such carefully crafted rationalizations lie the seeds of societal rot. Peterson thinks his personal shoplifting—he cops to stealing macaroni and cheese and chicken from the hot food bar at the now closed grocery store a number of times, but believes that his theft is justifiable, unlike those who wanted to sell their heist for cash. Also believing his thefts were justifiable are many of San Francisco’s elected officials. They also believe that the “bad” shoplifters in Peterson’s view are equally justified, and in fact they are. What’s the ethical difference between stealing food to eat it, and stealing food to sell and use the money for other needs? There is none. In both cases, the expense of the food stolen is borne by other city residents, who will have to pay higher prices for their food, unless the prices become so high that they resort to theft as well.