August 05, 2004

A Cavalcade of Idiocy

IT IS NOT OFTEN we find something so particularly stupid it makes our blood boil any more, but we must thank James Lileks for alerting us to a gross instance of such imbecility. We must also thank the good people at Pfizer Inc. for developing the sedative that we took immediately after reading about it. Without them, our system would have undoubtedly collapsed again and we'd have spent a week in hospital.

Mr Lileks, you should know, has alerted the world to this fun group of people. This fun group of people apparently believes that capitalism oppresses the common people or some such nonsense. Therefore, they came up with the idea of switching bar codes on various store products. They also developed a rant against bar-coding. It may be satire, although it was so unfunny that we wonder if they weren't actually serious. Hell, it was so unfunny we're surprised they left the old saw about bar codes being a satanic plot out. You know, mark of the Beast and all that.

Anyway, Mr Lileks has done the yeoman's job of ripping all this idiocy to shreds, but our main complaint is broader. Quite frankly, we don't understand how people can attack capitalism as a system when they have no demonstrable grasp of how economics works. As Exhibit A in this case, we present the following rant from this fun group of people:

It is our contention that with such gross injustice on the part of these large corporations, that consumer theft is a process that works to radically liberate the stolen capital. Whil Consumer theft is still below the yearly estimated averages of Corporate theft, it is working hard to bring justice where courts have failed. It should also be noted that the risks associated with consumer theft are usually much greater than those associated with consumer theft. This means that an 18 year old girl stealing a set of AA Batteries from Wal Mart faces tougher faces most likely a longer prison sentence than a board of directors member of Enron corporation responsible for villions of dollars in theft. It's a tough job liberating capital, but due to uncontrollable circumstances our heroes are out there in the aisles everyday.

Good God. We mean, they didn't even edit the thing before they posted it, something which Mr Lileks also gleefully notes. It amazes us that such people think they should be taken seriously. (VILLIONS of dollars indeed!)

Now, in the interest of harmony, we certainly do not mean to suggest that everyone who takes a certain economic view of life is lacking in intelligence. This is clearly not the case. Still, why -- HOW -- can people continue to believe, in this day and age, that outright theft is liberating capital? For one thing, it's stealing, and that's wrong. For another, stealing goods in and of itself does not represent any type of capital gain, as the capital is not generally convertible.

If Person A takes a box of cookies from the store, Person A has .... cookies. We sincerely doubt that Person A is going to stand in a back alley trying to unload his illegally-obtained 8.6 oz. package of Pepperidge Farm (R) Soft Baked Chocolate Chunk Dark Chocolate Brownie Cookies. And even if he did, he would not profit much from it, as they are already cheap. Cookies are not a scarce good.

Now, we will cede that if Person B steals a consumer good -- say he absconds with a spatula from the home goods department -- he will not be spending the capital he would have spent on the spatula in the first place. Yet this savings would be so low that Person B cannot help but dissipate said capital on something like his electric bill. Capital is no good if it is wasted. So, clearly, stealing goods is almost always useless -- even on a large scale. Look how often we hear about thieves who abscond with a freezer-trailer of meat.

This leads us to our final point, which is by far the most important. Namely, theft -- no matter how large or small -- destroys capital. It is not merely that theft acts as a disincentive to produce things, either.

Let us say that Shopkeeper C loses $30 in goods every day due to outright theft from the wretches taken in by this fraud of an idea. We can easily see that $30 per day adds up to $10,950 per year. This is enough money to provide some poor high school kid with a job for the summer. It is probably enough to spend on capital goods, such as a sandwich wrapper or something. If that money is pumped into the economy, it creates more money.

If people want to be better off, they can start by helping the authorities crack down on theft of material goods from honest merchants and enterprises. Think about it.

This fun group of people claims that retail losses run $33.21bn per annum. Shoplifting reportedly accounts for $13.28bn at the high end. Now, think about what would happen if that $13.28bn was injected back into the economy.

* It would have the economic impact of lowering gasoline prices 10 cents per gallon, based on a $1.3bn/penny economic impact.
* It could fund New Jersey's Government for about six months.
* If the benefits were distributed equally among every American, it would represent an average cash benefit of roughly $13 to each American household, based on 103m American households.
* If every household in America put that $13 in a banking institution, it would have the effect of increasing the money supply by $117 billion, based on U.S. banks having a reserve requirement of 10 percent. We do not claim this would impact interest rates at the national or international level. We do, however, submit this could make getting a car loan slightly easier -- after all, the banks aren't going to just sit on the money. And that would create MORE money, and so on. That's how capitalism works.

Given all this, we can't see why people smart enough to put together a Web site, no matter how badly-edited, would encourage theft. Oh, they say it's satire in their disclaimer, but they're doing it just the same. Then they have the gall to attack perfectly legitimate forms of commerce as theft -- although that does not hold, apparently, when it comes to giving them donations, donations which by their definition are tainted with workers' blood and the stink of capital. As they say:

Donations are accepted and gifts given in return not as a way to make a profit but only as a way to support the existence of this site which we hope to see become a discussion point for the large gap between corporate and consumer theft.

Oh, come now. Surely such an enlightened group can fund such an endeavor out of the goodness of their hearts!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at August 5, 2004 10:55 PM | TrackBack

Yeah, it's funny, what it really boils down to is the fact that these numbnuts think stealing is OK. Lovely.

P.S. Nice jab at Jersey there.

Posted by: simon from jersey at August 6, 2004 09:19 AM

Gee, and here I thought I was subtle!

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at August 6, 2004 10:17 AM

C'mon Ben...there are plenty of people that make a nice living selling stolen goods...they're callled black marketeers. By some estimates, it accounts for about 30 percent of ALL economic transactions in non-OECD countries, perhaps more.

No, I don't think that stealing is right, but I don't think it's entirely wrong, either. It's non-market allocation of resources, baby. How the hell do you think we got the lovely state of California?

Posted by: Cullen at August 8, 2004 03:43 PM