Why Do People Steal? March 13, 2016Posted by geoff in News.
Liberals and conservatives have very different views of stealing. Conservatives place the blame for stealing directly on the criminal, and are not terribly receptive to excuses for this criminal behavior. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to look for reasons why a thief might have have extenuating circumstances, and why they should be given another chance.
I was mulling over this difference when it occurred to me that when I talk to liberals, they always assume that thieves are economically-driven to steal. That is, they steal to provide food and shelter for themselves and perhaps their families. I think most people, even black-hearted conservatives, would have sympathy for the thief in that case.
But conservatives don’t believe that’s the case. They believe that people steal for drug money or because it’s a convenient way to get some spending money. A much less noble motivation, and one that I would hope would erode even a liberal’s sympathy.
But who’s right? Is it drugs or food? Well, based on a survey of 422 inmates in Ohio, North Carolina, and Kentucky, liberals should harden their hearts a bit. The survey asked inmates how they typically spent the proceeds from their crimes (note that each respondent could pick more than one motivation):
This type of poll is likely to suffer from a bias toward “Living Expenses,” since it is the only somewhat virtuous response available. After all, it takes an honest thief to admit that they stole for drug money or to blow it on partying.
But even if we take “Living Expenses” responses at face value, it’s difficult to separate money stolen for drugs from money stolen for food. As an earlier study pointed out:
The majority of the offenders we interviewed were chronically poor and lurched from one financial crisis to the next. But most of these crises were of their own making; substance abuse and gambling exhausted their financial resources almost as quickly as they were accumulated. This created a vicious cycle, whereby the self -indulgent habits of our subjects propelled them deeper and deeper into financial desperation.
As you can see from the responses, at least some of the people who stole for drugs also stole for living expenses. Certainly they would have had more money for necessities had they not been spending it on drugs.
So there you have it. While there are probably people who resort to robbery to afford life’s essentials, they do not constitute the largest fraction of robbers. And conservatives are correct: robberies usually occur to support drug habits and frivolous spending.