Hunger Pains


Red alert! Call IT security immediately! The Nation has been hacked by right-wingers!

In the January 25 issue, they slipped in a vicious parody of left-wing craziness called “Asking for a Friend,” in which someone posing as a socialist condones the theft of private property as long as the victim meets certain politically incorrect criteria. This hit piece makes it look as if Democrats and socialists have no respect for the rule of law and utterly lack ethical standards and moral values.

Please be vigilant and do not allow this kind of dirty trick to appear in your pages again.

Eric Saund
san carlos, calif.


I was flabbergasted and horrified to read in Liza Featherstone’s advice for “Hungry but Principled” words to the effect that shoplifting doesn’t cost anybody much of anything. Or since employees do a lot of stealing, what the heck if customers do it too? Collectively, shoplifters and security measures cost these businesses several billions of dollars a year in the United States. These sums are mostly passed on to consumers, just like any other expense. In other words, we all pay the costs of shoplifting. It is not a victimless crime, or one that just hurts evil corporations. We all pay through higher prices.

I sympathize with someone truly hungry. It is easy to imagine circumstances in which I might end up starving. And like any other starving person, I would acquire food any way I could—illegally if I had to. But many shoplifters are not in dire straits (even Featherstone indicates that “Hungry but Principled” can make a choice), and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that the rest of us don’t pay for their actions.

James Larson
golden valley, minn.

Liza Featherstone Replies


My reply to the advice seeker who wondered if it was OK to steal food from chain stores incurred considerable dissent; the above represents only a sampling of the responses that The Nation received. Some readers seemed to think I was encouraging theft, though I actually suggested that shoplifting wasn’t the wisest way for the writer to cope with her financial distress, given the significant criminal penalties.

But I did say there was no good moral argument against stealing food from chain stores, especially if you’re struggling to afford it. And I wrote approvingly about political shoplifting in the context of the autonomist movement in 1970s Italy—a political climate that, I noted, was rather different from our own. I stand by my answer, but I’m happy to clarify my reasoning on the moral dimension of this question.

If we steal from a coworker’s locker, or from the Yemeni immigrant running a deli on our corner, we’re doing something wrong. To me, the wrongness doesn’t stem from the abstraction of property rights. Pickpocketing, breaking into a neighbor’s home and taking her computer, even stealing a newspaper from the local newsstand: These are all actions that sow distrust and make people feel unsafe. They leave us feeling that our community—perhaps the world—is a cruel, unstable place.

A large retail corporation doesn’t have such feelings and doesn’t deserve the consideration we reserve for sentient beings. We should always be kind and polite to the cashiers and other workers, but we have no such obligation to the business.

Indeed, if you’re outraged about the immorality of stealing, large retail corporations deserve your ire more than this advice columnist does. We provide them with tax breaks and get nothing in return—their faraway CEOs and shareholders prosper, while our children bring their own pencils to public school. The positions most retailers provide for our fellow citizens are low-wage, dead-end jobs—an institutionalized theft of the workers’ time. And with employees unable to eke out a living and given no health insurance, we subsidize these retailers (again) with our tax dollars in the form of food stamps or Medicaid.

Larson’s claim that, as consumers, we all pay for shoplifting, deserves a serious look. A CNN Money report, based on data from the UK-based Center for Retail Research, estimated that theft cost the US consumer $423 in 2010. That’s a lot of money for most Americans. But not only is more theft committed by store employees than by shoplifters (regardless of whether the culprit is starving, politically motivated, mad at the boss, or thrill-seeking); CNN reported that the far bigger theft problem is from organized crime—gangs who steal goods in bulk for resale. That’s why luxury goods like perfume and anything with the Apple logo are so frequently stolen: The black-market markup on such items is very high.

All in all, it’s unlikely that very much of that $423 consumer cost can be blamed on individual shoplifters. But, of course, some of it can be. Poignantly, one of the most commonly stolen items is infant formula, suggesting that some of these shoplifters are indeed desperate. If a person is risking criminal penalties to feed herself, her baby, or even an unemployed partner, it ultimately seems petty to ask that she first consider the impact on my Target Red Card.

Liza Featherstone
new york city

Waging Good Journalism


I just finished reading Gabriel Thompson’s “This Is What $15 an Hour Looks Like” [Jan. 25/Feb. 1]. Bravo to your magazine for such a masterful piece of journalism. As a former journalist and community advocate, I commend you for publishing such a comprehensive piece of work—one that connects the dots between higher wages and the ability of millions of people to get out of poverty and live lives that are not permeated with anxiety every minute of every day. How do I know this writer was successful? His article brought me to tears. How often does that happen when one reads most daily news rags? Woe to us as Americans if we cannot get wages higher nationwide!

Thanks for keeping strong journalism alive!

Joan Halgren
red wing, minn.

Nader’s Debaters


With regard to Bill Wiseman’s letter to the editor [Jan. 25/Feb. 1] concerning Mark Green’s article, “Nader Then and Now”: One may have any number of issues on which to disagree with Ralph Nader; however, once and for all, please acknowledge that the people who voted for Nader did not give Florida’s “electoral votes to George W. Bush”—the right-wing Supreme Court did that. And we allowed it to stand! We all share some shame and some blame in that, but a vote for Nader had little to do with it.
Alan Myerson
culver city, calif.