By redistributive I mean reducing the holdings of the rich in favor of those less well off. Almost all political philosophers who believe in redistribution believe that there’s not enough of it going on in our society. Thus the egalitarian should, ceteris paribus, prefer redistributive actions to non-redistributive alternatives. Further, shoplifting is almost always redistributive, thus if all other things are equal, egalitarian political philosophers should support shoplifting.
Hence we are owed an account of why ceteris is not paribus by those who wish to deny a right to shoplift. Perhaps the dissenting reader can produce one, so we can debate it.
A few suggestions might include:
1. There is an obligation to obey the law, and shoplifting breaches that obligation.
I’m a legal anarchist, like most philosophers I know. I do not think that the mere fact that something is illegal creates any moral pressure against it.
But let us grant for the sake of argument that there is a general obligation to follow the law. It seems to me that the obligation to obey the law must have particular exceptions. Most of us support direct action against unjust laws for example. But that’s precisely what shoplifting is, a form of direct action to rectify injustices in the regime of distribution. It acts on two levels to rectify the situation; immediately it increases the level of redistribution, and through reported figures on shop-lifting it puts pressure on the government to increase welfare measures. Regrettably it also encourages them to crackdown on crime, but this is always true of direct action.
2. If everyone did it, our current society as it currently stands could not last
Not all of us think this is a bad thing. I for one wish to see society totally rearranged. But you don’t have to agree with me on this in order to reject this counter argument.
Arguments of the form “if everyone did it” have always struck me as very unrealistic. If everyone became a librarian society would also fall apart, but there’s no shame in being a librarian- there’s not even shame in arguing that we need more people to become librarians. Even if a form of redistribution from below cannot become universal, that little bit of it which does exists helps.
A slightly more realistic prospect is the number of shoplifters increasing over time, possibly to some critical mass whereupon the institution of shops would be eliminated, rather than everyone spontaneously deciding to shoplift. However this seems pretty unlikely; as the numbers increase the government would doubtless not sit idly by, but increase redistribution, decreasing the incentive to shoplift.