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Why do wealthy people shoplift?

Yesterday, a client told me she stole an $8 jar of olives from Whole Foods and we discussed it.

It’s not that she can’t afford it. She’s an heiress.

It’s not that she’s selfish. She says she gives generously to charity.

She claims to usually be ethical and stresses that with her children.

So why did she steal it? indeed she admitted that she shoplifts whenever she feels there’s little risk of getting caught. Here are paraphrases of her reasons and, when I asked for a counterargument, her responses:

CLIENT: The world has given me a bad deal Two husbands have left me. I’ve been unable to keep a job that pays decently even though I have good skills with people and organization and I write well. I don’t believe that society let alone I get much value from my taxes. Shoplifting is a sliver of getting back my fair share.

HER COUNTERARGUMENT TO HERSELF: So to correct one set of injustices, you commit another? Improve yourself to do a better job with men, in your job, and get a better accountant so you don’t pay so much in taxes.

CLIENT: I only shoplift when I sense there’s little chance they’ll catch me. And even if they do, they don’t prosecute unless it’s an expensive item. I only take cheap stuff.

HER COUNTERARGUMENT: Your moral compass shouldn’t be based on whether you get caught. It’s wrong to steal.

CLIENT: I don’t steal from good companies. I hate Whole Foods because their prices and probably profit margins are ridiculous. There’s a reason they call it, “Whole Paycheck.” And as if that’s not enough–they steal from customers a helluva lot more than an $8 jar of olives. In 2014, holoer-than-thou Whole Foods had to pay $800,000 for overcharging for pre-packaged produce, meat, dairy, deli, etc. I guess they figured it was worth it because in 2015, they again had to pay $500,000 for a similar pattern of offenses! I feel fine about taking a few dollars from their fat, ill-begotten profits: redistributive justice.

HER COUNTERARGUMENT: Two wrongs don’t make right. You want “redistributive justice?” Give away more of your money to charity. Vote for a socialist.

CLIENT: It’s faster to steal than to buy. I don’t want to have to wait for ten minutes in line because Whole Foods is too cheap to hire enough checkers. That’s just one of a million ways I try to be efficient, perhaps as a way of fooling myself into thinking I’m accomplishing much.

HER COUNTERARGUMENT: You’re right. You aren’t accomplishing much. Besides, it doesn’t usually take ten minutes to check out and that hardly justifies your stealing.

CLIENT: I get an adrenaline rush from stealing.

HER COUNTERARGUMENT: Not only is that unhealthy, there are plenty of ethical ways to get an adrenaline rush: Ride your bike in traffic, debate climate change or a Trump supporter.

I then asked her what she plans to do in light of the discussion. She said, “Honestly, I plan to keep shoplifting.”

By Psychology today


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