Economists, please help me!

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Lusankya
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Economists, please help me!

Post by Lusankya » 2008-02-02 05:26am

I'm arguing with a guy who thinks that stealing is moral because it helps the economy. (And clearly the only reason not to steal is because God told you not to.) The fact that it's someone else's shit and therefore you don't have any right to nick it, unless your safety's on the line eludes him, naturally (because apparently the fact that the thief ends up with the stuff makes up for it).

I tried explaining that theft has a cost not only the individual, but also an opportunity cost to the community to him, but he then went and insisted that since the money was being spent anyway, it was ok.

I'm going to try to explain it to him in terms of investment leaving the community, as well as lost productivity, but I doubt that will work.

Can anyone help me with a proof of stealing being objectively bad that even this dipshit can understand?
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Post by Shroom Man 777 » 2008-02-02 05:45am

Stealing is bad because the stealer (hurr) is not an economically independent person. Stealing is bad in the same way as having parasites or moochers is bad - in that they depend on other people for stuff while they themselves to not contribute to the economy whatsoever.
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Post by wjs7744 » 2008-02-02 08:36am

I presume he's referring to the fact that people will buy new things to replace those that are stolen. The most obvious counter to that is that if the person doesn't steal what they need, they will instead buy it, so in either case the number of sales would be similar and the act is, at best, morally neutral. Of course, this may have too many big words in it for him, such as "similar" and "neutral".

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Post by The Grim Squeaker » 2008-02-02 09:31am

You could simply bring up the point of property rights being essential for investment and security, and how stealing violates that. (The security of property rights being a prime requirement for western economies for example).

Is he arguing against what point precisely? Against property rights (Arguing for communism) or for stealing ("Strongest takes all" like stupidity) :?
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Post by Lusankya » 2008-02-02 09:56am

Well, I used stealing as an example of something that was objectively harmful, and he said "No. I don't think so, because I'm a dumb-ass shit from the ghetto." Well, not in those words, but I know what he meant.

Then he went on to say that he couldn't see how humanism as a moral code had anything against murder. I really think I should just ignore him, since he's such a douche, but the more I encourage him to post, the more he makes his side look stupid.
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Post by Shroom Man 777 » 2008-02-02 10:10am

Hrm...that does go well with Darth Wong's Art of War. You're not supposed to win over the other side, you're supposed to make them go on and on and make themselves look dumb - so that observers and fence sitters will realize how retarded things are and go side with you.
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Re: Economists, please help me!

Post by Gerald Tarrant » 2008-02-03 02:00am

Lusankya wrote:I'm arguing with a guy who thinks that stealing is moral because it helps the economy. (And clearly the only reason not to steal is because God told you not to.) The fact that it's someone else's shit and therefore you don't have any right to nick it, unless your safety's on the line eludes him, naturally (because apparently the fact that the thief ends up with the stuff makes up for it).
I wish I could remember the name of the French Economist who dealt with this type of argument. He laid out an analogy:

"Some young man breaks a shopkeeper's window. Due to the shopkeeper's vigilance the hoodlum is quickly caught.

The police are preparing to take him to jail when he explains that he's done the town a favor.

He points out that the shopkeeper will need to replace this window, and so he will have to pay a glazier to make a new window, and workmen to install it, and workmen to caulk the edges, and a painter to paint a sign on the window.

In short he's made everyone better off. The credulous city officers agree, and so they release the young man with a commendation for a job well done."

Now you can take this analogy and try reductio ad absurdum, since this was such a good thing for the economy to break one window (or in your argument steal one ______) it's obviously a great idea for the economy as a whole, as a matter of fact this new "better" economy would consist of nothing but hoods to break the windows and glaziers and workmen to replace the windows. An economy like that would produce nothing, instead expending all its energy on maintaining the supply of unbroken windows.

I'm not sure I did that properly, so I'll give you a slightly more economic answer. The theft directly removes wealth from the rightful owner. That doesn't help the economy at all; nothing is made, no service is rendered, assets are just shifted around. Next lets assume the rightful owner decides to replace his/her property (I don't want to refer to amorphous stuff, and amorphous people, so the owner is now Jim, and he had a TV stolen). He goes to Best Buy to replace his TV. The benefits of his purchase percolate down, store owner, salesman, manufacture, assembly line worker, etc. Unfortunately Jim has only a finite supply of money, so in order to purchase his TV has only a few unpleasant choices, he can forgo some other purchase, he can dip into savings, or he can go into debt. If Jim forgoes other puchases, then the benefit to the economy of buying the TV is cancelled out by there being no benefits from the forgone purchases. If Jim dips into savings, then the pool of money for investment shrinks which has its own detrimental results. If Jim goes into debt then he'll need to consume less in some future period to remove his debt. And so the gain to the economy is balanced by a forgone purchase at some time in the future. There's one more little wrinkle to this scenario, suppose the thief instead chose to work for the money to buy a TV. His labor contribution would contribute to the economy, and he wouldn't be harming the economic interests of another individual. In short the net economic effect of the thief is roughly zero (and less than if the thief had chosen to earn the TV), all he's done is redistributed wealth towards himself.

Personally I prefer the Reductio ad Absurdum, just because an economy of just window breakers and glaziers is so patently foolish.

last second edit: after reading some of the other posts, the idea of the thief working was already mentioned. I'd suggest that as a point to emphasize, comparisons between the thief as a contributing member of society, and as a thief.
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Post by Alyrium Denryle » 2008-02-03 05:08pm

There is the economic argument, however I find it to be a bit beyond the grasp of those who don't know a thing about economics. One can make a strictly ethical argument.

Example: stealing causes the victim to feel as if their security has been violated. They feel powerless and as a result suffer. This suffering can effect every aspect of their lives and will negatively impact those around them, as a result, one should not steal unless a larger amount of suffering can be avoided. But the margin for error is fairly large due to the unpredictable nature of the consequences. Ero, one should only steal when the benefit outweighs any upward uncertainty in the suffering caused by stealing, ergo one should only steal to preserve life or when some other equivalent circumstance prevents itself.
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Post by Illuminatus Primus » 2008-02-12 01:34am

The economic argument is a society without meaningful property rights that can be protected (i.e., thievery is illegal) will be unable to permit the accumulation of capital and investment in productive industry. Individuals will hold wealth in illiquid forms in order to deter thievery and this will hamper consumption.
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