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Gotta Mention the Iceberg

Here’s a letter that I sent several days ago to the New York Times:


Reporting on Whole Foods’s recent decision to close a store in downtown San Francisco, Thomas Fuller and Sharon LaFraniere correctly list shoplifting as one of the chief reasons (“In San Francisco, a Troubled Year at a Whole Foods Market Reflects a City’s Woes,” May 1). But they bizarrely describe this problem as “intractable” as they fail to mention the fact that in California theft of merchandise worth $950 or less by individuals who aren’t part of a crime ring is only a misdemeanor. According to UCLA economist Lee Ohanian, this “means that law enforcement probably won’t bother to investigate, and if they do, prosecutors will let it go…. Because of this law, California is extending an open invitation to anyone to walk in and take. Just like that – since they know that police or prosecutors won’t bother with a misdemeanor complaint.”

Reporting on the closing of this Whole Foods store without mentioning California’s effective refusal to punish shoplifters is like reporting on the sinking of the Titanic without mentioning the iceberg.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA

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