A Word I Hate To Use…

     …is slowly but inexorably forcing its way into my vocabulary. And no, it’s not should.

     Let’s spend a few moments on the incentive structure of retailing. For simplicity, let’s focus on a merchant who buys all his stock-in-trade from others, and attempts to sell it at a profit sufficient to be worth his while. Let’s call our hypothetical retailer Smith.

     Smith’s fundamentals fall into a small number of categories:

  1. Wholesale costs of stock;
  2. Retail prices of stock;
  3. Overhead costs (i.e., costs of operation);
  4. What return Smith deems an acceptable return for his time and labor.

     Even a retailer who sells only one kind of one item must reckon up all four of those considerations. Smith will do his best to know those four numbers as accurately as possible. A significant error in any of them could put him out of business.

     If Smith is a “brick-and-mortar” retailer, he’ll be particularly sensitive to overhead costs. Those include such mundane components as storefront rent, utilities, contracted services (e.g., someone to clean the place every so often), government permits and fees…and “shrinkage.” That last term is one that makes Smith scowl. “Shrinkage” is retailers’ jargon term for stock that cannot be sold. It must be paid for, like everything in Smith’s store, but before he can sell it, thus defraying the price he paid for it, it…vanishes.

     The usual reason for shrinkage is theft. Shoplifting. While Smith can write it off on his commercial tax returns, that only partly salves the wound. It’s very hard to estimate it beforehand – and afterward, there’s little to nothing Smith can do about it.

     Smith can take certain steps to discourage shoplifting, but each of them comes at a cost. Some of the measures in use today:

  • Security guards;
  • Closed-circuit TV systems;
  • Anti-theft RFID tags and door sensors for them;
  • Stock protected by locked cases that must be opened by Smith or his employee;
  • Remotely controlled dual-door systems that create a confinement space for entering customers.

     Smith must confront each measure’s cost and determine what it will do to his business overall before deciding whether to embrace it. Some of the costs could come in reduced good will from Smith’s customers, including losing their trade to competitors.

     No anti-theft measure is indefeasible. All of them will fall to a sufficiently determined thief. The thief who defeats all the prevention measures will be deterred only by his personal estimate of whether the justice system will catch him and call him to account…and that, Smith can do nothing to control.

     Some municipalities have thrown away the very possibility of bringing retail shoplifters to justice. The consequences have been appalling:

     [Organized Retail Crime] is prompting retailers to permanently shut down stores all over the nation. Right now, retail theft is happening from coast to coast on a scale that we have never seen in our entire history. Marauding bands of looters are barging into stores, grabbing as much merchandise as they can possibly carry, and then loading it into their vehicles. Online marketplaces make it easier than ever to turn stolen goods into cash, and at this point organized retail crime has become a multi-billion dollar business. As I have repeatedly warned my readers, America is descending into lawlessness. The thin veneer of civilization that we all depend upon on a daily basis is rapidly disappearing, and if we stay on this path our society will soon be completely unrecognizable.

     Smith, however he might try, could not do anything about an organized, well equipped gang of marauding thieves should it select his store to loot. Neither could Target or Walmart. All a victimized retailer could hope for is vigorous investigation, pursuit, and prosecution of such a gang…and several large municipalities decline to do so.

     And you thought porch package thieves are bad.


     The number of Americans who acquire everything they ever need or want through their own labor is small enough to be deemed negligible. Practically speaking, every one of us depends upon the ability to buy and sell without interference. But interference by criminals threatens that ability. Unwillingness among legislatures and prosecutors to act against such criminals magnifies the threat by removing the deterrence that would otherwise exist. And here at long last we come to the word I alluded to at the top:


     That retail commerce would suffer massively from the default of the justice system was inevitable, as the cited articles suggest. But that’s not the only inevitability. Others are already rearing their heads:

  • Theft insurance is becoming unaffordable.
  • Retailers are imposing stringent shopping conditions on their customers.
  • Many retailers are closing stores; others are going completely out of business.

     As “obvious” as those consequences might seem, there’s another that’s just as “obvious” but considerably more horrifying: Retailers personally acting against thieves, usually with firearms.

     There are specific kinds of retail commerce where “the gun behind the counter” has been a feature for some time. Liquor stores in urban districts come to mind. That practice will spread. For some personal and familial proprietorships, it will become a literal matter of survival. This, too, is inevitable.

     I feel comfortable predicting a few of the consequences of a retailer killing a thief before the miscreant can get away:

  • The media will condemn the retailer for his “wanton act of violence.”
  • Politicians will trumpet the “need” for gun control.
  • The “justice system” will disclaim any responsibility for the crime wave.

     Perhaps these things are not inevitable…but I wouldn’t advise my Gentle Readers to bet against them.


Skip to comment form

    • Alex Lund on December 8, 2022 at 9:37 AM

    You forgot another possibility.

    You put a transmitter into something and trace the thief to his home address.

    And in the night a group of ahem, “experts” takes care of the problem.

    And one of the thieves by pure miracle, of course, is not touched (ok, maybe he has two broken legs. Had an accident, can happen) and the message spreads.

    • Dan on December 8, 2022 at 10:41 AM

    This is part of the criminal lefts planned destruction of America.  Destroy the middle class, the working class, the merchant class.  The criminals in power HATE the middle class….the group that actually keeps the lights on, the streets fixed, the food available.  The middle class has enough wealth and self determination to make them difficult to control.  And THAT CANNOT STAND.  The idiots who have siezed power apparently don’t realize that if you destroy the middle class they won’t be able to rule anything but a burned out pile of rubble.  But somehow that doesn’t seem to matter to them.  But make no mistake about it.  The CHOICE to not hold criminals doing what they do accountable is deliberate.  And woe be unto anyone in the private sector who tries to interfere with these thieves…who are actually the shock troops of the left.  The won’t prosecute thieves but they WILL prosecute anyone interfering with the thieves…. especially if they use force.  And that includes the cops. Which is why cops now just smile and drive by most crime scenes.  Can’t afford to risk that pension and dental plan.

    • Dwight on December 8, 2022 at 11:29 PM

    And when the cops who won’t arrest the thief WILL arrest the victim who defends himself, it’s time to recognize them as just the second wave attack of a larger crime scheme.

    • Feral Kitten on December 9, 2022 at 1:10 PM

    At thanksgiving dinner daughter (who cooked this year) was appalled at the increases in groceries. She expressed a somewhat conservative view, she’s a blooming liberal, but cost of goods, rent, wages etc., doesn’t make a dent. It’s the retailers fault. She has a masters and can’t string this together. After the weather and food we look for things to talk about as most anything will trips her trigger.


    • Max M Wiley on December 10, 2022 at 3:19 PM

    WalMarts in urban areas of my southern plains state have largely locked up all of the commonly stolen items especially in the Health and Beauty department. I can no longer buy some of my commonly used items without running a gauntlet into a closed off area with it’s own minder/cashier and paying for it immediately or getting it put into a plastic box to be removed at the main checkout.
    I have been traveling around for work and I have noticed that the suburban and rural WalMarts have no such provisions.
    I have largely stopped shopping at WalMart except when absolutely necessary but that hasn’t stopped me from noticing the differences in the stores. And this isn’t anywhere near any coastal liberal mismanaged city.

    • Linda S Fox on December 10, 2022 at 6:12 PM

    every couple of weeks, I am confronted by the hideous rise in prices. I manage to avoid shopping for long periods, but eventually, the need arises.

    It’s disheartening to see the doubling of prices. It’s even more upsetting to see the unavailability of many items. I went to over four stores before finally accepting that Commercial Christmas cards would not be sent this year.

    I adapted. I took some card stock I had in the closet, printed three side by side cards, and cut them apart – they just fit into a #10 envelope. That, with a short letter, is what I’m sending this year. Very satisfying to create a work around for the problem.

    I’ll be adding some SD cards to my orders in the next couple of weeks. I can manage to keep my two raspberry pi computers working for a long time with that. Also going to take inventory and stockpile some other items that would be hard to replace in an emergency.

    We are going to have to live like Soviet bloc subjects for a time. Don’t know how long it will last.

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