Macy's is a large corporation. They are not particularly nice to me. They issue credit cards with high interest rates.
Many of the things I purchased at Macy's have not really made me better off. In fact, some have made me worse off. Once I bought a suit for $800 that I couldn't really afford, but the sales clerk at Macy's didn't even ask me to rethink before I paid. All she cared about was selling me that suit.
Macy's makes an allowance for theft (euphemistically known as "shrinkage" in the retail trade). It's factored into the price of the product. They knew when they let me into the store that there was a risk that I might try to steal something. As soon as they opened the doors, everyone knew what was going to happen: a bunch of stuff would get bought, and some stuff would be stolen. One could argue that every time I have bought something at retail, paying an extra percentage to cover losses from shrinkage, I have been paying for the right to steal at some point in the future.
Macy's doesn't even use written contracts for most transactions! If they had wanted to, they could have asked me to sign a contract agreeing not to steal. Since they didn't, why do I have an obligation not to steal?
Of course, practically, it may be risky for me to steal; Macy's takes measures to make it more difficult, and if I get caught, they may call the police. Doesn't the fact that they are taking security measures indicate that stealing is normal?
Anyway, as long as I am willing to suffer the consequences, why should anyone care if I supplement my income by shoplifting? After all, they knew it was a possibility. They charged other people for the possibility. And they are a corporation that ruthlessly looks out for its own interest. Why should I--or my neighbors--act as if shoplifting from Macy's somehow violates the same moral principles as stealing the furniture from my friend's patio? Do they think that corporations are the same as people? Because they're not. When corporations stop lobbying for all sorts of tax breaks and changes in the law to benefit them, and start treating people better, then I'll stop stealing. But until then, I don't see why anyone should judge me.
Maybe you think the difference is that stealing is illegal. But driving 70 mph is illegal, and my neighbors do not think less of me for doing it. Is stealing somehow extra-super-illegal? What if I only steal a little bit in each session, so that my theft is only a misdemeanor, just like a speeding ticket?
Yes, I find these arguments fairly ridiculous too. So why do they suddenly sound intelligent when they're applied to loan default?
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is a columnist at Bloomberg View
and a former senior editor at The Atlantic.
Her new book is The Up Side of Down