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  • Should the state stop you from looting essential items?

    Posted by ken on August 30th, 2005 (All posts by )

    On the one hand, hell yes. It’s stealing. And why should people have to choose between risking their lives in a storm and losing all their property to looters in the aftermath?

    On the other hand, this is the same state that forbids private entities from being paid for the cost of transporting essential items into a disaster area (or preserving them during a disaster, or stocking them up against the possibility of a disaster) when selling them to disaster victims. According to the state, this is “gouging”, and it means you’re SOL until charity or taxpayer funded disaster relief reaches you. So where does that state get off stopping you from taking the things you must have to survive that it has left you unable to buy, especially when the owners may or may not ever be coming back?

    On the gripping hand, are you really justified in stealing when it was your own outrageously poor decision that caused you to be there in the first place? If others have to pay the price for your idiocy, you don’t have much of a case when you ask them to let you make your own decisions on, well, anything. That way the lifelong nursery lies, and we’re a good part of the way there already. (Granted, this reasoning doesn’t apply to all large-scale disasters, but it sure as hell applies to this one.)

     

    11 Responses to “Should the state stop you from looting essential items?”

    1. Jonathan Says:

      If most of the looting were of food and other essentials, I might be less inclined to favor harsh measures against it. (And in that case the State ought to reimburse merchants for their losses, and if possible compel the looters to pay for what they took.) But in reality, in most of these situations most of the looting appears to be opportunistic pilferage or organized marauding. In these latter types of cases individuals and the State are justified using a large measure of force to stop the predation.

    2. James R. Rummel Says:

      Most states have a clause in the law where it’s not a crime to incur property damage if a life is on the line. For example, if one of my shots goes wild (har!) and shatters a Ming vase while I’m trying to stop a knife wielding maniac from cutting someone’s throat in a museum, oh well. I can get sued in civil court but I’m not going to jail for it.

      I think a similar arguement could be applied to material taken to sustain life. Fresh water, food, shelter. If it’s needed then it’ll be taken. If anyone complains then let the courts sort it out.

      But I have to agree with Jonathan that this doesn’t seem to be the case in Florida right now. So the question is not whether steps should be taken to limit looting and punish the perps, but what measures are justified.

      James

    3. Kevin F Says:

      I have had a chance to watch some of the video of the looting. One did take place in a grocery store, but not the remaining. Some of the looters smiled broadly, others appeared determined, still others hid their faces from the watching camera. Outside, a policeman drew his weapon on looters, who were forced to drop their bags.

      In juxtaposition, there were the heroes, risking their lives to save the neighbors these looters mean to rob. The difference in basic character could not be more stark than this. Barbarians, or civilization.

      So the question is not: “is rooting not sometimes justified?” Of course it is; few would begrudge folks taking bottled water in cases of life and limb endangered. Rather, it’s the process, and the intent. As a nation of laws, we look to those who represent order to direct us during emergencies. Absent such police or governmental presence, we order ourselves quite nicely. What these people were doing appeared to be simple chaos, and not a compassionate response.

      I do agree that the laws against “price gouging”, whatever that is, has already had the unintended side effect of making unavailable certain necesseties. Such a law forces people to outright donate such products, or stay away until “properly” purchased by authorities, or be accused of gouging. Seeing as this situation may in fact last for many weeks, that law already looks destructive.

    4. Jonathan Says:

      State and local govts also prolong the pain by engaging in labor protectionism. Dade or Broward County, Florida, for example, used to run post-hurricane radio ads warning citizens about the hazards of unlicensed (i.e., out-of-state) repair contractors. So at a time when all of the local contractors are either booked solid or have a screw-you attitude to customers who complain about shoddy work (there’s always another customer available), you are not supposed to hire someone else because he isn’t licensed. It makes me think that a lot of voters are idiots.

    5. Steve Says:

      I’m inclined to be ideological about this – Hell yes, the state should protect all private property rights.

      “You Loot, I Shoot.” Whether its a 32″ flat-screen TV, or a case of drinking water, it’s still a commodity purchased by private persons, who presumably don’t intend to just give it away.

      Even if something is deemed “essential”, to sanction its unlawful siezure by a mob is to invite the blurring of “essentiallity” with “luxury.” Would it be OK to loot the 20% fat ground beef and the cube steaks, but not the Filet Mignon? For transport should I steal a non-essential Honda CBR1100, or will a Schwinn 12-speed mountain bike do?

      Best to stand on principal on this one – the slippery slope is too greasy and it leads to a bad place.
      -Steve

    6. MP Says:

      The most unfortunate part is that it discourages me from being sympathetic to their plight.

    7. Fred Says:

      Gun stores are being looted.

    8. Richard Heddleson Says:

      Steve is correct. The difficulty with the rule James Rummel proposes in theory is that in practice once people start taking “essentials” without paying, the definition of what is an essential becomes elastic. Once seeing that there is some give in the definition, those who have remianed behind to take advantage of the situation go to town and loot everything that can be carried. It’s either shoot the looter on sight, or ignore it till overwhelming force can be applied. Once looting has started, to end it would incur far too much risk of riot.

    9. Jonathan Says:

      I think it’s usually obvious in these situations whether people are looting because they are suffering or for fun and profit, and it’s usually the latter. There tends to be a party atmosphere.

      After the LA riots, National Review published an article by Eugene Methvin that argued that widespread looting and arson are the fundamental components of riots, that they occur only after it becomes clear that police will not intervene to quell initial disturbances, and that they stop when police show resolve and start arresting lawbreakers in large numbers.

      New Orleans isn’t quite the same kind of situation, because a lot of residents have fled and the police may not be able to do much. However, I think the underlying point is valid: some people will loot if they think they can get away with it, and will only not loot (or stop looting) if threatened with arrest or force. It’s counterproductive for officials to avoid cracking down.

    10. Lex Says:

      During the New York blackout, a guy holding a TV in front of a broken store-front was asked by a TV guy, “hey, what are you doing”? The looter’s response: “This is like Christmas for the people”. Party atmosphere, yes. Anarchic situations bring out the anarchic impulses that many people are itching to give in to.

    11. Phil Fraering Says:

      Ken wrote: “On the gripping hand, are you really justified in stealing when it was your own outrageously poor decision that caused you to be there in the first place? If others have to pay the price for your idiocy, you don’t have much of a case when you ask them to let you make your own decisions on, well, anything. That way the lifelong nursery lies, and we’re a good part of the way there already. (Granted, this reasoning doesn’t apply to all large-scale disasters, but it sure as hell applies to this one.)”

      Well, Ken, I think you’re being too hard on some of the people who don’t evacuate but should. (I’m saying they still made the wrong decision, and I’m mad at a relative of mine who didn’t evacuate…

      But consider this: Four times out of five, the disaster winds up not being as bad as the authorities say it’s going to be. BUT, they keep you from leaving the shelter, or being able to return to your neighborhood, until they’re happy with the situation, not you. And in the meantime, they’re NOT going to keep others from looting your property. In fact, you’ll be stuck in a hotel room in Baton Rouge watching reports on the net like the ones here.

      Bah.