In further validation of the notion that “there are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them,” Christopher Rufo at City Journal informs us of the latest whiz-bang idea coming out of the homeless-advocacy camp is that of “survival crime.”

Survival crime posits that the poor/indigent/homeless (I’m not sure where they draw the line) steal out of necessity, because society has laid them low or failed them or is stacked against them or has created the conditions that produced their homelessness/indigency/poverty, and therefore such theft should neither be considered nor treated as a criminal act. The advocates of this “theory” therefore call for the non-prosecution of such crimes.

As Rufo notes, if a society has devolved into anarchy at the street level (see: Venezuela), one might find some logical basis for concluding thus. After all, absent the rule of law, who’s to say a law is being broken? But, this isn’t what’s going on in America. There is a massive, multilayer safety net in place, where anyone who wishes can get food, clothing, shelter, and basic medical treatment. Is it ideal? Hardly, but its flaws are overwhelmingly born of government mismanagement and correlated effects. This isn’t about the failings of that safety net, though. There’s something else behind this new “fad.”

The political landscape has, in addition to being dominated by progressives’ notions of identity and grievance politics, has in recent years included the rehabilitation and re-branding of socialism, led first by the covetous old codger Bernie Sanders and now by the proud and defiant economic illiterate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Their flavor of socialism is being viewed with rose-colored glasses and treated with kid gloves by a sycophantic press, and thus the core premise it shares with old-school socialism – public ownership of the means of production – is waved off and ignored in favor of vague and touchy-feely “care for those that need it” warm-fuzzies and an even vaguer promise that it’s “democratic” i.e. voluntarily agreed-upon.

That last bit is utter nonsense. As Milton Friedman noted, “the essential notion of a socialist society is force.”

Individual and property rights are at the core of any free society, and the government of that free society exists first and foremost to secure those rights. Such a society also requires that those rights be protected equally. No one person’s rights are to be subordinated to another’s, and your rights to speak, act, etc are bounded by the rights of other persons. Thus, you can’t initiate violence against someone, you can’t lie about him in a manner that causes harm, you can’t stop his free movement about space that you do not own, you can’t stifle his speech in a space you do not own, you cannot punish him for his beliefs or lack thereof, and you can’t take the fruit of his labor without his permission.

Progressive politics has long sought to expand the meaning of the word “rights” to include such things as food, education, housing, medical care, and “dignity” (which excuses every progressive policy not covered by the ones I listed). All of these are positive rights, meaning that they require that something be given. To give such things, it’s necessary to take them from others, meaning that positive rights run afoul of our actual individual and property rights. To justify this, it’s necessary to dispense with the premise of equality that goes hand-in-hand with protection of liberties. Thus, some people’s rights are prioritized over other people’s rights. Or, as George Orwell noted in Animal Farm,

All Animals Are Equal, But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.

This is also blatantly true in identity/grievance politics. The moment someone decides that an identity marker puts you either into “oppressor” or “oppressed” status, and well before we get into the weeds of intersectionality, the premise of equality is defenestrated. This isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. It serves progressives’ agenda quite well. Indeed, it’s necessary that the premise of equality be dispensed with, because there’s no way to justify progressives’ policies, either in language and thought control or in redistribution of wealth, without it.

Under relentless, multi-pronged pressure, we are slowly being inculcated with the assertion that we are not equal in our liberties. To wit, the very definition of racism has been changed. Now, if you are a member of an “oppressor” group, you are a racist if you don’t actively engage in differential and preferential treatment of certain others.

But, if we are not equal, then we have only the liberties that the State decides we should have, which flips Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence on its head.

This latest bit, about “survival crime,” feeds the socialist narrative. What’s yours is only yours if someone else doesn’t need it more. The murderous specter of Karl Marx is grinning from ear to ear.

An old gag admonishes not to steal, because the government hates competition. Some enlightened avant-gardists have concluded that the government middle-man is, in some cases, a drag, so they’re deciding on behalf of the rest of us to eliminate that middle-man, to tell those they consider sufficiently high in the grievance hierarchy that they should simply help themselves to that which they “need,” and that the rest of us should accept these thefts as just and legitimate, rather than decry the violation of our rights.

As Rufo notes in his essay, we’re already seeing the implementation of this “the crime depends on the needs of the criminal” malignancy, in the reversal of “broken windows” policing, in the increasing tolerance for invasions of private property and permanent decampment in public spaces by the homeless, in the resistance against prosecuting fare-jumpers in New York City’s subways, and in other blind eyes towards petty crime committed by some people. And, as Rufo notes, the increased legitimizing of the grievance hierarchy means that this policy will be glommed onto by anyone who can pretzel-logic it enough to cover their identity markers.

It’s worse than a mere abandonment of the centuries-old premise of a blind Lady Justice, though. It’s yet another assault on liberty itself in favor of the failed and murderous ideology of socialism. We are being taught to accept more and more violations of our rights, and we are being taught, in ever-more-creative and sneaky ways that the fruit of our labor does not belong to us.

Progressives have declared a right to steal, the Constitution, the Eight Commandment, and universal concepts of morality notwithstanding.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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