I read a news article this morning about a waitress who was run over by a couple of teenagers attempting to evade paying their bill, also known as a "dine-and-dash." (http://www.kpho.com/story/26730006/three-lives-changed-forever-after-dine-and-dash-turns-violent) After reading the article, I then read the comments to the story so that I might learn the public sentiment. I expected some differing viewpoints, but the contrast in the comments to this particular article struck me.
There were essentially two camps: one camp was those who thought the meal thieves should be charged with attempted murder, and the other camp was those who thought the waitress was to blame for getting run over. I.e., if she would have just let them go, she would not have gotten hit, and that $20 wasn't worth it. This is a small example, but it illustrates the polar opposite mindsets we have operating in our society today. There are those who feel "a little crime is okay" or "that shouldn't even be a crime" and those who believe "a crime is a crime, period."
Let's back up a little. What is a crime and how did it become a crime? Crimes are usually thought of as "breaking the law" meaning there must have been a law written in order for it to get broken. There are also crimes against humanity where something is generally understood to be wrong. Both are applicable here. In order for a law to be written, there are typically councils who decide that a particular behavior is not acceptable in their society. Those councils may be influenced by the citizens of a community or by other political pressures. The end result is that whomever has control over writing the laws, be it an individual or a committee, writes the law stating that behavior which fits within the bounds of that law will be punished in order to discourage further behavior of that type.
Some obvious laws are stealing, killing, damaging other's property, as well as millions of others which restrict such things as boiling water and rotten vegetables and then drinking it or inhaling the smoke produced by burning plant leaves. Sometimes, society changes and decides that maybe drinking that rotten vegetable water isn't such a bad thing if done in moderation, so laws are changed to allow its consumption rather than outright prohibiting it.
So, back to the waitress who was injured by people who didn't want to pay for their food. The waitress, by her actions, was saying, "Stop! Society has decided that you must pay for things belonging to others which you consume." The meal thieves were saying, "We want something that we do not want to, or cannot, pay for so we are just going to take it."
Let's figure out who was the victim here, notwithstanding the injuries sustained by the waitress. Was it the thieves who were being oppressed into paying for a meal? Isn't eating a basic human right that should be afforded to everyone? Was it the waitress, who, when working for some companies and making less than $3 per hour must pay out of her own pocket for meals consumed by patrons who do not pay for the meal themselves? Or, was it the corporation who owns the restaurant, buys the food, and pays employees to prepare and serve it to people? Could we say that the corporation (or mom-and-pop restaurant, or any other private business) must absorb the cost of those who cannot, or will not, pay for the services which they consume? In order for the business to absorb those costs, they must raise their prices a little which means all of their other customers are now paying for the loss incurred by feeding those who did not pay. In effect, they are subsidizing the meals of those who are not paying. Or, is consuming without paying for services just theft?
When and where will the line be drawn, and will it be moved?
Will today's theft become tomorrow's subsidy? Maybe businesses will be required to absorb losses up to $20 per incident. Then in a few years, businesses will be required to absorb losses up to $40 and just raise their prices to accommodate the drain on their bottom line. Where does it stop? Will the paying consumers ever say "enough?"
Or, do we try to discourage theft today, while it is still small and controllable? Do we teach while we can rather than punish for lessons not learned. There are some parables here which could be overlaid onto some political ideologies but I'll let the readers make those connections themselves.