A Church of England vicar has recently said it’s OK to steal from supermarkets if you’re hungry and desperate. This is against the law. Apart from the 8th commandment do we have any idea why? It’s annoying to be stolen from, certainly, but it’s also unpleasant and dangerous to be poor.
The social, as opposed to the moral, justification for the illegality of theft is that without inviolable property rights no modern transaction-based economy would be possible. Who would exchange anything (for money or otherwise) if they could just take it or fear that the other person might? Who would build a factory and employ workers if they thought the workers could, without penalty, take over its running and obtain all its revenue themselves?
The reason we want these things to happen is that they have the power to benefit us all. When two people exchange goods, services or labour (directly or through a chain of money transactions) they both expect to get a benefit from the new (for them) good that they didn’t get from the old. When an entrepreneur has a business idea, he expects to produce and sell something that has a benefit greater than the raw materials and individual workers’ labour that went into making it.
This is all well and good, but there is no general justification for laws that allow these things to happen unless the benefit produced is one that is distributed to all. When the system is leaving some destitute and others earning millions, its claim to general consent in the form of backing by legal sanctions is extremely shaky. The vicar’s comment is simply economic logic following rising inequality.