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Behind the Shoplifting Panic

Retailers are locking up merchandise and closing stores nationwide, citing an explosion in organized theft. Could their losses be attributable to more than just shoplifting?

Illustration by Hunter French

On any given day, it’s easy to find a new video on the internet or social media purporting to show a violent retail theft. Such videos make riveting viewing, and—coupled with reports from chain retailers about a plague of theft affecting their bottom lines—might suggest we’re in a golden age of shoplifting. The reality, however, is likely much more complex. On episode 73 of The Politics of Everything, co-hosts Laura Marsh and Alex Pareene chat with New York magazine staff writer James D. Walsh about how organized retail theft has evolved over the past decade, and with Amanda Mull, staff writer at The Atlantic, about the puzzling lack of data about theft and what other factors could be contributing to the perception of a great shoplifting surge.

[Clip:] In the 30 minutes we were at this Walgreens, we watched three people, including this man, steal. Did that guy pay? Did that guy pay?” He didn’t pay.

Laura Marsh: Inventory shrinkage, The New York Times reported, has risen to a new high among the nation’s stores.

Alex Pareene: Shrinkage, the loss of merchandise due to theft or error, was reportedly skyrocketing due in large part to an explosion of crime across the nation.

Laura: Among the reasons cited for this rise were self-service, cost-cutting programs, and the rising numbers of amateur criminals.

Alex: This story, we should note, ran in the newspaper in April of 1970, when, to the best of our knowledge, there were no viral videos of retail smash-and-grabs trending on social media, nor a global pandemic to blame for increases in antisocial behavior.

Laura: But the fact that it sounds as if it could have been written any time in the last few years is telling. Shoplifting has a curious place in the American imagination as a recurring social epidemic, a crime that ought to be easily measurable but that is strangely difficult to pin down when you start searching for concrete evidence of this extent.

Alex: In September of this year, Target announced it would close several of its stores because of theft. Other stores have resorted to locking up products behind plastic cases. But is shoplifting as big a problem as big retailers suggest? I’m Alex Pareene.

Laura: And I’m Laura Marsh.

Alex: This is The Politics of Everything.

Laura: In September, Target announced the closure of nine stores across the country, one of them in New York. New York magazine staff writer James D. Walsh visited that store. He’s also written about how organized retail theft works, how its evolution over the past decade has made it more pervasive, and about who benefits from it. James, welcome to the show.

James Walsh: Thank you very much for having me.

Laura: So after Target’s announcement, you actually visited the East Harlem store that they are scheduling to close down. What did you observe about the store?

James: Honestly, it was a really nice store, one of the nicer Targets I think I’ve been to. I’m not sure if that’s because I was there on a weekday morning or what. Things were pretty chill, people were calm, all the shelves were all stocked. The one thing I did notice, which really struck me, is I watched multiple shoppers go up to Target employees and kind of like lobby them to try to keep the store open.

Laura: Whoa. That’s loyalty. People love Target.

James: Yeah, truly. I think they were even saying, you know, the community relied on this store, and they were pretty upset that it was closing.

Alex: So it wasn’t like a, sort of, Escape From New York-style situation.

James: Not at all. I could’ve stayed for hours.

Laura: What we think about shoplifting or at least the discourse around shoplifting since at least 2020, as far as I can remember, calls to mind like viral videos of people going into a Walgreens with a cart and just brazenly filling it and charging out of the store and loading up their trunk. But you have actually reported on shoplifting. In this long piece you wrote for New York magazine you spent time with people who do shoplifting, they’re called boosters in the terminology that you use and they’re the people who go on to sell those goods and it’s a pretty different picture. Can you explain how that system works?

James: Sure. I do think there’s a taxonomy. There’s like the quintessential shoplifter, stealing the proverbial candy bar. And legally that’s the petit larceny, which is usually theft of something under a thousand dollars. But as you said, the general public and the media tend to lump a lot of other things together, like the smash-and-grabs we’re seeing at Louis Vuitton and the Apple store and yet, we still refer to that as shoplifting. But yeah, boosters, somebody who is doing the petit larceny pretty consistently, to the extent that there is an uptick going on—which is a matter of debate—they’re the people that are driving it.

I do think it’s important to distinguish between these things when we’re talking about the larger trends. But I was talking mostly to people who are committing petit larceny.

Laura: And what is the typical routine if you are engaged in this? Like if you’re a booster and you’re working with someone who is going to then go and resell the stuff that you’ve taken, how much do you have to steal in order to make it worth it?

James: Yeah, so I think what you’re talking about is this organized retail theft and that’s something I learned about right before this, and it is a bunch of boosters who are going into stores, stealing products, bringing them to somebody else—the fence—who is then going to scrub those products of anything that might make it look stolen and resell them and more and more, in the past decade, a lot of that fencing is going on on online marketplaces and those fences are paying cents on the dollar for these products. So the boosters are going to be going in constantly, whether it’s swiping cosmetics into a duffel bag or pillowcase and running out or trying to do it more clandestinely and getting as much product as they can to be able to make any sort of money from their fence. They’re gonna have to do it a lot.

Laura: I was shocked by the figure in your article, which is that typically they’re making 7 to 10 cents on the dollar amount of these products. And when you think about the amount of mascara or makeup, you would have to swipe to make it worth it. It’s a huge amount.

James: Yeah. I guess if you want to call us a job, just like any other job, there are fences who pay a little bit better than that. [In] the case that I highlighted, the fence was a pawn shop owner in the diamond district in Manhattan. And he was known in the area for paying really poor rates to his boosters.

Alex: What sort of person does that work for, what sounds like very little money?

James: What I learned was that many of these boosters had substance abuse problems, they were stealing to support habits. As an example, I found out about this criminal justice initiative in Brooklyn working with offenders and they estimated that somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the petit larceny cases that they were taking were with offenders who had underlying substance abuse issues. So I spoke to a number of boosters and none of them could name someone they knew who was doing this for any other reason than to support a substance addiction.

Alex: I guess when you put it that way, it’s not at all surprising. When you have desperate people who need money to support a substance problem, shoplifting is honestly one of the less harmful ways of going about it.

James: Right. That is a line that I heard from a lot of people actually. And while not a victimless crime, they said it’s better than stealing catalytic converters. It’s a lot safer than sex work. It’s better than just robbing people on the street. So they see it as the lesser of many evils.

Laura: I actually do think it’s really convincing. I would rather live in a city where people are saying, ‘Oh, no, there’s like all this shoplifting,’ than people saying, ‘Oh, no, you get mugged every time you go downtown.’ I will take the shoplifting any day.

So the work that the boosters do seems pretty traditional. It doesn’t seem like a huge amount has changed in their craft over the decades. But the fences actually seem like they have evolved. The guy that you talked to, he has a pawn shop, which is your traditional way of getting rid of stolen goods, but there’s also a ton of fencing going on online. What does that look like?

James: Right, these are the “e fencings” and, with the rise of all of these online marketplaces, are just all these opportunities to sell stolen goods. So you’ve got Craigslist, Facebook marketplace, eBay, Amazon, even, where you can sell these products. And it’s amazing because it’s also made these fences more efficient, so they can look and see what products are moving, what brands are moving, and boosters have been caught with lists that have been printed out or given to them by fences and say, “Hey, I want specific brands because I know I could get rid of those products really easily.”

And then there is this little proxy war going on between online retail and brick-and-mortar retail too, where they’re getting annoyed at each other because you have the boosters pulling from the shelves of brick-and mortar-retail and then you have these online marketplaces that are letting fences sell pretty freely.

Alex: The online part of it seems like a big deal. Maybe you can help me understand how much of this happens on a platform that seems very official. It’s not like going to a pawn shop when you buy something on Amazon, but there’s a ton of this going on there.

James: Yeah, I will say that online marketplaces in recent years have taken steps, a lot of steps, to address this. Recently, there was some federal legislation passed that requires online marketplaces to disclose certain high-volume sellers in an attempt to discourage shady sellers from using these marketplaces.

But there’s a lot of other reasons that we’re talking about shoplifting now, I think. Like I said, substance abuse is a big part of this. The opioid epidemic has absolutely been a contributing factor here. The pandemic has been a huge factor, not only in increased drug use, but there was this huge increase in usage of and demand for everyday products in online marketplaces. A lot of cops I talked to just said the prevalence of masking may have been a contributing factor and then—this seems like a dated reason, but I do think there is truth to it, because I did talk to cops about this—also is cellphone videos. We’ve had them for over a decade now, but people are just better at it than ever. And social media is really a contributing factor here as well.

Alex: The images of these spread far wider than they would have before. I thought it was really interesting, where these stolen goods end up. We already said it can be on Amazon, it can be on eBay. But, there’s a long history of people unwittingly buying stolen goods in cities like New York at their local bodega or somewhere like that.

Laura: I was shocked by the thing about a midtown coffee cart could be using exclusively stolen beans. I’m sure I’ve bought so much stolen stuff without any idea that it could possibly have been shoplifted.

James: Yeah. I bought boxers at a bodega and then wondered, “Why was my bodega selling boxers?” It’s not like their Sysco food provider was like, “Oh, by the way, I’ve got Hanes.” So I do think there is this gray and black market, especially in places like New York, that consumers aren’t even aware they’re participating in.

Laura: One of the difficulties of writing a piece like this, I would think, is that you’re reporting on people who have committed crimes, so it’s hard to get them to share the tricks of the trade. Why do you think the booster was so willing to talk to you for a national publication using, I assume, his real name?

James: The booster? Yeah, Jerard had for years serious substance abuse issues, and I talked to him after he was in a diversion program and was sober. And he was really pissed off at the fence. He saw Roni Rubinov as somebody who was a predator who was taking advantage of a lot of his friends and paying them so poorly for the work that they were doing. And I think he saw speaking to me and getting the story out there as some sort of way of exacting revenge.

Laura: Another thing that’s notable is I think it’s really hard to talk to people who actually know what’s happening, who are doing it, because they have a very good reason to not talk to anyone.

James: Yeah, I was also shocked. There’s like a pretty substantial loss prevention industry with consultants and all kinds of advisors. I talked to a bunch of them, and I’d always ask how many boosters they’ve spoken to, and it was just mostly none, across the board. And you would think that would be something they would want to do.

Alex: Right. I mean, now it sounds like a hacky CBS drama plot, but you would think that you’d want people with experience to be the ones trying to prevent it, right? People who actually know what’s going on on the ground.

James: Hey, I mean, Jerard—kind of the subject of my piece—was toying with offering himself up as a consultant down the line.

Alex: There you go. That’s the pitch right there. That’s the pilot. 

Laura: That’s the thing of like the FBI hiring a hacker, right?

Alex: Yeah, exactly.

Laura: Statistics on this seem really hard to come by because stuff isn’t reported, and it’s all very hazy. Stores don’t actually seem to know how much they’ve lost anyway. Given all that, do you think that the uptick in shoplifting and this specific type of shoplifting is significant for the businesses?

James: This is a really tough one. I think shoplifting is going on. I think it’s maybe going on, more than it has in the past. Whether or not as a percentage of sales in these stores is significantly more is a matter of debate because a lot of the times when you see reports on shoplifting, they cite the same number over and over of however many hundred—a hundred billion dollars lost—over the past year. That oftentimes, if you talk to experts, they’ll say that’s about a healthy amount for how much business is going on.

While shoplifting is a problem that these companies should be taking seriously, I think there is this atmospheric shoplifting that we see on the nightly news that overplays the problem.

Laura: Well, one of the things they’ve tried are these, in my opinion, awful plastic cabinets where you’ll walk through a pharmacy and you’re like, “Oh, I have to call someone over to get the toothpaste out for me.” Did any of the boosters encounter these and do they care? Does it stop them at all?

James: I think one of my favorite interviews with a booster who lucked into a key, like a magic key that opened a lot of these Duane Reade cases. The booster sort of said, “A booster will always boost.” So, while it might make their jobs in the short term a little more difficult, they will figure out ways to steal products. So it wasn’t that much of a deterrent for them.

Alex: I mean, it strikes me like a lot of other things. You could say the same of methods to prevent media piracy or something, too, where it inconveniences the regular consumer, while the pro just finds a way around it.

James: I mean, one kind of another funny interview I did—I asked a bunch of employees about how annoying it must be to open these plastic cases. And there was something that was dark in another way, where it was like, “No, this is an opportunity for us to interact with customers and just talk to people during the day.” In the age of self-checkout, it was like their chance to talk to people.

Laura: That actually makes me hate those cabinets less. The last question I have for you is about that Target store in East Harlem. They’re closing that store, but as you wrote in New York magazine recently, Target’s opening five more stores in New York. What do you think is going on there?

James: I mean, Target is a publicly traded company, and I think it would be extremely stupid if they were straight up lying about shoplifting being a serious problem at this location or at all of their locations. It’s likely affecting their bottom line. That being said, there are just so many reasons that a particular location could not be working out. It could be foot traffic, and I will say, having been there, it is all the way on the East side. It is a hike from the subway. It’s probably not a place that’s got a lot of foot traffic.

Alex: Right, there’s generally more than just one reason why you would close a retail location. James, thank you so much for talking to us today.

James: Thank you for having me, guys. I really like the show.

Alex: Read James Walsh’s piece on boosting: “Here’s why everything at Walgreens is suddenly behind plastic,” as well as his other coverage of shoplifting and store closures at

Laura: We talked about how shoplifting works on the ground. After the break, we’re talking about its effect on stores. Is theft rising as much as big retailers say?

Alex: The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull has written about the so-called explosion in shoplifting and some of the possible reasons behind it. “The deeper you search for real, objective evidence of an accelerating retail crime wave,” she says, “the more difficult it is to be sure that you know anything at all.” Amanda, welcome to the show.

Amanda Mull: Thank you so much for having me.

Alex: So we know over the last few years these stores are closing. We know they’re blaming theft. You’ve looked into it. You’ve looked at the data. Has theft increased so much that it’s warranting these store closures in your opinion?

Amanda: Well based on every set of data that I have seen, no. Largely, theft seems usually flat, and it becomes more difficult to get down to a store by store granular level because retailers don’t release that kind of information to the general public. When these retailers have done announcements specifically attributing particular closures to theft, a lot of times local journalists have gone into as much detail as possible, and in basically every case that I have ever seen, there’s been no indication that the stores that are being closed have real verifiable theft levels higher than the stores around them in the same chain. Oftentimes they will have lower theft levels than some of the other stores in nearby locations.

Alex: Over the last few years, we’ve also seen a rise in viral shoplifting content, right? It seems that despite more attention being paid to these sorts of viral videos of theft, it’s not borne out in the actual data that you have found in terms of a surge in retail theft.

Amanda: Right. What’s interesting to me is that often the videos that go viral—to demonstrate the perilous rise in retail theft—often depict things that aren’t really categorized as that in crime statistics. What you’re seeing are like armed robberies, which are an entirely different set of crimes that wouldn’t be reflected in theft statistics because that’s not what they are, according to any kind of data.

There’s also no indication that things that would be categorized that way in crime statistics are up a great deal, but we live in an information environment where it’s very easy to get short video clips of scary things to people.

Laura: I mean, the impact of that is really hard to overstate, I think, because having these videos out there creates a perception that it’s happening all the time—it’s just like lawlessness and it’s completely out of control. What I found really interesting in your piece is that you break down the categories of retail loss that’s all lumped into this term called shrink. And actually most of it is not shoplifting. Can you walk us through some of the various ways that stores lose their inventory that’s not shoplifting?

Amanda: This is one of the most interesting parts of this whole phenomenon to me, because I worked in a big box store for a number of years in the 2000s, and we used the term shrink internally to talk about lost product. It very much is not a synonym for shoplifting, but in a lot of media reports and conversations around it, the two get conflated.

One of the reasons I wanted to write about it is because it seemed people who had never worked at a big box store were having this conversation absent anybody who had ever had the experience of being in a big box store like that.

So, shrink is just your total inventory loss expressed as a percentage of sales. So, shrink can come from a lot of things. Theft is one of those things and usually shrink reports internally within a company are going to break suspected theft down into, shoplifting and then into employee theft, which is an issue that a lot of retailers deal with because you have to hire a ton of people, you’re not paying very much. You’ve got a lot of churn in your employee stable. So you do just miss on some people and people steal stuff.

And then you’ve also got inventory errors where a truck came into your warehouse, the guy working the drop off signed everything as received without checking it very carefully, and you missed a bunch of stuff that wasn’t there that you signed off as being there. So that stuff is in inventory on your computer. It was never in inventory in your store, physically. You’ve got all kinds of other paperwork errors  that can go into this, in the logistics end. You’ve also got checkout errors, and this becomes even more common when you have self-checkout.

Alex: And you’ve written another piece that says retailers don’t exactly mention self-checkout when they’re talking about theft, even though they have to know it’s associated with loss, right?

Amanda: Yes, self-checkout does create more theft, because any time that you are just leaving people to their own devices, you’re going to have more theft. But then also, you’ve got people who are trying to pay for things, who are trying to make sure that everything ends up on their receipt, who just swipe something over the scanner, it doesn’t scan, they don’t realize it doesn’t scan, they shove it in their bag, or whatever. The self-checkout thing is a whole disaster.

Laura: When I use one of those, I’m like, actually doing the checkout is a real job that people are trained to do, and I am not trained to scan the things in my bag.

Alex: Well, you’re totally right. Scanning things is a job.

Amanda: Right, and self-checkout areas are very crowded, they’re very small, so you’re shifting a bunch of stuff around on this machine that is beeping at you and flashing at you and telling you you’re doing the wrong thing and you don’t want to look like you’re shoplifting and you don’t want to look like you’re being shifty.

Laura: Oh, I have a whole physical routine that in my mind emphasizes that I am not shoplifting because I immediately feel when I’m at one of these that I look shady because I’m confused, and I’m moving all these little pieces around.

Amanda: Yeah, absolutely, and in a lot of these big box stores or these national chain stores, you have an increased rate of checkout errors because so many of the transactions they’re doing are done through self-checkout, where errors are just a lot more common.

So all of this goes into a store’s or a chain’s shrink level. You do inventory a couple times a year at a single big box store location so you basically find out what you have in your inventory in your computer that you cannot put your hands on in the store itself. A lot of times, you’re just guessing as to how that stuff went missing. Some of it you have some evidence for, from other parts of the store’s operations that might tell you what proportion roughly comes from where, but a lot of that is just analysis. It is not data.

Alex: That seems super important to emphasize because we’re talking about shrink loss, and we can attribute some of that to theft or crime, but that percentage is, like you said, it’s just a plain guess. Because we’re not talking about incidents where someone was caught and arrested for it, we’re just talking about stuff not being there.

Laura: Some of this stuff you were saying in the article never arrived at the store because someone processes something is like, you’re meant to get this shipment and by X date, we’re going to say that’s in the system, but maybe that truck didn’t get to the store or maybe they only unloaded half of it and then the rest of it went to another store or something.

Amanda: Right, there’s a lot of ways that it can happen that like some last package of stuff does not get put on a pallet that should be on a pallet and it gets put on the truck and shipped to the store, and our understanding of what should be on the pallet is just not aligned with what’s actually there. There’s a lot of ways to make a simple error and make things appear in a store inventory that aren’t necessarily there and then make things disappear that should be there. Especially when you’re dealing with drugstore stuff, a lot of that stuff is easy to lose and stuff that’s easy to count incorrectly. The stores where most theft happens are stores where there’s a lot of tiny fiddly stuff because that’s the easiest stuff to steal. And there’s just also a lot of ways for stuff to go missing in other, less nefarious ways.

Laura: The kind of panic about shoplifting has been somewhat widespread across a variety of different stores, but the stores that have reacted to it, in my view most visibly, are drugstores with these locked up plastic cabinets. Do you have any theories like why drug stores specifically have reacted this way?

Amanda: Well, I think that part of it is that they sell a lot of stuff that is fairly easy to steal. It’s small, it has some value to it. You know, people might be inclined to steal large quantities of stuff for its resale value to low-income people or to sell it on internet platforms, which is what the retailers charge that a lot of people are doing with this stuff. Cold medications, beauty products, things like that are going to be relatively easy to flip. They’re not perishable, so they’re easy to ship, they are sellable to a wide range of people. So, I think that there is a real reason there, but also I think that America’s drugstore chains are highly centralized and they’re pretty much nationwide. They have an enormous number of locations, whereas grocery stores are nationwide, but the companies that run them are becoming more centralized. But still, to a certain extent you have regional players here and there, so it’s harder for these regional players to sort of work in quite as seamless class solidarity as it is for the people who run drugstores.

And also drugstores, you’re going to see them in a sort of wider variety of neighborhoods than you might necessarily see, like a Walmart or a Target. They’re all over the place. I think that there’s an inclination because of that for drugstores to get into the urban politics of cities in a way that Target might not.

Laura: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense because Target has announced that it’s also closing some stores due to retail theft. But if you think about a Target, it’s more of a destination that you would drive to or go to that’s usually in an area with lots of other big box stores, and CVS is something you’re just going to swing by in your neighborhood.

Alex: I was wondering, what’s in it for the retailers? What’s in it for them to hype up theft?

Amanda: I think it helps make them sympathetic parties in a lot of ways, to the general public. A lot of what we see coming out of this is retail executives lobbying and arguing for, reversing bail reform for reducing the monetary threshold for theft to become a felony instead of a misdemeanor, you see a real desire to get the state involved in mediating these things that are just shoplifting.

Although it’s really interesting: There’s no correlation between where a state does the theft cutoff between a misdemeanor and a felony and how much retail theft you have in those states. The cutoff in California is much lower than the cutoff in Texas and South Carolina, and you wouldn’t know that by hearing lobbyists who are arguing for stiffer penalties in California specifically.

I mean, this is my opinion, but I think that basically, these stores want taxpayers to help them run the stores because what you see in a lot of them, you see staffing levels really low because the companies don’t want to pay very much. So they have a difficult time hiring in the first place, and then they just don’t want to staff people in the stores as much as they should to run a safe, useful store.

Laura: It’s like, instead of having several employees and then maybe some security guards, you have a couple of employees, a bunch of self-checkout machines, and then a local police officer that’s paid for by the public getting called in all the time.

Amanda: Yes, you have more public sector investment, we’ll say, instead of more private sector investment in making sure the private sector stores function properly.

You know, it’s sort of galling because stores talk out of both sides of their mouth on this. When you look at forums where retail employees talk about their jobs where they complain to each other, you don’t see retail employees talking much about theft, you see them talking about how there’s not enough people working at the store for them to do their jobs properly. When you look at the research for deterring theft, what you find almost uniformly is that the way to deter theft is for people to feel like they’re going to get caught. The way that people feel like they’re going to get caught is there’s a lot of employees in the store.

Laura: Right, it seems like there’s also two different models of using your employees to intervene in theft. One is having enough employees. So there are people in the checkouts, there are people restocking the aisles. There are just people around, and so that’s just a deterrent. And then the second model is like, oh, there’s two employees in this huge store and if someone steals, they should be expected to step in and stop that person, which is really dangerous, unlikely to be effective, and like you say in your article, why would the employee risk that?

Amanda: I think that the people who advocate that second model are again, the people who have never worked in a store because once you work in retail, you find out very quickly in your onboarding training that you are under no circumstances supposed to interact with someone who is shoplifting, in a confrontational way.

You can go ask them if they need help. You can go ask them if they’re finding everything okay. You can, and you should, according to training, contact them to make sure that they understand that someone is watching. And hopefully they will abandon the product then and oftentimes they do.

I’ve been in this situation before as a store employee. And you’re not supposed to do anything because it creates an insurance and liability nightmare for the store. If you get hurt, if the person stealing gets hurt, if a bystander gets hurt, then it is on the store for that happening. I have been in this situation—I have watched someone at a store I was working at fill a cart full of stuff and just make a run for it.

Alex: Right. I think it’s really interesting that you have that experience, and I think very little of the coverage of this actually takes a perspective of the people who actually work in the stores.

Amanda: Right. You get a lot of the perspective of retail analysts and loss prevention industry people who have every motivation to paint this as a huge problem because the bigger a problem that this is perceived to be, the more money there is for services of their types of firms.

And then you have the national and state-level lobbying groups, for the industry, and you have executives at the stores, and there’s just not a lot of firm information on what actually happens in a store. There’s just a lot of people at their desks.

Laura: Well, it also seems like this perfect topic of conversations for people who run big chain stores because you can hire all these loss prevention experts, but if you’re not willing to do the thing that actually works, which is hiring employees in the store, then you’re just going to be talking about this forever, which could also be really useful for explaining a whole other range of failures and decisions, right?

Amanda: Right. And they have been talking about this forever. if you go back and look at news reports over the years, you get a retail theft panic, a shoplifting panic every like 10, 15 years. This is something that just comes back around again and again without ever being really resolved as a topic or as a concern. But like you said, when you need to lay blame somewhere, shoplifting is a perfect bogeyman because it is bad third-party actors who are making things worse for everybody, who are maybe going to get your favorite drugstore or your local Target closed or something like that.

There’s no one person to pin that on. It is just an unseen other who is ripping apart the fabric of our country and there’s no real requirement to define any of this concretely, to provide any sort of real data on it—it is just a bogeyman, perhaps as literally as can be.

Alex: Amanda, thank you so much for talking to us today.

Amanda: Thank you so much for having me.

Alex: Read Amanda Mull’s reporting on retail theft, including her latest, “Self-Checkout is a Failed Experiment,” at the

Alex: The Politics of Everything is co-produced by Talkhouse.

Laura: Emily Cooke is our executive producer.

Alex: Lorraine Cademartori produced this episode.

Laura: Myron Kaplan is our audio editor.

Alex: If you enjoyed The Politics of Everything and you want to support us, one thing you can do is rate and review the show. Every review helps.

Laura: Thanks for listening.