Barry Graham's Blog

A First World View of Theft

By Barry Graham

Here is an ignorant, arrogant and blinkered piece in The New York Times, by Rachel Shteir, author of The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting. Apparently only bourgeois, recreational shoplifters are worthy of discussion.

Where I come from, there are two reasons why people shoplift:

1. They are hungry.
2. They have no money, no way of obtaining money, and stores are full of things that advertisements tell them are desirable.

Shteir writes:

Now that psychopharmacology has replaced psychoanalysis as the therapy du jour, researchers have tried to locate the origin of the urge to steal in order to chemically quiet it. Kleptomania is grouped with other compulsive disorders like gambling, drinking and sex addiction. So far, only Naltrexone, best known for helping alcoholics stop drinking, has been found to be significantly helpful in reducing the urge to shoplift.

Here’s something that might be “helpful in reducing the urge to shoplift:” End poverty.

Even if shoplifting were motivated by kleptomania, and pharmacology could cure it, most people I know couldn’t afford the meds. They’d have to steal them.


Barry Graham is a former boxer, former gravedigger and a current novelist,  journalist and tireless blogger whose reporting has appeared in magazines ranging from Harper’s to Flaunt. He is the author of five other books, including The Book of Man, which was named one of the best books of 1995 by the American Library Association. His article “Why I Watch People Die,” about the two executions he has witnessed, won a FOLIO Silver Medal in the Best Single Article Category in 2008. The French magazine Transfuge has called him “one of the great post-realist authors.”

Born and dragged up in Glasgow, Scotland, he has traveled widely and has lived in the United States since 1995. He is also author of The Wrong Thing.

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