Retail Politics and the Social Compact

by Richard Tangard

While I waited in the grocery store checkout line, a scowling, angry-looking man walked in through the automatic door. As I placed my items on the conveyor, his purposeful stride took him into a nearby aisle. Moments later he emerged carrying two cases of beer, snarled at several employees, and stomped out without paying.

None of them said anything or lifted a finger to stop him, and I can’t really blame them. He telegraphed that interference would be met with violence. I don’t think anyone called the police, although that may have happened later.

Not long ago, a social compact was generally accepted in this country. Stealing is wrong. Initiating or threatening violence is wrong. Follow the rules and you will be treated fairly. Those who break the rules will be sought out, prosecuted and tried. If convicted, especially in the case of a repeat offender, the perpetrator will be removed from society both to teach a lesson and for public safety.

The social compact had value because nearly everyone followed it. That near-universality seems to be gone. I suspect it will take decades to re-establish.

Richard Tangard is an avid cyclist, three-time Ironman triathlete, and a mostly retired CPA. He says his wayward youth was spent in Connecticut but he has lived in the Richmond area for 28 years.