Taking things that do not rightfully belong to one is stealing, and it has many forms in the modern world, some of them quite legal:
• Taxation: A complex, institutionalized form of stealing whereby the mechanisms of government are used to take wealth from those who create value and transfer it to those who apply political pressure. For most Americans, this form of extortion — you pay your taxes or go to jail — is their single biggest expense, often taking half of their total income in the form of income tax, sales tax, property tax, Social Security tax, Medicare tax, and myriad other types of taxation. This type of stealing is tolerated because it is traditional, institutionalized, and because so many people believe they benefit from it. Once the government steals through taxation, it can redistribute money in myriad forms, from welfare for the poor to subsidies for huge corporations.
• Intellectual property theft: Otherwise honest people routinely steal intellectual property such as writing, music, software, or visual art. Often such intellectual property, supposedly protected by copyright law, is thoughtlessly copied, without permission and without compensation to the person who created the work. Most people view this type of stealing as harmless because it does not involve tangible goods.
• Civil litigation: The fastest growing form of theft has been aided by the fact that there is virtually no limit to the types of “injury” for which one can demand compensation: racial discrimination, product liability, sexual harassment — the list is endless. Damage awards, like the ability of lawyers to emotionally manipulate juries, are unlimited.
• Insurance fraud: Whenever unethical people see a great pool of money, they grab for it. The types of insurance fraud are as varied as the types of insurance, with inflated injury claims from automobile accidents leading the list. Often the injury is invented; other times the loss is exaggerated, but wherever insurance exists, so does significant insurance fraud.
• Divorce: When a marriage breaks up because of divorce, assets are not divided according to who created value. For instance, in states in which community property laws apply, all wealth created since the marriage is divided evenly, even if one spouse created all the wealth while another simply spent it. In other cases, if one provides a luxurious lifestyle for their spouse, they also incur an obligation to maintain that lifestyle if they divorce. This is true even if they divorce because the person they treated so generously made them miserable.
• Abuse of philanthropy: Private philanthropy comes in many forms, ranging from the impulsive generosity of individuals to the structured giving of foundations. Much of what is given with the best of intentions seems to be misused or abused by the recipients.
• Petty theft: Minor theft, such as using an employer’s phone to avoid paying for a personal call, or taking a towel or ashtray from a hotel, is still theft.
Self-respect requires that you clearly determine what is right-fully yours and what is not. This is not done in order to protect others, but to protect yourself from corruption of the soul. The question to ask is not, “Can I get away with it,” but “Do I have a right to this?” Whether others can afford to take a loss is irrelevant — either you have a right to something or you don’t. As always, your interest should be selfish: Enhancing your character and staying on the path that will lead you to create value and fulfill your potential
On earning money commensurate with the value you create.