The most recent episode of Laurie Taylor’s ‘Thinking Allowed‘ contained a segment on ‘skipping’, the practice of removing for use food and other items which have been thrown out by individuals or retailers. Attending the British Society of Criminology Conference at Leicester University, Taylor learnt from ethnographer Jeff Ferrell (who spent a year skipping) how the practise was becoming illegal as part of the general criminalisation of people at the margins of society.
Much of the ‘zero tolerance’ rhetoric emanating from New York, which has transferred to a degree across the Atlantic, focuses on crime and public safety. However, it also complements the logic of capitalism in leading to the erosion of the commons, and the destruction of collective space and property for common use; everything must be commodified, even if it has been thrown in the garbage. In a similar vein, it was as a journalist for the Rheinische Zeitung, writing on the 1842 debates in the Provincial Assembly to criminalise the theft of wood from previously commonly-held forests, that a young Karl Marx first became interested in political economy. Marx wrote caustically about the proposed law that:
“It would be impossible to find a more elegant and at the same time more simple method of making the right of human beings give way to that of young trees. On the one hand, after the adoption of the paragraph, it is inevitable that many people not of a criminal disposition are cut off from the green tree of morality and cast like fallen wood into the hell of crime, infamy and misery. On the other hand, after rejection of the paragraph, there is the possibility that some young trees may be damaged, and it needs hardly be said that the wooden idols triumph and human beings are sacrificed!”
Examining similar recent legislation, an interesting think-piece by Antonio Tosi in the European Journal of Homelessness examines how, for instance:
As Marx says in Chapter 24 of Capital:
Indeed, a UN report last February found that if the world’s largest companies had to pay for their own environmental destruction it would wipe out a third of their profits. Their behaviour can only be considered ‘rational’ in a purely monetary sense because they are led by the need to create shareholder profits, and these can only be attained by passing on the costs to the rest of us. Individuality rationality breeds collective madness.