Poverty excuses thievery

In a defining moment of jurisprudence, Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation unexpectedly ruled that given Roman Ostriakov’s circumstances and the little food he needed to satisfy his hunger, the convicted felon did not warrant a guilty verdict.

The ruling reversed the six-month sentence of Ostriakov, who, homeless and hungry, stole sausages and cheese that amounted to $4.70 from a supermarket in Genoa in 2011. Found guilty, he was sentenced to jail and also fined $115 that he could not pay. The court’s decision made headlines globally. Some say it was an act made out of judicial character.

Stealing arouses anxiety and passions and moral obtuseness in society. It violates millennia-old customs and challenges the sanctity of private property. Italian courts usually punish thievery.

In spite of the passing strangeness of the Cassation’s judgment, and its daunting consequences, the mainstream media gave scant analysis to the sorry state of Italy’s economy that has not recovered from the 2008 global recession.

It did not speak to the condition of the poor and those barely keeping noses above the economic water line, nor to the crisis that follows the seemingly endless stream of refugees arriving in Italy from Asia and Africa.

Italy has one of the highest percentages of children living in poverty in the European Union; the number of people living in poverty has doubled since 2012. Forty percent of its youth are unemployed; 42 percent of university graduates cannot find jobs. One out of five families lives without adequate necessities, and on and on.

And all this makes Italy a favorite hunting ground for venture capitalists and bankers. As a result, we have to ask if Italy will recover.

We in the United States have nothing to brag about. The statistics speak for themselves; nearly 50 million people live in poverty as the income gap grows dangerously wider. The government euphemistically describes the national poverty level as people who “live more in food insecurity.”

We do not know whether Proverbs influenced Italy’s high court ruling: “Men don’t despise a thief, if he steals to satisfy his soul when he is hungry.” Yet the judges did act in that spirit, in breaking the verdict and fine.

Nonetheless, the ruling is the exception that confirms the iron rule of acquisitive individualism that adheres firmly to Biblical commandment that stealing is wrong. It is a sacrosanct principle of capitalism on the sanctity of private property. It posits that you do not steal what does not belongs to you, without right or permission.

By being an unfair society where the 0.1 percent own the lion’s share of wealth and privilege, where is the safety blanket to ameliorate the growing misery of the poor and working and middle classes? Bernie Sanders speaks of a political revolution and Donald Trump appeals to our base instincts in an unfair distribution of wealth and loss of social status.

We are waiting for the volcano of discontent to explode in Jacquerie, if the worsening social and economic plight in the United States or Italy or any number of countries is not addressed adequately and in time.