In the retail industry, shoplifting losses are just one of the items included under "inventory shrinkage." Breakage and employee theft also fall into this category.
We don't hear much about employee theft - the biggest of the three - but we hear a lot about shoplifting because of prosecution. And these days we're hearing about one particular form of shoplifting: gas drive-offs.
We've seen lots of police reports lately in Columbia County on motorists pumping their tanks full of gas and driving off without paying. Those reports got me thinking, which can be dangerous.
I remember comedian Chris Rock, after the Los Angeles riots, saying he didn't condone the violence - but he understood it. With gas prices rising above $3 a gallon, it's understandable that more people would steal it.
What's harder to understand is that more don't steal it all the time.
Think about it: Imagine a clothing store with all the cash registers at the rear, no doors on the front of the building, and parking conveniently next to the racks.
Now imagine the store actually encourages you to load up your car with merchandise before you pay for it.
Think shoplifting is bad now? Stores would "shrink" out of existence " unless they changed their practices.
If gas drive-offs get bad enough, I predict we'll see a change: The return of the gas-station attendant. The pump-jockey probably won't pump gas, but will instead be there to make sure you've paid before pumping " or at least before driving away.
I don't condone it. But I sure understand it.
Tax cut: Bad idea
While I'm making gas-station owners mad, I might as well make conservatives mad, too.
I disagree with Gov. Sonny Perdue's move, ratified by the Georgia Legislature this week, to temporarily suspend the state's gas tax.
But anyone who calls themselves a conservative and disagrees had better spend some time thinking about tax philosophy.
Here's my view. The fairest taxes are user fees. The person using the service pays for it, and those who don't use it aren't charged.
In Georgia, the money collected in motor-fuel taxes goes to operate the state Department of Transportation, and is used to build and repair state highways. Suspending the gas tax will cut gas prices a little, and cut highway funding a little. But it won't curtail demand for gas, and it won't curtail the need for highway construction and repairs.
As a result, we could wind up supplementing the DOT budget with general-fund money, which means income taxes, excise taxes and sales taxes could wind up funding road repairs - which is just about as far off from a user fee as it gets.
I believe in the free market. When gas prices rise, we take a hit in the pocketbook. But we also look more seriously at such things as developing our own domestic supplies of oil, and at alternative fuels and technologies that otherwise would be cost-prohibitive.
The temporary reprieve on gas taxes will save individual consumers a few pennies and score political points for the governor. But in the long haul, we're better off paying higher prices at the pump if it means a more-secure future and, ultimately, less dependence on foreign sources of energy.
Conservatives may not condone it, but certainly they can understand.
The folks in the media business in Augusta were pretty shocked this past week at the loss of Greg Patin, the WGAC radio news reporter found dead in his motel room. Early indications are that his death could have been from an accidental reaction to pain medication.
In any event, he went out on top of his game, having recently won the Edward R. Murrow award.
Rest in peace, brother.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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