John Rawls described society as “a cooperative venture for mutual advantage.” There is a value proposition underlying the formation of an organized community and submitting to its laws. While an individual loses freedom, they receive a wealth of opportunities to cooperate with others to secure more resources than any of them could secure alone. The freedom of the individual outside of community is a meager freedom that promises no security, but community allows a person to get everything they need for themselves by participating in formal and informal support networks. Given that people are generally born into their communities rather than forsake primal independence to join, the value proposition should be understood as framing what community does for people and what people do for community.

The value proposition also provides a motivation for obeying a community’s laws. Law makes up the fabric of society, defining the rights and duties of citizens to the community, and of the community to the citizens. Knowing those duties and knowing that they will be enforced by the collective power of the community defines a space in which cooperation can take place. All individuals involved can be secure in what the law promises, and they can form cooperative agreements within the framework of law.

The benefit of law only follows when all individuals in the community follow the law. Citizens then have motivation to obey the law and abide by the consequences when they do not. Even the most cynical perspective can recognize that the law provides more advantage than disadvantage. The value of predictability alone motivates a self-interested preference for obedience to the loss of security in a lawless society.

When the laws are arranged to systematically disadvantage a group, members of that group will not experience the same sense of protection as members of the privileged group. In such a case breaking the law has no connection with forfeiting security. One who already lacks that security must then evaluate upholding on the basis of expected gains agar mere avoidance of consequences.

In addition, one must always consider two paths: obtaining a benefit within the boundaries of the law or obtaining a benefit outside of those limits. If breaking the law offers a greater benefit or a benefit that one could not obtain through lawful means, breaking the law becomes a pragmatic option. Where obtaining a benefit lawfully is made impossible due to systematic disadvantage stemming from the arrangement or enforcement of the law, the motivation for individuals from disadvantaged groups to obey the law becomes thin.

Where privilege bounds economic success, the ability to secure basic needs will differ across advantaged and disadvantaged identity groups. Members of the advantaged group may look at their peers and elders and reasonably believe that they can secure their living by conforming to expectations. No degree of conformity and obedience protects a systemically disadvantaged group because their group identity alone is nonconforming. Gains can be erased when the advantaged group decide to raid what they perceive as undeserved rewards, as happened at Rosewood and other race riots.

In that light the consequences of property crime become equivocal across legal and illegal acquisition. In either case one’s gains might be taken at a later time. If the illegal path presents a shorter and more certain path than the alternative, property crime becomes a rational choice. Where past injustices disrupt generational wealth for disadvantaged groups, property crime may also serve as a means of reparations, a restoration of unjust takings.

In liberal democracies police officers work to apprehend perpetrators of petty theft or the drug trade while ignoring wage theft undertaken by managers against workers. Unwarranted taking is a criminal matter only when the working class takes from the owner class. Public money pays for police officers to apprehend shoplifters, and members of disadvantaged groups provide ready scapegoats. When the owner class steals from the working class, the only remedy lies in expensive civil courts, giving the owner class the advantage of wealth. Confronted with these asymmetries, members of disadvantaged groups do not enjoy the protection of the law at all. One loses no security by breaking the law if one is unable to rely on its protection.