Things are so bad in Russia that people are reduced to stealing toilet paper, writes Paul Goble in an absorbing article in The Interpreter. Referring to the case of a 21-year old man who was arrested in Petrozavodsk after stealing a roll of toilet paper from the city’s Lotos Plaza shopping centre. Goble says that the incident indicates how ‘Russia’s poor are driven to despair by deteriorating economic conditions [and are] seeking to take care of themselves and their families by turning to crime.’ He cites Sergei Smirnov of the Higher School of Economics as suggesting that the situation is not yet so terrible as to cause social unrest, as many Russians still have money in reserve, but counters that ‘at a time when some Russians are forced to steal toilet paper, that may not be as much a reserve as Smirnov suggests.’
The Interpreter regularly plumbs the depths of Russophobia, and with this article hits rock bottom. It calls for a little bit of freshening ‘whataboutism’. A ten-second search for comparisons with other countries indicates that swiping a bit of loo roll is, as the British might say, a fairly ‘bog standard’ crime.
Take, for instance, the case of David Pinkham of Massachusetts, who ‘was caught out when police spotted him leaving Lawrence City Hall with a case of unused toilet paper. … Further investigations revealed he had even more about his person, with six rolls hidden down his pants. A police report stated that he “pulled six tightly folded toilet paper rolls from his buttocks and groin area” at the police station.’ And Pinkham is far from alone. Toilet paper stealing is in fact so common that many dispensers have anti-theft devices built into them. The problem got so acute at a Trenton, New Jersey, library that in 2013 it began rationing paper.
According to a newspaper report, ‘the rising cost of living’ was the most likely cause of Pinkham’s crime. And yet nobody has seen fit to turn his actions, or those of others, into an article entitled ‘How Bad Are Things for America’s Poor? Some Are Now Stealing Toilet Paper’, let alone suggest that the United States is on the brink of political revolution. Goble suggests that the Russian government’s policies are flushing the Russian economy rapidly down the drain. Maybe they are, but you can’t draw that conclusion from a single incident of petty thieving.