Elon Musk fears shoplifting epidemic shows America is ‘going full Joker’
Scenes of rampant looting in the heart of downtown Philadelphia has Elon Musk fearful that America’s social fabric is unwinding in an orgy of unfettered lawlessness.
At least 20 people were arrested on Tuesday after dozens ransacked stores belonging to Apple, Lululemon, and Foot Locker. Footage captured by onlookers and posted to social media showed police officers overwhelmed by thieves pouring out of stores and fleeing with stolen goods in hand.
The incident highlights the dilemma bricks-and-mortar retailers face as they come to grips with an epidemic of organized shoplifting. Nowadays even baby formula can be found locked behind anti-theft plexiglass.
“America is going full Joker,” Musk posted to his social media platform X on Tuesday.
The 2019 film he referenced stars Joaquin Phoenix in an Oscar-winning turn as the titular anti-hero whose actions inadvertently spark a riot in the city of Gotham, a tinderbox of violent crime just waiting to go off.
Perhaps more than any fictional work of late, its portrayal of society coming apart at the seams has come to symbolize the “late-stage civilization vibes” that Musk claims to feel of late when witnessing scenes of rampant theft.
Despite a resilient economy and robust job market, more and more Americans fear the country has reached its cultural peak and now faces the same fate as the Roman Empire. There may even be an unhealthy obsession about Rome, with the subject garnering over 1 billion views on TikTok.
Musk wasn’t alone in his bleak reaction to Tuesday’s news even if others viewed the income inequality that centibillionaires such as him helped create as part of—if not the root of—the problem.
“Welcome to late stage capitalism,” hacker group Anonymous posted from its official account on Tuesday.
America is going full Joker
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 27, 2023
The ugly scenes coming out of Philadelphia are symptomatic of a broader trend. Retail theft is a $112 billion a year problem, according to a 2023 retail security survey by the National Retail Federation published earlier on Tuesday.
“Retailers are seeing unprecedented levels of theft coupled with rampant crime in their stores, and the situation is only becoming more dire,” warned senior NRF official David Johnston in an accompanying statement.
Target says theft is forcing it to close nine stores in four states
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon has argued these added costs arising from looting, shoplifting and organized theft either have to be passed on to the customer or result in some stores simply shutting down.
Rival retailer Target is one of those. On Tuesday it said it would close nine stores across four states after efforts to clamp down on theft proved insufficient.
“We invested heavily in strategies to prevent and stop theft and organized retail crime in our stores, such as adding more security team members, using third-party guard services and implementing theft-deterrent tools across our business,” it said. “Despite our efforts, unfortunately we continue to face fundamental challenges to operating these stores safely and successfully.”
Another chain facing this very real possibility, according to the Wall Street Journal, is Rite Aid, coincidentally headquartered in Philadelphia. The third largest drugstore provider has incurred a heavy burden from shoplifting and organized retail theft in urban areas in recent months.
“We’re looking at literally putting everything behind showcases to ensure the products are there for customers who want to buy it,” Andre Persaud, its chief retail officer, told investors last September.
The company did not immediately respond to a request by Fortune for comment.