Some ethnic Chinese markets in New York City have an unusual, but apparently very effective, way of dealing with shoplifters, according to a recent front-page New York Times story. Basically, they threaten to shame the perpetrators by posting their pictures on the premises for all to see unless they pony up some cash — which usually far exceeds the value of whatever they were trying to steal.
One market profiled by the Times levies a fine of as much as $2,000 on anyone caught trying the old five-finger discount method of shopping. They either pay or they get their picture taken holding whatever it was they were trying to walk out with.
The practice was brought over from China, where losing face in front of the community with such public humiliation as being caught stealing is apparently a very effective deterrent.
Some legal scholars question the legality of such informal penal practices, worrying about the potential for extortion (many would-be thieves are apparently recent immigrants deathly afraid of deportation). Others see an effective crime deterrent based on old-fashioned social shunning.
Whatever its merits in the hermetic atmosphere of a distinct New York community, it's doubtful such practices can migrate successfully to the greater American culture. Here, the exhibition of personal failings is not so much a thing to be avoided as something to be broadcast as far and wide as possible on reality shows, social networks and daytime television.