Black market Tide free banking

by on March 14, 2012 at 3:58 am in Economics, Law | Permalink

From Cory Doctorow:

The Daily‘s M.L. Nestel cites law enforcement reports from across America describing a crime-wave of Tide detergent thefts, including claims that bottles of easily resellable, name-brand washing soap can be bartered for meth and heroin in Gresham, OR.

He cites this article:

Tide has become a form of currency on the streets. The retail price is steadily high — roughly $10 to $20 a bottle — and it’s a staple in households across socioeconomic classes.

Tide can go for $5 to $10 a bottle on the black market, authorities say. Enterprising laundry soap peddlers even resell bottles to stores.

“There’s no serial numbers and it’s impossible to track,” said Detective Larry Patterson of the Somerset, Ky., Police Department, where authorities have seen a huge spike in Tide theft. “It’s the item to steal.”

Why Tide and not, say, Wisk or All? Police say it’s simply because the Procter & Gamble detergent is the most popular and, with its Day-Glo orange logo, most recognizable of brands.

For the pointer I thank Ken Feinstein and Pamela J. Stubbart.

1 Basil Seal March 14, 2012 at 4:34 am

First politician to say ‘we have to clean the streets’ gets my vote.

2 Rahul March 14, 2012 at 4:57 am

Tide doesn’t even have secure caps, does it? Must be easy to further dilute it.

3 Cham Cham March 14, 2012 at 5:31 am

just waiting for the Tide Standard to be the favored monetary system by some nutter

4 Andrew' March 14, 2012 at 6:57 am

Too easy to dilute the money supply. Although The Fed issued a statement that a rising Tide lifts all boats.

5 Mike Huben March 14, 2012 at 5:50 am

Plainly government prohibition is responsible for this black market, the same way it is for all black markets.

6 Andrew' March 14, 2012 at 6:54 am

Well, yes.

Wiki: “A black market or underground economy is a market in goods or services which operates outside the formal one(s) supported by established state power.”

7 Nick March 14, 2012 at 11:12 am

Legalizing the theft of laundry detergent would definitely free up over-extended law enforcement resources.

8 TheophileEscargot March 14, 2012 at 6:05 am
9 Doc Merlin March 14, 2012 at 7:23 am

I do not believe this story. It has all the halmarks of being fake.

10 Rahul March 14, 2012 at 8:44 am

I’m thinking the story is bogus too; yet to be fair the definitive authority on hoaxes, , still has a verdict of “undetermined” about this matter.

11 John Mansfield March 14, 2012 at 9:19 am

Snopes is mostly useless, very little investigation or verification of anything, just some folks reading stuff on the internet and giving its plausibility their thumbs up or down. Perhaps it’s nice to have someone making that judgment for us.

12 Sigivald March 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm

The part that most struck me as implausible was the idea of people running around with multiple bottles of it, and drug dealers taking it directly as currency.

It’s like the author never actually held a full bottle of detergent. That stuff’s bulky and heavy. Way too bulky and heavy for a drug dealer to want to take as currency, at $10 a bottle.

Like Theophile’s link says, people will shoplift it – but mostly ’cause they need to do the wash, or to sell it to a fence or at the swap meet.

Not to take to their meth dealer, who wants cash, not a stack of bottles of detergent he has to move somehow.

13 FMT March 14, 2012 at 8:18 am

I’m developing BitTide

14 liberalarts March 14, 2012 at 9:13 am

Or, for criminals with sensitive skin and perfume allergies, Tide Free free banking.

15 Kelvin March 14, 2012 at 9:15 am

A real solution to the liquidity crisis.

16 Doc Merlin March 14, 2012 at 9:21 am


17 Ted Craig March 14, 2012 at 9:25 am

This sounds like a red suitcase story. That’s the journalism saw that a reporter is assigned to write a story about trends in luggage, talks to three people and hears red suitcases are the hot seller. So he writes up the story as a trend sweeping the nation even though the sample was too small.

18 Tyler Cowen March 14, 2012 at 9:27 am

People, it is only supposed to be true for one town in Oregon.

19 Ted Craig March 14, 2012 at 9:29 am

Even then it sounds like nonsense.

20 Rahul March 14, 2012 at 9:37 am

>>> M.L. Nestel cites law enforcement reports from across America describing a crime-wave of Tide detergent thefts<<<

21 TheophileEscargot March 14, 2012 at 9:39 am

Why the phrases “law enforcement reports from across America” and “Police nationwide take on soaring Tide detergent theft” then?

22 Ted Craig March 14, 2012 at 9:29 am

Here’s an economics question about the validity of this story – how much overlap is there between the demographics of the average Tide buyer and that of the average meth buyer. I’m guessing it’s fairly low.

23 Anthony March 14, 2012 at 11:17 am

Wrong comparison. How much overlap is there between the universe of Tide buyers and meth sellers. And their mommas.

Everyone uses laundry detergent, though some only by proxy. Almost everyone who regularly uses laundry detergent prefers Tide, even if they can’t afford it and thus use other brands. This is especially true in poor communities, where fashions lag the country as a whole.

24 Ted Craig March 14, 2012 at 11:39 am

They’re not using it to clean clothes. Here’s a passage from meth user message board:

“my friend is over here right now and he bought a gram of meth sunday and him and two other friends smoked it. They thought it tasted awfull and wasnt buring right and only smoked half of it. they later positivly identified it as laundry detergent. “

25 Sigivald March 14, 2012 at 5:22 pm

And you believed that?

(Meth dealers, like any other businessman – even on the black market – need repeat customers, and you don’t get those by selling bunk. This is why almost all drug dealers are selling drugs that the users can actually take and get high from effectively; if the meth-heads think it’s so bad they won’t even smoke all of it, you’re going to go out of business.)

26 Anthony March 14, 2012 at 7:07 pm

And going out of business in the illegal drugs world is often fatal.

27 Ted Craig March 15, 2012 at 9:47 am

There are more rip offs in the drug biz than you estimate.

28 ElamBend March 14, 2012 at 9:42 am

remember the mackerel cans as currency in prison story that the Journal ran a while back

29 statatheleft March 14, 2012 at 10:36 am

When my apartment was burglarized, they took our shampoo.

30 Hillary March 14, 2012 at 10:56 am

A man in MN was charged with stealing $6k worth of laundry detergent over six weeks earlier this year. What I want to know is why it took loss prevention at the store that long to figure out they’d lost $25k in detergent – is it stolen that often? That store isn’t in the best neighborhood, and the loss prevention presence is a lot more visible than some of the other targets in the cities (I used to work nearby).

31 Ted Craig March 14, 2012 at 11:09 am

It seems more likely that the detergent is used to cut meth or clean the labs.

32 will March 14, 2012 at 11:36 am

Surprised to see no jokes about Gresham’s law here.

33 Ghengis Khak March 14, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Bad money washes out the good.

34 Andrew' March 14, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Maybe it’s a sophisticated laundering operation.

35 MC March 14, 2012 at 3:08 pm


36 Highgamma March 14, 2012 at 11:52 am

Tide makes my skin break out but I could still use it as a currency as long as everyone else does. Just sayin’.

37 Yancey Ward March 14, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I have no idea if this story is true, but I can tell you this- when buying replacement cartridges for my Gillette razor last year at a Stop and Shop in CT, the 10 count packages were locked separately in a bulky plastic cube that you had to get a store employee to remove at the checkout counter. I didn’t ask why, but it was obvious this item, which retails for around 12-15 dollars was too easy to shoplift. Of course, Tide containers are even bulkier than the plastic cube, so I don’t think they are easy to shoplift.

38 Ryan Cousineau March 14, 2012 at 1:57 pm

This is only peripherally related to your experience with theft-protection of the razor blades, but the cartridges are also counterfeited! I saw set my co-worker ended up with: the packaging was good enough that I didn’t read it as a fake, and the cartridges looked right, but they were apparently unusable for shaving (no edge).

The meta-question is, of course, what is the advantage of an alternate currency? Do meth dealers suffer from a liquidity trap? Could there be some sort of fairly practical closed-loop advantage to trading in Tide, such as not being as detectable as a nexus for lots of cash transactions?

In prison, the liquidity trap (cash not allowed) applies; in the real (meth-user) world, it’s possible that detergent theft is the core resource: you don’t steal radios or copper anymore, just detergent. You can imagine, for example, an economy where salted fish was the primary resource, and starting to transact in saltfish, just because it was already in circulation.

Ironically, aren’t local shopkeepers the most likely intermediaries for trading Tide back into cash, when you need to exit the meth economy?

39 Rahul March 14, 2012 at 2:07 pm

My local store keeps batteries behind the counter. Also condoms and cigarette lighters. Never suspected that these were high-shoplifting-risk items.

40 Ted Craig March 14, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Didn’t you ever see the Seinfeld about old people stealing batteries?

41 Sigivald March 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Anything small and expensive and with good resale potential (or small and needful to an addict of any sort) is a high-risk item.

Thus condoms (small, expensive), lighters (small, needful to various sorts of addict), batteries. And the premium razor blades.

But not saffron (small, expensive, but no resale market to speak of – junkies aren’t stealing that $12 bottle of spices from the store, because their fence can’t move it).

42 gasb March 14, 2012 at 7:02 pm

I bought dozens of Gillette cartridges at the farmer’s market in LaVerne, CA. They were about half the price of retail. My wife asked why so cheap and was beside herself when I told her they were probably stolen.

43 Rahul March 15, 2012 at 1:45 am

They say Gillette. Are you sure they are Gillette?

44 Brian March 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Saw this on ABC news prime time last night. Thinking, if this isn’t a brilliant P&G PR stunt, it should have been. Complete with video of retail chain managers saying Tide is the most used most trusted brand.

And I’m thinking, damn, it would be hard to sneak a couple of those huge bottles out the store with no one noticing.

45 John Mansfield March 14, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Some places it doesn’t matter if you’re noticed. A clerk at Safeway explained to my wife that Friday nights are a shoplifting free-for-all. The store won’t prosecute, so the police said to quit calling them to merely chase away shoplifters. Management policy now is pretty much to let thieves walk out with their loot. Sometimes one will take it to far with a cartload of meat or such, and then an employee will stop that.

(This came up when my wife asked if Montgomery County’s new tax bag makes it harder to spot shoplifters, the answer being “Oh yeah it does.”)

46 kevin March 14, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Blacks will be blacks.

47 Hei Lun Chan March 15, 2012 at 11:16 am

I work for a supermarket. It is absolutely true about Tide being one of the most stolen items despite its size. People will load up a whole carriage and walk out of the store. Sometimes they’d have a van waiting outside and they’d drive away with the carriage. You’d think they’d be easy to catch but it only takes minutes to load up a whole carriage and walk out, and they usually do it right when the store opens or closes when there are few employees in the store.

48 Floccina March 15, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Is this an a consequence of food stamps? If not why on money?

49 Floccina March 15, 2012 at 4:02 pm

So if not tide what do people mostly use to turn food stamp dollars in dollars now that they are on card so that people cannot exchange the actual food stamps?

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