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74 Mich. L. Rev. 1511 (1975-1976)


The development of sophisticated fencing systems for the sale of stolen property to consumers has paralleled the industrialization of society. Although crimes against property and attempts to control them have ancient origins, most theft before the Industrial Revolution was committed for immediate consumption by the thieves and their accomplices rather than for redistribution in the market-place. Society's small population, inadequate transportation and communication systems, and technological inability to mass produce identical goods constrained large-scale fencing because there were few buyers and because stolen property could be readily identified. The unprecedented economic and demographic growth in eighteenth-century Europe, however, removed these practical constraints and made possible the profitable fencing operations that are now firmly institutionalized in industrial societies.

Although these social and technological developments are important, they do not provide a complete explanation for the rising theft rate or for the tremendous amount of property successfully redistributed annually. Instead, these problems must be attributed in large part to our society's failure to identify properly the economic relationship underlying theft and redistribution and, consequently, to our inability to develop successful methods of legal control. This review of the history and development of theft and fencing has documented the need for reform in the substantive law and in law enforcement practices. The current state of the law is simply not equipped to cope with a problem that is already extremely serious, and that can only get worse.


Reprinted with permission of Michigan Law Review.



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