Theft and its consequences for poverty

The Christian Science Monitor writes on the recent India nationwide power blackouts and how they are likely the result of widespread power theft:

Theft of electricity is so pervasive in India that 15 to 30 percent of power is lost to illegal hookups, bill fraud, or nonpayment.
Ouch! That's well over 10x the estimated fraction of theft in the USA or UK; and because that stolen power is free, there's no price-limiting of behaviour in e.g. a heatwave where paying customers may be sparing in turning on the air conditioning because it costs them a lot. Pirating customers have no such restriction and can crank their air conditioners up to 11 without fear of consequence - other than total loss of electricity when the blackout hits...

This is a perfect example of a situation where a poor country is being kept poor:

The World Bank estimates that stealing from the grid reduces India's gross domestic product by 1.5 percent. Worst of all, few investors want to put money into building new power utilities with so many juice pirates. That leaves India with little hope of lifting its poor by expanding access to electricity.
The "moochers" so beloved by Ayn Rand are having a field day here; they actually do face consequences of their action (the nation remaining relatively under-developed and electricity supply being unreliable) but those costs are so dilute and abstract that they are completely submerged by the benefit of effectively free electricity. But you can understand why poor citizens do this; harder to forgive are the politicos who are involved:
One study in India's most populous state, Andhra Pradesh, discovered that losses in electricity were 3 percent higher during election years. Politicians were winning votes by allowing power theft. And in years when no known criminal was running for office, the utility's revenues rose 5 percent.
I like that "no known criminal" part.

The CS Monitor frames this as a morality and honesty problem, and it does fit the narrative quite well. In the end, though, it is in practice a problem for the government to solve - people aren't going to stop stealing power as long as stealing it is easy and there are no immediate consequences for the theft. Perhaps India can hold off building nukes and sending rockets into space, and instead start installing vaguely secure electricity meters and then increase its power generating capacity and robustness.

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