Did my good turn for the day. There is this website that hooks up people who have lost wedding rings and stuff with metal detectorists who will attempt to find the item for them. The detectorist gets an e-mail — so and so has lost a ring, hook up with them and help them find it. If you hook up, they will tell you the approximate area they think they lost it, and you go out and look for it.
Well,I hooked up, and after about a half hour of gridding their front yard, I found the ring. Whohoo!
Economists are interested in this sort of stuff. The question is: what percentage of detectorists who get hooked up in these situations pretend they can’t find the item, when, if fact they actually did, they pocket it rather than tell the owner they found it?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but I am guessing it is in the 20-30% range. Could be higher. Obviously a very difficult study to put on (tho savvy economists dying for a Ph. D. could leverage this web site, and a couple of hidden cameras, to do it; I hope someone does — this is a paper I would kill to read). (There are some papers on cheating in this fashion, but they tend to deal with hidden cameras in the break room counting who puts a dollar in the honor system cup for bagels and the like. The evidence suggests that the percentage of cheaters is higher, but it is interesting to posit, as the value of the cheating increases, paradoxically, the incidence of cheating would decline. That’s why its interesting).
Economists tend to be a cynical lot, so perhaps I am being too cynical at 20-30%. I do know of one asshole on one of the forums who found a wedding ring, knew who its owner was, and then held it for ransom. So, at least the anecdotal evidence suggests a percentage greater than 1%.
Well, there’s much more to write on this subject, including the evolution of irrational altruism itself in a dog eat dog world, and the fact that the first time I did this, the ring I found was worth $18,000 (and I knew this beforehand), but I also honorably returned it to the owner in that case, but I want to watch CSI now instead of writing more. Don’t you?