Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Finders keepers?

A 2p piece on the pavement (photo has been blurred
in case someone recognises it and says 'it's mine')
There are various bits of path I quite often cover on my daily dog walks, and I've noticed a 2p piece on the pavement now for several days. This got me thinking. Clearly a lot of people (me included) couldn't be bothered to pick up 2p. So what is the minimum we'd go for? And what if it were a lot of money? What would be the maximum you would pocket, rather than hand in?

After a very unscientific Twitter/Facebook poll, it was interesting to see quite a few people would pick up any coin (some because picking up a penny is lucky), though others wouldn't bend over for less than a quarter (25¢), or 50p. Personally I think my minimum is 5p financially, but I might leave it because they're just too small and fiddly, making my actual minimum 10p. Others pointed out the condition of the coin mattered - they would only pick a coin up below a certain value if it was 'clean' (I'm not quite sure how anything on the pavement is going to be clean, but I know what they mean).

The large sum aspect generated a more varied response, though quite a few would set a break point around £50-£100/$100. One obvious factor here is where the note(s) were found. If it is on an anonymous bit of pavement, most would quite reasonably be less likely to hand it in than if it's somewhere with an obvious location to do so, like in a shop or outside a bank.

Personally, the lowest I've tried to hand in was £5, which I found in a basket in Tesco - but they didn't want me to hand it in, because it was too much trouble for them to fill in the forms for that amount. I've also handed in £100 which, rather amazingly, I found just sitting in the dispenser of a cash machine at a shopping mall. Someone had made the transaction, taken their card, then walked away leaving a wedge of cash.  As it happens, honesty had its reward here, as it wasn't claimed, so the mall gave it to me, meaning I could keep it without feeling guilty.

Some clearly do feel guilty, though, and mentioned giving the found money to charity instead. I can sort of see the logic of this, though if it's not practical to return it to its owner, I don't see any great onus on the finder to give the money away. I certainly never asked one of my daughters to do this when she used to regular harvest lost notes at Center Parcs. At the end of the rapids outside the swimming pool is a big plunge pool. She used to swim down to the bottom where several times she found notes on the extractor grating. I think it's fair that she kept the money a) because she went to the effort to retrieve it and b) because anyone foolish enough to go round a water rapids with banknotes in their swimwear pocket deserves to lose it.

I'm sure, if it hasn't been done already, there's a nice psychology PhD in the whole business of how we do or don't pick up lost money, what we do with it, and how it makes us feel. I suspect we are much more likely to keep cash than something more concrete - a piece of clothing, say, or a wallet - even if there is still no way to identify the owner. It's almost as if cash is so abstract and transactional that it doesn't really belong to the individual, they just borrow it, so once it is in the public domain it is up for grabs.

Whatever - it makes you think, which can't be bad.

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