In your booth, you find an envelope. The envelope is not sealed, so you peer inside. Lo and behold, you find tickets to the very concert you were camped out for. At this point there is some hurried lip service to discharging a moral duty to return the property to its rightful owner, then the professor gets to the real meaty question: what do you do, attend the concert or head back and sell your windfall find? The answer tells you whether or not your students picked up the idea of opportunity cost (hint: many of them haven't). That's fine, but the scenario got me to thinking.
Assuming that there is indeed a moral imperative to find the original owner, does that obligation depend on the contents of the envelope? Is there a similar moral duty to return $1500 cash as there is to return $1500 worth of concert tickets?
We all know that value is subjective, but the closest thing we have to objective value is cash (nod to Nathanael Snow for reminding me that the value of cash is more contextual than subjective), so $1500 cash is worth $1500. $1500 in tickets is subjectively worth $1500 or more to the original owner. They were somewhere up there on the upswing of the demand curve.
So given this self-evident premium, should there be more consideration given to restoring goods to the original owner than to a market-equivalent amount of cash? Is this trash-treasure relationship relevant? If the owner of a booger collection who valued his lost or stolen boogers at half a million dollars be as deserving of restoration as a half-million dollar sapphire necklace owner? What are the relevant margins? Presumed social status? Does your own subjective valuation matter? When you find something, what assumptions do you make? Which of these are relevant to the effort you spend reuniting property with the rightful owner?
How do we form moral intuitions over found property and how do those intuitions change when we find cash instead of stuff?
And why would you go to der Waffle Haus when you drive a perfectly good taco truck?