Saturday, April 5, 2014

What Would YOU Do?

What obligation does the man have to report this, or to return the money?

Here's the setup:

A malfunctioning ATM at a bank in Maine has dispensed $37,000 in cash to a man who requested $140. 

South Portland police say they responded to the TD Bank branch Thursday morning after getting a call from a woman who said a man was spending an unusual amount of time at the ATM she was waiting to use. 

Officers found the man stuffing cash into a shopping bag. The money was returned to the bank. Bank officials say they don't want to press charges. But police continue to investigate. The man hasn't been charged. 

A bank official describes the problem as a "code error" and says no customer accounts were affected. 

What would YOU do?  Suppose it was windy, and it was windy because there was a forest fire nearby.  Suppose the money would have burned if he hadn't taken it.  Or blown into the ocean.

I wonder.  I think I would have just returned the money.  But I'm relatively wealthy, and the threat of being charged with a crime is much worse than $37k.  A desperate person might have offered to split it with the woman behind me, so that she won't call the cops.

So, the question, if a rich person can afford to be "moral," but a poor person is coerced by circumstance to be immoral, are we justified in punishing the poor person?  I think the answer is yes, but the fact that I would return the money is not particularly morally praiseworthy.

Final question:  suppose I knew ALMOST for sure I would not be caught.  What amount of cash would it take to induce me to take it, rather than return it?  I think the answer is about $500,000.  So we already know what I am, we are just haggling about the price.

(With a nod to the LMM for the find...)


  1. Punishment of a poor person who takes this money seems useless to me, since this situation is so rare, and not likely to be repeated. Instead, just take the money away and call it a day.

  2. This seems to be primarily a problem of individual discount rates, yes?


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?