Summer 2011 | Update 4 | Morality? Check!

The inspiration for this post. Also in film format. 

I read a passage from the book, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner (kinda like a Steve Jobs/Stephen Wozniak deal), where the authors describe the tale of a guy who sold bagels to multiple offices around his city. He would make, let’s say, thirty bagels, put ’em in a basket, drop them off at the place in the morning, and come in after lunch to pick up the money. His friends told him it was a terrible idea, that those cheap businessmen types would steal money from him because it was so easy (just take another bagel).

But in fact, they didn’t. The bagelman kept accurate records of his bagel sales, and found that theft – minimal in the first place – was highest in larger offices than smaller ones. Why? Well, the authors attributed it to the power of morality in a society that’s blamed of being devoid of it. The reason why theft occurred mostly in larger office buildings was because, since there were multiple floors and presumably, multiple, unrelated staffs, it’d be less probable that someone would know you stole a bagel, and it’d be less probable that you knew that he or she stole a bagel. Thus, one’s reputation wasn’t at stake, at least not as much as it was in a more close-knit, petite staff building.

Mmm … those look good. And surprisingly, people don’t steal them even when they can!

So I got to thinking. I ride my bicycle around town quite often, but because I’m usually crunched for time, I generally lock up my bike to the metal bike parking apparatus (or whatever the right name is) and take an array of trains and/or buses to get to my destination. But I always try to be careful about what station to leave it at, or whether to leave it behind at all! If I’m in a bad neighborhood about to take the train, I take the bike on the train with me, but if I’m in a good neighborhood, I’m more confident. But get this – the nearest station from where I live, located in the Coral Gables area of Miami, FL – a good neighborhood, indeed – sees the most defaced bicycles of any station I’ve gotten off at. I see bicycle chasses without wheels, derailleurs, lights, seatposts, chain stays … it’s like a bicycle massacre! But at other stations in presumably worse towns, I’ve yet to see a bike whose condition deviates from mint.

The local University Station. See the bike rack metal apparatus things? That’s what I’m talking about. 

I don’t have an answer to why this is exactly, but I can say that I’m surprised that not all the bicycles are either stripped for parts or taken as a whole. It is so easy to steal a bicycle. Incredibly easy. Suppose you have one of those bicycle locks that disengages with a key. Suppose you left yours at home. Well, you’ve got to get your bike out. So what do you do? Take a out a hammer and pound that thing ’til it breaks! Is anyone gonna say anything? What if they accuse you of attempting to steal a bicycle?

That guy on the right really needs a set of wheels!

Oh wait! They won’t! They’ll either assume it’s yours, or more likely, they’ll assume you’re stealing it but out of … I don’t know, timidness?, they won’t bother you about it. I am so sure of this I’d even try it myself if I was oferred money for it. And I’m pretty sure you’d agree. Yet the moral impetus to do the right thing – presumably being lost in society by antisocial naysayers – keeps normal people from comitting a crime that is almost foolproof. Or arrestproof for that matter.

Intersection of US-1 and the Snapper Creek Expressway in South Miami/Kendall, FL. 


Glad to know society’s still in working order.