Civic honesty around the globe

I am a bit late to this party, having been traveling, but I will serve this one up anyway:

Civic honesty is essential to social capital and economic development, but is often in conflict with material self-interest. We examine the trade-off between honesty and self-interest using field experiments in 355 cities spanning 40 countries around the globe. We turned in over 17,000 lost wallets with varying amounts of money at public and private institutions, and measured whether recipients contacted the owner to return the wallets. In virtually all countries citizens were more likely to return wallets that contained more money. Both non-experts and professional economists were unable to predict this result. Additional data suggest our main findings can be explained by a combination of altruistic concerns and an aversion to viewing oneself as a thief, which increase with the material benefits of dishonesty.

That is the abstract of a new paper by Alain Cohn, Michel André Maréchal, David Tannenbaum, and Christian Lukas Zünd.  It is easy to say this ex post, but I find this intuitive.  Here is the famed country-by-country picture which is circulating:

Here is a picture of the actual vs. the predicted reporting rate.  Experts predicted more overall cooperation than turned out to be the case, most of all for the wallets with no money in them, but basically got it right for wallets with lots of money.  Non-experts got it backwards altogether.

For the pointer to this one I thank many different MR readers.


Interesting graph, but I think it should have been sorted on "money" rather than "no money."

Yay Czech Republic, just a few years out of communism, champions of personal property.

Poor America, below Russia and barely beating Brazil.

In other words , the countries with the most cucks per capita. Only cucks like the Swiss or Swedes would waste their time virtue signaling. I hate Marxism but this is why China is the world's rising power. They eat cucks for breakfast.

Glad to see the comments are still a garbage fire, as always.

I wonder if the poor rating of the U.S. is because of the drug problem/users?

I wonder if millions of Central American and Asian immigrants are dragging the US average down. The bottom end of the US used to be bounded by Italian immigrants.

Canada ranks higher and there are proportionally more immigrants.

From Central America?

know why? If you lose your wallet while curling in the rec center in Flin Flon someone's bound to find it because no one goes outdoors between August and May.

China won't be happy to receive yet another humiliation regarding its "internal matters" and the "dignity" of the nation.
I do wonder if the results would have been different had the study used lost phones, which now seems more crucial than a wallet for most.

In China, those who lose their valuables are considered careless, thoughtless idiots. It's an old fashioned way of thinking but the generation that went through the Cultural Revolution is still in charge. The one that surprises me the most is the UAE, a country that is rich with low levels of crime, so I have to believe it may be related to their immigrant workers who are more profited minded and with no path to citizenship only see their stay as temporary.

The only identifying information in the "wallets" was an e-mail address (no phone number). China basically doesn't use e-mail. The only items of any value in the "wallets" were a key and (optionally) the equivalent of lunch money in cash. China basically doesn't use cash anymore, either.

I lost my phone right in front of the airport security desk in China. Without missing a beat the security woman said "iPhone" and I said no, it was an LG. I signed for it and it was mine.

I wouldn't try this as a way to finagle a phone. The airport security people seem young but deadly serious.

I can attest to Mexico. They charged all my cards as well as keeping the money.
Their moral bankruptcy caused mine monetarily.

Mexico is the only country to have the "orange then red" bar reversed! That means their rich are bigger thieves than their less monied citizens.

It's all good.

Within five years, the rest of them will be here enjoying free food, free health care, free housing, and whatever of your money they can steal.

If you're lucky you won't be righteously sliced and diced by an assault machete.

Net migration from México is negative. And has been for years.

How do you know?

Fifteen years ago a flip phone popped off of my belt at a supermarket. I knew it happened but delayed picking it up as I reached deep into a shelf. Then I forgot. It was late at night and some Latino guys were riding around on those floor buffers. I forgot about the phone until the next morning. I called my phone and someone picked up, heard MY voice, and then hung up. I called the phone company and found out someone placed calls all night to several different numbers in Mexico. I cancelled the phone.

They are honest people - they only come here to work.

I had almost forgotten about those old pre-smart phone belt holster things.

'For the pointer to this one I thank many different MR readers.'

TiananmenSquare, Louis XVI, Napoleon Bonaparte, Abbie Hoffman, and Bashar al-Assad among them, one presumes.

See now the jealous Ex isnt a very good character. Be better.

"Each wallet also contained three identical business cards, a grocery list, and a key."

I wish they would have included identification such as driving license which is more valuable to the owner but has no value to the finder. Most people have backup keys so a key, business card, grocery list (?) and wallet don't seem like they would be valuable enough to the owner to warrant the finders effort to return them. This would help control for whether or not not returning the wallet was an effort vs altruistic reward thing or an honesty thing.

Getting 17,000 fake driver's licenses in 40 countries might have been a bit tricky

Happens every year at big state schools!

I see that they anticipated this concern and compared key with no key wallets. They found a key increased returns of cashless wallets by 9%.

I agree. The “wallet” did contain anything too valuable to be worth the effort in returning it. Many people would not worry that the person is suffering enough for the loss to make the effort to return the wallet. I would say that this study reflects being lazy more than being dishonest.

But the "finder" was actually a research assistant from the study itself. They turned in the "found" wallet to "(i) banks, (ii) theaters, museums, or other cultural establishments, (iii) post offices, (iv) hotels, and (v) police stations, courts of law, or other public offices".

So this study wasn't even measuring the honesty of ordinary citizens. It was measuring the willingness of staff members of various institutions to trouble themselves to return mostly useless items... the only item that mattered was the key.

The only identifying information provided was an e-mail address, not even a phone number. The importance of e-mail varies in different countries and among different age groups. In particular, China doesn't really use e-mail at all, they do everything in apps like WeChat.

If you have business cards, you're probably not a student or a pensioner or someone who would actually miss a small amount of cash ($13.45 in US dollars, in local currency and adjusted for purchasing power parity). And what kind of weirdo in China has business cards that don't provide "proper" contact information, and still uses cash? In China everyone does mobile payments through those same chat apps, so much so that it's hard to get businesses to accept cash payment.

The importance of the key will probably vary in different countries: it matters more where people are more likely to live alone. Some places might have a stronger tradition of leaving spare keys with trusted neighbors, or a mandatory spare key with a landlord, or even disuse of physical keys in favor of electronic security.

So the methodology is flawed and measures other incidental factors far more than the honesty of the citizenry. And the wallets weren't even "real" wallets, where the most valuable things are are credit cards and hard-to-replace IDs.

This is silly. Chinese people certainly have and use email and SMS. It's not like there is magical tech only available in China that makes wallets culturally irrelevant. Many transactions are still handled in cash.

This is silly. Chinese people certainly mostly do not use email in their daily life and most people do not have an email address. Have you ever lived in China? SMS? Do you see a phone number on the business card?

This is silly. I am a Chinese. I can reliably tell you that most Chinese people do not use e-mail even if they have e-mail. Chinese people who have e-mail are normally senior public servant work for the central government or CCP, staffs of the corporations, students or teachers of the universities and academic institutions. And actually, those people who have e-mail rarely use e-mail to contact others. SMS is not very popular because SMS charges extra fees, we use WeChat instead in China.

What's more, China has stepped into 'cashless society', almost every Chinese people, do not need to take wallets and use cash or credit cards in daily lives. We use Ali Pay or WeChat Pay instead in China.

You should pay a visit to China.

Before describing this as individually driven, note:

Study:Wallets were returned to one of five societal institutions: (i) banks, (ii) theaters, museums, or other cultural establishments, (iii) post offices, (iv) hotels, and (v) police stations, courts of law, or other public offices.

This is really measuring how much effort businesses and public institutions will go to return empty wallets with no money in.

No surprise it's lower in the US (with rather stretched public institutions and an "easy come, easy go" attitude to material stuff) than in the goody two shoes Nordics, or the conformist, bureaucratic Eastern European ex-Communists.

The Chinese, bottoming out the rankings, would tend to reflect their rather dispassionate cultural attitude to the parting of a fool and his property - theft is strict a no no but looking after careless people isn't exactly important to the institutions either.

It's also measuring the prevalence of e-mail usage (vs. texting), since that was the only contact information provided. In some countries, China in particular, e-mail simply never caught on.

It's also measuring the importance of a physical key (the only item of any real value). That matters a lot more if you live alone and have no one to let you in. For example, two thirds of young Italians live with their parents, while in northern Europe the vast majority of them live independently. That could partly explain the discrepancy between Scandinavia and Italy in the chart.

Both good points, technological communication factors and the social value placed on the lost items will have an influence beyond the other factors I've mentioned.

It doesn't seem like a totally useless measure - I'd expect some correlation with "Good governance" indices first and then a lesser one with Tightness-Looseness Measures (to take account of the "Ze wallet must be returned even if worthless because zis is gut ordnung!" effects).

But clearly there will still be some robust residuals that are fairly inexplicable and are down to a range of smaller factors which are different between country.

So there is some limited utility even taking this as evidence for "civic institutions", let alone try to get from there to "national character" or "civic honesty" of the general population of each state.

That makes a big difference. The explanation for the within-country differences between Money and NoMoney probably remains the same: wallets with NoMoney may not seem "worth the effort" to return. Big difference, though, in understanding the cross-country results. It's not about "honesty"; it's about how much effort people working for various institutions are willing to exert for something that's "not (necessarily) their job", like returning lost wallets. Maybe, the fact that the US and UK are near the bottom for developed countries explains why socialism and Big Government can't work in those places: bureaucrats in these countries can't be expected to do anything more than the bare minimum to keep collecting paychecks. That might also explain why union protections in these countries seem to have such detrimental impacts.

Maybe, though with that said, the same condition is the case in their private sector drops, so whatever "would not go above and beyond" factor is endemic to institutions and not limited to public sector bureaucracies alone.

I don't think Kiwi and British police etc are that culturally different in attitudes though. I suspect if anything along those lines it's it's more that British and American employees, police etc in their largest cities are busy and don't have a lot of spare "slack" in the system for minor league "village policing" type activities like hunting down people to return lost property with lunch money and small change in it, and the incentives and protocols don't allow it from them. And ultimately that's probably more to do with the public, via its representatives, not being willing to fund that sort of thing.

That is: Relatively recent (last 50 years emerging preferences for smaller government and police? Cheaper and more efficient no-frills service industries with less "overstaffing" and not a lot of slack manpower?

"the same condition is the case in their private sector"

The difference being that markets work *assuming* that participants follow their incentives. Public sector institutions, in constrast, depend on an assumption that government acts benevolently in pursuit of some public interest, whatever that means. Assuming that public sector actors act in their own interest, as in public choice theory, does not lead to very strong cases for empowering public sector bureaucracies.

I think even public sector institutions depend on the assumption that the public is monitoring the bureaucracy and can punish/reward behaviours in its interest, and that public sector employees are ultimately much motivated by their self interest and the job of the public is to make sure those align. That's democratic politics, and the like of the Nordics are at least as keen on monitoring their bureaucrats as anywhere else!

Similarly I don't think many people are quite that seriously confident that private sector solutions would still work out even if their employees were totally amoral and self interested...

I'm pretty sure it has to do with the prevalence of a "Finders Keepers" ethos culturally embedded in the belief system of a country, society, or even a club or family. As explanations go, I give this one a very persuasive feeling allowing me to advance the probability of its being true as highly likely to be true.

To the degree its cultural and not reflecting institutional and business differences (which it largely is) this seems correct.

Note this is divergent from 'fair play' honesty in gambling conditions and not cheating (see -

Also note that they handed these in to companies and institutions in each of the countries' largest cities; returning a lost wallet in a huge country like China probably involves a lot more effort than in a tiny one like Denmark or New Zealand. Urban-rural ethos also differs more in some nations which his global megacities (the 5 largest cities in the US may be rather distinct for'ex).

Although thinking again, a lot of this won't be due to "Finders Keepers" - if a wallet is handed in at a hotel, would you A) proactively try to find the owner, including by contacting random business cards left in the wallet, or B) log it down in your records, drop in lost property until someone contacts you to claim it? B) doesn't mean you're thinking "finders keepers".

Now if you do B), and even if B) is your hotel policy (so you're being conformist and 'prosocial'), and even if everyone in your country regards this as the norm, this study implies you lack "civic honesty"!

Shocking finding:

"Using nationally representative surveys conducted in the US, UK, and Poland, we asked respondents to imagine receiving a wallet with the contents in our four conditions (NoMoney, Money, BigMoney, and Money-NoKey) and rated the extent to which failing to return the wallet would feel like stealing on a scale from 0 (not at all) to 10 (very much). Respondents reported that failing to return a wallet would feel more like stealing when the wallet contained a modest amount of money than when it contained no money, and that such behavior would feel even more like stealing when the wallet contained a substantial amount of money"

It's worth noting that in the supplementary material they show what the wallets look like. They're basically transparent plastic mini folders with the money, key and card in them. Do such wallets actually exist?

Yes that was my concern as well. Without money it it, I might have considered it basically trash and not worth spending any effort on.

Japan wasn't included but would be #1 for getting a wallet back with all the money.

I have a friend who taught an English night course in Japan and one time the person responsible for collecting the student's money told him she forgot the $400 worth of yen in an envelope that she had on a table at a Starbucks. He said she wasn't worried one bit and went to get her envelope of cash two hours later.

Weird it's not on here. What the hell kind of international study includes *Kazakhstan* but not Japan?

Disappointed to not see Saudi Arabia. I hear they chop off the hands of thieves.

99.9% conviction rates and trials by judge alone are seriously business....! There is a pure cultural component outside the institutions of course, but.....

this study methodology wouldn't work at all in Japan. If you hand a lost wallet to a random Japanese employee they'll dutifully drop it off at the nearest Koban and wonder why the hell you didn't do so yourself.

So why wasn't Japan included? It's the third largest economy with 127 million people. Good that they included Croatia, though.

Almost everything gets handed in there, so they may have decided not to bother. But there the person who hands in a lost wallet is entitled to 25% or more of the money in it. Honesty isn't free, ya know.

In Japan, if it isn't yours, then it must be someone else's so you do the right thing and turn it in. In certain other places, such as the country where I grew up, if no one is guarding it with their gun, then it obviously is your right to take it. And why shouldn't you? You deserve to have want you want.

Although the one time I lost my wallet on a Japanese street, someone turned it in but they kept the 2,000 yen that was in it. So obviously, there are exceptions to every rule.

So, there are moral sh*thole countries and well as economic ones?

Joking aside, look at say Spain and India. Are the majority of Indians just THAT much more dishonest than Spaniards, or are the dishonest Indian just really, really bad (criminal)?

A Swiss funded research shows Switzerland is the most honest country

The study used business card holders, not wallets, and handed them in to businesses and public offices like hotels and post offices. Then they checked to see if an email was sent to the email address on the business card in the business card holder.

Regarding China, they don't use email there. They use WeChat or something else.

I'm not sure why they didn't just use real wallets with IDs in them instead of business card holders with business cards, which people hardly use these days. Also I'm not sure why they insist on calling them wallets, which is just confusing.

Socialism is once again #1! All those moral puritans on the left really are more honest. The kings of capitalism USA and UK are unfortunately in the 3rd quartile with the same level of dishonesty as the Mediterranean. Sad.

I used to look at graphs like this and diversity destroys social capital.

But homogenous black and hispanic countries are dysfunctional. I guess you just want as many northern/western europeans as possible

It may be also informative to adjust these response by GDP per capita. Basically, if I am a Swiss or a Norwegian, I don't really need any more money, so, yeah, let me try to find the owner. But in lower income per capita countries, the tendency would be to see if I can keep the money (if there is any) or benefit somehow from the IDs or cards in the wallet...

Might be instructive to read this study of honesty against the measure of MR's history of treating "corruption" as a topic.

When I typed "corruption" into the MR search engine, I got numerous returns on corruption in China (many if not most entries date back to the Obama years) and hardly any that treated corruption outside of China and comparatively few that treated corruption within the US.

Corruption in the US bears widespread, deep, and substantive investigation, by economists if not by intrepid journalists whose own profession is among the most corrupt in the US today.

By the by: just how corrupt might our cognitive elites themselves have become over recent decades? (Numerous members of this class have learned to consent to the theatrical conventions of media presentation and influence.)

To hear the tale told, we would be obliged to rely on cognitive elites to compose the methodologies and measuring protocols, then trust their judicious applications of these measuring approaches, THEN trust their informed interpretations of whatever data are collected.

How trustworthy can our Cognitive Elites themselves be deemed today? How well do they translate their own hieroglyphics for trusted public consumption? (When even "educated" ["trained"] Americans without technical expertise cannot understand or trust what our Cognitive Elites claim, our Cognitive Elites need to focus mightily on their translation skills.)

It may also be worth considering that turning property to police may risk it being held as evidence of a crime. I also wonder how I'd establish ownership with just a key and a business card - why would I assume that the card was the owners? Especially one with only a email address. I get things like that (including keys!) as junk mail (snail mail, usps) from time to time. I doubt that this "study" tells us anything. Were lost and found policies in place at the institution/business? Where did the finder claim to have found it (relative to the property (owned? rented?) of the institution? What would the cost be to 1) contact the (possible) owner? 2) securely store the "wallet"? 3) verify and record identity of claimant? It is worth thinking about literacy as well. Not to mention the number of hands the "wallet" must pass through. And each of their wages and working conditions...Nah, I'll file this under B.S. (Behavioral and Social) "Science" and move on.

One of the big flaw in the study is that the authors did not go back and check what really happened to the wallets. If the front desk staff put the wallets in some lost & found boxes and did not send emails to the addresses on the name cards, that would be considered dishonest. In fact, Japan was excluded from the study because the authors found that Japanese would normally turn in these wallets to "police booths".

And the authors are 100% sure that other countries do not have the same mechanism. That's strange.

I found a wallet with no money or cards but a driver lic. I mailed it to the young guy with a note. Did not get a thank you. Would not bother next time.

You are a good person. I will suggest you do the same if you have another chance. Imagine those conditions: Maybe he has moved and did not received his driver license; or someone stole his cash and left the wallet to you...

Comparing the United States with a population of 325M people with Switzerland's 8M or Norway's 5M doesn't tell you much about the US.

Break this out by US state and the pattern might be more obvious.

The authors are Swiss. No wonder they lost more wallets in Switzerland.

In China people may be afraid of being accused of stealing the wallet in the first place if they return it, or being accused of lifting some money out of it particularly if it is returned empty.

If they put a QR code on the card instead of an email address, China would go to the top.

That is right! I am chinese. We hardly use email, now is 2019, nobody use email to chat, Especially old man and children. This experiment is very not fair and loosely. And they drop the wallet, this type of wallet, is very very unusual, nobody think that is wallet in china!

A useful and interesting variant on this would be to breakout figures for different neighborhoods and or ethnic areas or other social differentiators to see what that reveals. Wouldn't want to speculate but there are vast differences in trust and social cohesiveness among various groups in a multi ethnic society and breaking out the variance among groups might shed valuable light on the traits associated with honesty or group concern..

Science magazine supposed to be a realiable source of scientific research, why bothering become a government backed propaganda tool. In spite of the intensive relationship between china and USA, the timing of this article is beyond suspicious. Morality is such a subjective concept and it is ridiculous and even laughable to quantity this, desipite the fact of cutural diference. It is super strange if you carry a wallet in the street or use paper money, since people in China use their cell phone to pay for everything, if chinese people find a strange plastic wallet with couple bucks of cash in it, people will not even pick it up because it is so strange. Anyway, this research reminds me of some research used conducted by british, which shows some random experiment results and data, trying to prove generally black people's IQ is lower than white people. I bet science magazine really have no boundaries by helping government to win this war. I have a recommendation for science magazine for their next article, by conducting research of how many weeds consume monthly and how many people own guns in a country, and make a ranking called global violence score. Oh, wait Science also can make a scientific assumption by saying how would chinese lifespan of citizen increase one day going to reduce the lifespan of US citizen.(this topic will be much effective to back up your government's agenda.)

shame on your dumb civic survey

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