A Moral/Practical Conundrum

Walking home tonight, I found a significant sum of money lying on the sidewalk. (Thus refuting neoclassical economics. :-)

It is nothing like the sort of sum one could retire on, or anything like that, but it could buy you a nice meal with wine at a good restaurant.

My conundrum is this: If I could with any certainty identify who dropped the money I would gladly -- well, at least not begrudgingly -- give that person back their money. On the other hand, if anyone else at all is to have the money, I figure it should be me: as Kirzner says, finders keepers. Better me than someone who is going to lie and try to claim the money under false pretenses. At least I came by it honestly.

So, the question is, how do I maximize the chances of getting the money back to its rightful owner while minimizing the chances some liar will trick me? This guy tells me that in these circumstances I should just accept it as a gift from fortuna. What do you think?


  1. Anonymous2:27 AM

    Ah, a limited knowledge question.

    Chances are that the one who lost the money has no recollection of it, or at least doesn't know the specifics (he may know that he lost the money, but doesn't know how or where, and probably couldn't prove it regardless).

    As the receiver of the sum you have no idea from whence it came, you just found it. There is no problem in keeping or spending this sum of money unless you have certain moral or principled concerns regarding where the source of the money came from.

    Money, being a homogeneous good, is quite interchangeable, so there is no reason to necessarily save that specific item of money (arguments of inflation and FRB notwithstanding). However, if your proclivity is to be honest and fair-dealing, then if I were you I would ensure that you keep in mind that if somebody has a reasonable claim to that sum of money, that you do not let your flow of funds drop below the level of the original sum.

    I don't know if it was intentional, but this post has particular implications with regard to the anti-FRB argument, especially that of Hoppe, Block and Hülsmann (i.e. the paper 'Against Fiduciary Media'). What I said above can be misconstrued as being in conflict with this paper, but I don't know that this is true. Although their argument has to do with title transfer, it is mostly concerned with the creation of new titles or new money claims, not necessarily the exchange or finding of already created money, or the value of such through time.

    I think that if you found the money and are cognizant of the fact that it probably belongs to somebody else, then you should always be prepared to deliver that sum, in the exact same denomination, to its rightful owner. However, the loss of value of that denomination is not your fault, nor should you feel obligated to hold onto that specific bill in lieu of another bill in the same denomination. Just as the value of the money commodity is beyond your control, the same is true of the production of such. Your only obligation is to pay the sum when rightfully demanded. If you can't, then that is where the real problem arrises.

  2. It was literally a wad of cash and nothing else? Then I guess you just have to be quiet and see if any of your neighbors complain about losing a wad of cash.

    A more difficult one is: Suppose you see a $20 on the floor of a store. Do you turn it in? If I trusted the staff I would. But even if someone goes to them and says, "I dropped a $20 did anybody turn it in?" they could just say "nope, sorry."

  3. Let people know you have found some money but don't say how much. If someone comes to claim it, make them tell you the amount first.

    1. Yes, if it were a small office or my building, I would do that. But the money was found on a busy street. I have no idea how I would let "people" know I found it.

  4. In Judaism, return of the lost object is considered a moral obligation, based on Deutromony 22:1-3
    Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother.

    2 And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again.

    3 In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost thing of thy brother's, which he hath lost, and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise: thou mayest not hide thyself.

    Nevertheless, the practical aspects of this duty are tied to the question of private property. While loosing an object does not disconects the ownership immidiatly, Judaism presents two cases in with the pbligation to return is void.
    A) Inability to proof an ownership. In case that Bob presented, unless someone actually got the serial nuber of 20$ written down, or had special marking (like ultraviolet markings), he cannot actually prove that the bill was his.
    B)Forfeiting the ownership by despair. For instance, if the object fell from a ship to the sea, the original owner considered "dispaired from ever finding" (unless he has technical means of locating the object). Therefore, the object has now no owners, and the first to claim it - owns it.

    In your case, if the sum is substentual enough for the owner to hope to retrieve it back, and if he could proove the ownership, by telling you exact spot, time, and the number of bills of each kind, then, should you were of Jewish creed...


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