Sunday, August 31, 2008


Throughout history, the questin has been posed: Is (wo)man fundamentally good? Fundamentally evil? Or just neutral, a blank slate? To date, a clear, concise concensus has never been reached. Yet, today, we might just find the answer... in bagels.

Take Paul Feldman, former government employee-turned-bagel salesman. He sells 8,400 bagels a week to 140 companies, and he is quite content with his job, thank you very much. One little thing, though: Instead of overseeing every transaction, he uses an honor system under which he leaves a bunch 'o bagels and a wooden money box along with a sign that suggests that customers pay $1. It's practically begging them to commit a crime: A bunch of hot, steamy, delicious, Jewish bagels, and no one to call you out if you just happen to snag one.

Here's the thing: Mr. Feldman's data indicates that roughly 89% of his customers pay for their bagels. In other words: Even though they are not required to pay, only 1 in 10 people steal a bagel. Not the best evidence for innate corruption.

Personally, I feel like it's a bit of stretch to relate bagel sales to the fundamental human nature. Still though, it almost seems to shoot down a lot of negative arguments. Yes, people do crazy bad things. But, well, maybe they weren't just "bad" people right off the bat. It's not that simple. And it seems pretty hard to say that people are, well, bad.

This came from the book Freakonomics. Great book. Go read it.

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