Cheating the Bagel Guy, Part II
I recently found this interesting article about this same fellow in the Freakonomics blog:
He had also -- quite without meaning to -- designed a beautiful economic experiment. By measuring the money collected against the bagels taken, he could tell, down to the penny, just how honest his customers were. Did they steal from him? If so, what were the characteristics of a company that stole versus a company that did not? Under what circumstances did people tend to steal more, or less?
As it happens, his accidental study provides a window onto a subject that has long stymied academics: white-collar crime. (Yes, shorting the bagel man is white-collar crime, writ however small.) Despite all the attention paid to companies like Enron, academics know very little about the practicalities of white-collar crime. The reason? There aren't enough data.
A key fact of white-collar crime is that we hear about only the very slim fraction of people who are caught. Most embezzlers lead quiet and theoretically happy lives; employees who steal company property are rarely detected. With street crime, meanwhile, that is not the case. A mugging or a burglary or a murder is usually counted whether or not the criminal is caught. A street crime has a victim, who typically reports the crime to the police, which generates data, which in turn generate thousands of academic papers by criminologists, sociologists and economists. But white-collar crime presents no obvious victim. Whom, exactly, did the masters of Enron steal from? And how can you measure something if you don't know to whom it happened, or with what frequency, or in what magnitude?
They mention that honesty seemed to fall in the 1990's. But I suspect that he was not holding constant a very important variable: relative bagel quality. His bagels were really low quality and many people might have thought that they were not worth the dollar charged. Of course, it isn't right to not pay for something you have already consumed - infact it isn't right to consume something first and pay for it later - but some people might be more inclined to rip you off if they feel cheated by you.
From the statistics listed in the piece, it is clear to me that he was making essentially nothing from his hard work. If his gross sales after 20 years were only about 1.5 million dollars. His net was maybe a quarter of that (at best). His pay as an analyst was the equivalent of 100,000 dollars per year. He really gave up a lot to deliver bagels. I don't really understand his choice.
I would think that companies would be really interested to know who might cheat the bagel guy. That same person might be ripping the company off in multitudes of ways. But I also wonder how well correlated this kind of crime and other kinds of corporate crime. There are many people who would never cheat the bagel guy but would rip off a big corporation.