Are Wealthier, Better Educated Neighbors More Likely to Return a Wallet Full of Cash than Poorer Ones?

This is an odd question, on a number of levels:

Is community trust a luxury in America? Gallup data offer some support for that idea -- 82% of those making $90,000 per year or more say they would expect a neighbor who found a lost wallet or purse containing $200 to return it. In contrast, 50% of those making less than $24,000 per year expressed this kind of trust in their neighbors.

I think the poll's informational value is close to zero for a simple reason: by maintaining a constant number of dollars in the wallet, neighbors in wealthier communities have relatively less incentive to pocket the cash. $200 represents 1 percent of annual income for someone making $20K, but just 0.2 percent of the yearly take of someone making $100K. $200 simply doesn't mean the same thing to those two hypothetical individuals. Money doesn't even have the same value for a single individual over the course of his or her life -- I can tell you $20 means a Hell of a lot less to me today than it did when I was going to school and scraping by working part-time jobs. Even if Bill Gates found a lost wallet stuffed with $100,000 in cash, what economic incentive would he have to not have his driver go return it.

It's not a minor quibble. The pollsters specified $200 for a reason. It's substantial enough to tempt people to pocket it, but not such a large sum that just about anyone would. They should have established income first, then asked people making $20k about a wallet with $200, and upped the amount of cash on a sliding scale so those making $100K would have to consider whether their neighbors would return a wallet with $1,000.

Let's also consider this proxy they've come up with. Gallup defines "community trust" as the belief that one's neighbors would be likely to return a wallet with $200 in cash. That's a rather arbitrary marker. What if we defined it as, say, "believing the community will rally around a family in crisis"? What would the results look like then?

One could argue that "not snitching out members of the community to the cops" is a sign of trust in one's neighbors, and the results of this poll would probably look very different if one asked that question. Would those making $90K trust their neighbors not to drop a dime on them if they committed a crime?

Gallup's results also offer an ideological Rorschach Test of sorts. 


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