I Found $100 in a Cab. Was It O.K. to Keep It?

The magazine’s Ethicist columnist on what to do with found loot, whether to come out to your students and more.

Comments: 178

  1. There is a difference among lost, mislaid and abandoned items. In this case, someone was in the process of paying for the cab and dropped the bills. This is not dissimilar from leaving your wallet on the counter and forgetting to pick it up after a transaction. Ethically, you should make some attempt to return the money. I understand the impulse to avoid being defrauded out of the money by the cab driver or other opportunists. One option would be to call the cab company and ask if anyone reported a lost item on that date. If they can describe the item, the time, or the cab #, you probably have the owner.

  2. @John Hritz "I understand the impulse to avoid being defrauded out of the money by the cab driver or other opportunists." ...so, you are saying the money is the property of the finder? He cannot be defrauded out of something that is not rightfully his. If it truly is his, then there is no need to search for the previous holder of the money. If I find something that cannot be identified(cash), I figure it's mine to keep. Does that extend to finding something valuable like a diamond ring or some such? I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

  3. @John Hritz One day I went to the grocery store and used their self-checkout system. When it came time to pay I used my bank debit card and also asked the system for $200 cash back, since I would be going out that night with friends for dinner. I picked up my groceries and left. As I was loading my groceries into my car I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten to pick up my $200 from the cash dispenser inside. I rushed back inside and ran up to the clerk who oversees the self-checkout area (about 12 units) and asked if anyone had found my money. She asked how much and I told her $200. She smiled at me and said that the next person to use that machine had noticed the money and turned it in to her. She, in turn, had turned it over to the store's customer service person. After showing my receipt to customer service they forked over my money and wished me a good day. So, two honest people ensured that my money was handled ethically and if I had never come back for it, it would have been my fault. Flash back about 40 years. My father and I had gone to the grocery store one night and I found a $20 bill on the floor. I picked it up and asked my father what I should do with it. I, by the way, was about 10 at the time. My father asked ME what I should do with it. I said that the right thing to do was to give it to the store manager in case someone came back to claim it. Dad smiled and said he thought that was the thing to do also. Lesson learned.

  4. @rahinpa The passenger may have left it as a sweet surprise for the taxi driver.

  5. $100 found in a cab. Hmm ... As the saying goes,"Finders keepers", but the taxi driver might have had the first claim on the money found in is cab.

  6. @Tuvw Xyz: "Finders keepers" is an assertion, not a rule, from children who have not yet developed a moral sense. I would steer clear of anyone who claimed it as a guide to acceptable behavior, for fear that I might "lose" something someday in that person's presence.

  7. Re LW1, with the quote, "...there was no way of tracking down the person who left the money...". If in fact the last rider was the person who left the money in the cab, then it may be possible to determine at least their name. Almost no one pays in cash anymore, so no doubt their is an electronic payment record of the rider before you, something which the cab owner maybe able to obtain. It's not a guarantee, of course, but it strikes me that the wetter offers the "can't find out" as a salve for his conscience more than anything else. I also found it rather laughable that the writer further tries to assuage his feelings by saying he decided to "donate half to charity" (note, decided is stated, but did he actually do it?). Why not all to charity or just a windfall yourself? Bottom line, the writer seems to just want to keep the money and be done with it but his conscience is leading to all these mental gymnastics.

  8. @George S — “Bottom line, the writer seems to just want to keep the money and be done with it but his conscience is leading to all these mental gymnastics.” That describes about 99.9% of the ethical “conundrums” presented by this feature every week. People need to listen to that “still, small voice,” or less poetically, their gut, and act accordingly. The fact that they think they have to seek validation for their actions says it all. Me? I would have handed the cash over to the driver because it was in his cab, which is kinda/sorta his property since he has control over it. He could have then decided what to do, or acted within the cab company’s lost property policy. (And does LW #1 expect three cheers for donating *half* the cash to charity? I’m with you — LOL.)

  9. @MDB If the first writer's situation was such that the $100 would have made a significant difference in his life, then I would say that it would have been fine for him to have kept the money, provided he admitted to himself that there was no ethical justification for doing so. If, on the other hand, the writer is like the vast majority of NYT readers, then the $100 would not have been a made a major impact on his life, and he was just sleazy and self-centered to take it, and even worse for trying to find a justification for his flat-out theft (it's not like the money was on the street , where you'd never find the owner - as pointed out, it was in a cab, and the owner was probably identifiable, so not attempting to return it, such as by giving it to the driver, and simultaneously reporting th find to the cab company to keep him honest, was much more like theft than like "bad ethics"). The writer's penance is to dig out $100 of his own money, look at his receipt. contact the cab company, and report the money he found. He doesn't get back the $50 he donated to charity.

  10. Sane or not, if the screed is public and contrary to the values of the company they can dismiss him. Without labeling the fellow you could start by telling your friend you can see why they found it disturbing and see what he says, go from there.

  11. @Di That's what I thought. I'd tell the dad that I understand how the company reacted to this essay, and that I found it disturbing, and ask the dad what he thinks about it.

  12. So the taxi passenger stole one hundred dollars out of the back seat of a vehicle that did not belong to him and that's kinda sorta okay. Got it.

  13. Cab Passenger: No it was not OK.

  14. LW1- I kept some money that I found, and without any proof, I assume that the driver is dishonest. Deep down, I know that the money belongs to someone else, and I donated 50% of it so that I wouldn't have to think of myself in the same category as that thieving driver. Now I am seeking absolution from The Ethicist, and I am hoping that 50% is enough to get me off. LW2- These immigrants have expressed an interest in your life which is an indication of their positive feelings toward you. I doubt that finding out about your relationship will drive someone away from learning, and this is all a part of what it actually means to be American. Teachers are people; loving someone is a big major part of you, and I think your students would be pleased to know that you are happy in a relationship. They may even have some interesting questions. Won't that be fun?

  15. @John Exactly. LW, the money wasn't yours. That's all you had to know. You dreamed up how the cab driver was immoral, though you didn't know him, to justify keeping this money that you had no right to. Appalling.

  16. LW1: The ethical action is to notify the cab driver that you found the money. Cab drivers are supposed to record where they picked up and dropped off passengers. This would allow the person who lost the money to contact the cab company in hopes of getting their money back. It would also allow the cab company to locate the cab driver based on where the person who lost the money was dropped off and, if available, the number of the cab. While on a trip and walking to my motel room, I found a wallet containing a lot of cash on the hallway floor. I called the front desk and asked if someone with the name in the wallet had checked in. They gave me the person's room number and I took the wallet to him. That was an honest and ethical action that anyone should expect. Ethicist: Since when is "Finders, Keepers" an ethical response to finding something that doesn't belong to you?

  17. @Pete I found a purse hanging inside a stall in the women's restroom at SF airport decades ago. I saw it hanging on the hook when I locked the stall. The purse was open and was stuffed with many, many, $20 bills....not even in a wallet. I took the purse to the information/announcement booth and asked that it be returned to the owner. I didn't look for any ID in the purse myself, I did not want to be responsible for returning it to the owner or for safeguarding what was easily well over $1,000. If not much, much more. I was not in the least tempted to take just one of those many $20 bills. However, a few times I've seen cash lying on the sidewalk...sometimes a $1 bill, twice a $20 bill. There was no one immediately in front of me, not a busy sidewalk. I just picked up the bill and walked on. In that situation, running ahead to ask a few people if they just dropped a $20 bill doesn't make sense. Anyone and everyone could claim it. I wouldn't take cash left in an Uber by the passenger before me. That passenger's name and location is known. I'd give it to the driver. If the driver steals it, that's on the driver, but not on me.

  18. @Pete Agree completely, EXCEPT that the front desk giving you the wallet owners' room number - or identifying any resident by name and room number - is poor privacy practice. They should have asked you to come to the front desk, then called the wallet owners' room, and had them come down to retrieve the wallet and thank you (unless you wanted to be anonymous, in which case you wouldn't wait for them to come down).

  19. @ejb This incident occurred about 35 years ago at a motel near Yellowstone National Park. I agree that the motel would respond differently nowadays and in the manner you've specified. The bottom line is still that the wallet was returned to the owner before he was even aware that he had lost it.

  20. give it to the cabbie. he/she needs it more. they are drowning in medallion loan debt, and besides who works harder for their pay, you or the driver?....the diver; you're the one being chauffeured around.

  21. Few month ago I forgot to retrieve my extra loads from a trunk of an Uber. I tracked the driver down but he said , I can drop it off to wherever you want but you have to pay. His explanation ? Because it’s my fault . You shoulda checked all your belonging before leaving the car he said !!! Then one day , unexpectedly, there was my belonging left at my doorman! My take was maybe our fone call was listened to his supervisor somewhere and told that was wrong by saying it was a customers’ fault to forget things therefore they have to pay to retrieve!

  22. Why shouldn’t you have to pay him for making the trip to your home? Driving is his job, he will have to spend time and potentially lose another job while he is driving to your home. Was he somehow at fault for your leaving your belongings in the car? I’m truly puzzled that you don’t think you need to pay him to make this extra trip.

  23. @Malaika We have left valuable items in Uber twice (Once was a phone and once was a laptop). Both times we were informed that it was Uber plicy to charge $20 to bring the items back. We were thrilled to get the items back and gave large tips on top of the $20. When you call an Uber for a ride, drivers who are close by come to pick you up. When you call for a lost item, the driver can be far away and is thus sacrificing his time and earning potential to bring you the item. It is totally fair to have the $20 policy. And without the fee, it might happen that drivers would be less likely to "find" the item in their car when you call to say you lost it.

  24. Why would it be the driver’s responsibility to make sure you collect your belongings? His or her responsibility is to drive you from point as to point B, that’s it. Also, why would you expect the driver to return your items free of charge, expending time that could be spent on a paid ride and footing the cost of gas? It sounds like you refused to pick up your stuff and the driver returned it out if exasperation and without compensation.

  25. ... Continued LW4: Your friends skimmed the register and didn't report their full incomes. Every small business owner in the world does this. It was the basis of their retirement plans and is what they are basing their whole futures on. When I was a kid, a friend of the family owned a junkyard. He had a lot of cash stashed in the house. Somebody broke in one day while he was away and stole it all. He died within a week of a massive heart attack. So it's your choice: Be the moral guy, rat on them, and recoup a few thousand dollars for Uncle Sam, who just wasted trillions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ruin their lives, or swallow it and don't

  26. @Eric We had a small business and we did not skim.

  27. @Eric For at least the past 20 years, US tax law makes quite generous allowances for business owners to shelter large amounts from taxes using various types of retirement accounts. (Much larger amounts than most salary workers can shelter, and more than most people could safely skim.) The money is physically safer than in a safe, unless you're an apocalyptic type, and it's entirely legal. Plus, you can keep it in cash or invest it conservatively.

  28. @Eric Your "everybody does it" justification is untrue and appallingly immoral.

  29. Does following the way of the heart really mean hating the sin or shunning an errant friend? Could it not mean opening one's heart to the sinner and trying to help him, with love and with the understanding that there is only so much anyone can do, toward a better path?

  30. On the son who wrote the disturbing essay. Yes this fellow should tell his friend his son should have been fired because he may have mental problems. If the father disagrees then it is on him and his son but at least he was warned. Is truth or honesty so hard?

  31. Kevin, we do not know the essay's actual content or the politics and values of the person reading the essay! It may well have been a progressive political essay which the conservative reader labeled an emotional distraught screed. The son's boss may have been a Trumpist who disliked the son's politics. There's simply too little to go on. But let's say it did reflect a mental health issue; the solution wasn't to fire the son, but to get him help. The friend needs to have a calm, quiet talk with his friend about the essay and together see if they can reach a common ground. They should also talk with the son.

  32. @Kevin "should have been fired"? How do you know? Do you know all the facts of the situation? What makes more sense is to just tell the father what you know - that this was one very disturbing essay, and explain if necessary why some of the things written in it could easily disturb someone in a position of responsibility. And that if you and one employer were disturbed by it, many other people might likely be disturbed also; and that this is something that it's probably not a good idea to leave unaddressed, and you hope for the son's sake that it gets addressed. No judgment. Just facts and concerns.

  33. @ejb Absolutely agree. This is really a simple one. The dad asked you for your help and opinion. So give it to him. But you don't need to be overwrought about it. You don't need to make something happen. It's in their hands.

  34. The money in the cab was certainly left by the last rider in the cab, since it would have been taken or otherwise dealt with by any intervening passenger. Even if the cabbie doesn't keep meticulous records, he certainly remembers where he dropped off his last passenger. Maybe it was a private residence on a side street, making it easy to identify the owner of the cash. A conversation with the cabbie could have been initiated without revealing the amount of the "find." The outcome of the conversation could have guided the next step. That course would have been realistic and moral.

  35. On the cash-skimming small-business owners, I'm reminded of a close relative, whose career was in the law. She always insisted on the highest standards of legal and ethical compliance, from herself and everyone else. Until I started helping with her taxes: "Just add $500 in donations", she said...(even though she had made no donations), since "everyone does it." (Need I say she had at one point worked in an important position at a tax law firm)? I pointed out that listing donations she had not made would constitute fraud, but she simply couldn't see it. The social expectation that "everyone does it" apparently overrode her otherwise firm ethical standards. I think most of us behave this way sometimes. It's true: there are laws (including financial ones) that are largely ignored, which is generally a clue that they are bad law. This highlights the deeper problem: that our explicit rules sometimes clash with how we live, even though they seem fine in a vacuum. Life is more complicated than laws, or moral codes. But how to reconcile the two when they diverge is never easy.

  36. @Pquincy14 "Everyone does it" - like Trump saying "Everyone agrees with me". Where's the evidence?

  37. "Coming out" myself as someone old enough to remember being naïve about gay relationships, later learning to read implicit signals in conservative U.S. cultures ("my son lives in the city and isn't married but his father doesn't know ...") and THEN much later working as a Peace Corps Volunteer and as an ongoing volunteer with refugee communities: there are options for dealing with your English students. The question "are you married?" doesn't necessarily signal that students are ready to hear about your sexuality: it's a common question in pretty much every culture. Students may simply be getting used to the idea that women in this country can live their lives without male partners. You can simply say that you're "unmarried" and/or that you live with another woman without going into details. Culture in the U.S., including gay relationships and the struggles of the LGBT community can come up in class in a less personal way, via news stories, student questions, etc. Your students must come first: Many are working through contradictions between a religious faith and community that provide a lifeline for them yet are highly critical of American culture. So it depends on the individual students and the composition of your classes. The respectful path is probably to let the penny drop naturally while signaling that direct questions are always welcome. Cultures, including our own, have ways of acknowledging truths and supporting individuals without being explicit.

  38. Strongly agree that in most non-western cultures, the question about marital status does not typically mean they're asking about whom you have sexual relationships with. I've lived in the US for 38 years, and, while I know well enough to not ask a leading question about marital status, I am still flummoxed when any discussion about relationships quickly becomes all about sexuality. I like this reader's suggestions about possible low-key responses and putting the students first.

  39. @Flaneuse: saying she is unmarried is appropriate if she is, in fact, unmarried. However, I agree with the answer here: if she is married, it is a teachable moment, an opportunity for her students to learn about the country she now lives in. When I have lived in Saudi Arabia, avoiding discussions regarding my relationship with my partner was a matter of survival in a country that was extremely hostile to homosexuals. But being asked the same question in the US is certainly different. I am reminded of something similar that happened to me; at the dinner for my great-nephew’s orthodox bar mitzva, the boy said something like “I understand my great uncle is my grandmother’s sister, but how are you related to me.” I said, “Your great uncle and I are married.” The boy said, “Two men can’t get married,” to which I retorted, “Yes, they can and we are.” Interestingly, his Orthodox rabbi said he thought it was good that the boy learned these things from his family, pointing around the table to indicate that I was there as a member of his family. On subsequent occasions, the boy (and his brothers) have treated me with the same warmth and respect as his other uncles and calling me “Uncle.” So these kinds of questions are often a learning experience for the questioner.

  40. What? I presume were the teacher married to a man you’d have no problem with her disclosing her marital status. Why should she have to tiptoe around whatever whackadoodle ideas, religious or otherwise, her students have about LGBTQ people? If she’s obliged to pretend to be either asexual or straight so as not to offend her students, is she also compelled to pretend to believe in their faith, their politics, their dietary choices? No one has to be marginalized or accommodate a pretense for the convenience of anyone else. I can agree that those in positions of relative power shouldn’t press their politics or religions on their subordinates, but the teacher isn’t demanding acceptance of her sexuality as a prerequisite for learning English. A seemingly-friendly adult is asking another seemingly- friendly adult about her life. If students can’t learn from a lesbian, carnivore, Jew, etc., they’ve bigger lessons to grasp in life than conjugating irregular verbs. Enough already with pretzeling the rest of us to shelter those who insist on clinging to their pathological fantasies.

  41. What a wonderful segment of the news. I loved reading Appiah's responses to these ethical problems. Thoughtful. Full of heart.

  42. When my son was 9, he found $500 on the floor of our local grocery store. I didn't know he found it (he was paying for his own snack and saw the 5 $100 bills on the floor by the self check-out). Without consulting anyone, he turned the money in at the Customer Service counter. As I was checking out, the cashier told me what he had done and congratulated me on having such an upstanding kid. Long story short, the store had video of the person dropping the $ and his credit card info. They contacted him and he denied the $ was his. After 60 days, the store called and told me that my son can come get the $ as no one "claimed" it. I guess the moral of the story is that honesty is the best policy. And my son is one lucky kid!

  43. I found a $50 bill in a parking garage next to a Mercedes. Only one business was open nearby: a breakfast restaurant. At the restaurant, only one table was occupied, by a group of 5 very well-to-do men. I approached them and said, "I found something on the parking garage floor. Is anybody missing something from their wallet?" They all checked their wallets and one guy said, "I'm $50 short." So I gave him the $50 and he said thank you. Afterward I felt really miffed that he didn't offer to buy me my coffee. Then I realized that he has $50 and a Mercedes because he keeps all of his $50, while I am the start of person who returns $50 to its owner.

  44. Maybe he didn't want to insult you by paying you for having been honest. Just curious, did you just want him to offer a reward or would you have accepted one?

  45. @Kathy B Same thing happened to me; I saw $20 fall and gave it back. I was unemployed at the time and it was a struggle, so it was difficult to see her simply say thanks and push it back in her pocket like it was nothing. Twenty years on, I no longer care and I still have my self-respect.

  46. @Kathy B "Virtue is its own reward." - Oscar Wilde

  47. I agree. The $100 wasn't yours and the best alternative at the time would have been to give it to the driver to take care of the problem - one way or the other. Anything else is self-serving rationalization and that's a bad habit to get into.

  48. Years ago I was in Central America on a short vacation. I left my wallet in the a cab. I called the cab company and reported that I left my wallet. It was retrieved from the back seat and returned to me. I would definitely give to the cab driver whatever I find while in a cab.

  49. This reminds me of an incident that happened decades ago. We were from California and visiting Statue of Liberty. Our daughter who was maybe 8 yrs old at that time left her wallet in a cab. It had maybe around $10 in several $2 bills a rarity that she then liked, and some of her school friends' photos. The cab drive turned it into a police station that notified us. They sent the entire package back with all the cash replaced by a check. It was different from the piece because it had some identification in it and was not all cash. But the cab driver still had to take time to do the paper work. He could have kept that insignificant amount of money instead.

  50. I found twenty dollars on the floor of a large store decades ago and turned it in. I got the nicest thank you note from the young single mother whose money it was. I cherish that note far more than any twenty bucks.

  51. Finding money in a taxi: I see it differently. I see the Taxi at the Taxi Driver's place of employment, his office so to speak. If you walked into someone's office in an office building, would you keep cash you found on the floor? I don't think so. I think most would turn it in to the person who occupies the office. The cash should have been given to the taxi driver and it is his/her responsibility to deal with it.

  52. Why do people feel guilty for or unworthy of getting an unexpected gift? I guess that distinguishes most people from the super wealthy—this agonizing over a small sum when the rich feel entitled to it. As Woody Allen might say, just take the money and run—and don’t look back. Give yourself permission to enjoy your good fortune.

  53. @AlNewman A gift is something a person knowingly and deliberately gives you. A gift isn't something you take, knowing you have no right to it.

  54. @AlNewman I can't talk for the super wealthy, I'm not one of them. I don't know if they get unexpected gifts that make them so wealthy, but that's unimportant. The important thing is not to be like the above mentioned, if it's getting undeserved "gifts." What was found in the taxi wasn't a gift. It was someone's loss, and might have been someone's vital loss. The good fortune would have been to find a way to return the money. It's karmic capital, and money can't buy that.

  55. @AlNewman I think it's James Mason who advises Paul Newman in "The Verdict" to "take the [settlement offer] and run like a thief."

  56. When I lived in NYC over 30 years ago I found a wallet in Penn Station. When I opened it there was over $250 dollars inside. I took it home with me and started going through each space inside the wallet and taking everything I found out of it. Even now I still remember how awful I felt doing this. I soon found out that this person was male, from Ohio, and there were several numbers on a list. I started calling each one of them to find out where he was in NYC and how to reach him. A few hours later I did reach him in his hotel room. He did not believe me at first but then I told him all the people I spoke with at home and then he knew it wasn't a dream--there are still honest people living in NYC! I knew what he looked like from a picture of him and met up later that day. He was still in shock, needed the money and all his credit cards, etc, and offered a finder fee and to cover the expense of calling out of state. I thanked him but declined a reward. Why should I need one? Was just doing what I would hope someone else would do. My own wallet is filled with treasures (love papers worth GOLD) and I removed them after this experience. So, I don't believe you gave half the money to charity. Charity was right in the front seat,the cab driver--you took the money that belonged to someone else. What to spend it on? Its tainted because you believed it belongs to you when it doesn't. You don't know how much that money is needed! If you find something it doesn't belong to you.

  57. Kwame, It's unethical for you and for the person who found the money to assume it's more likely the cab driver would pocket the money. I assume people drive cabs because they want to earn money honestly. Oh yeah, I don't think most office sneak thieves are cleaning people.

  58. Re the $100 story I would have done the same. It would all but impossible to find the true owner and if you tried scammers would line up. The only thing I would have done differently is not give half of it to charity. Charities probably are the biggest scammers of all time. If you want to give to charity make it hands on, buy a homeless person a meal, give clothes to to a needy person etc. etc.

  59. Cab passenger: Not the right thing to do, and you know it, or you would not have asked. The first best option in this situation was to do the right thing and return it and hope—or trust—that the cabbie would also do the right thing too if the money's rightful owner claimed it. Your decision prevented any of this from happening. Worse, with this money you paid yourself a 50% finder's fee after 'donating' someone else's money to charity. Why not donate all of it? This would have been the second best choice. Shame on any 'ethicist' that sees any positive ink in this moral ledger.

  60. @FRITZ Absolutely right. Really dreadful answer.

  61. I recently found money in the machine at a self-checkout line at my supermarket. It obviously was someone's change that had been forgotten. I didn't count it, but it was several bills. Probably not that much. Anyway, I took it to the service desk because I thought that the previous customer might come back to get it. As I walked away, I saw the person at the desk put the money in his pocket, and I realized what a fool I had been. I should have just kept it, and I will if it ever happens again.

  62. @Ms. Pea "I think other people are dishonest, so that frees me up to take things that I know aren't mine."

  63. I must be incredibly lucky, or just very observant. I find ten or twenty dollar Bills, in the parking lots OR in the aisles at Stores at least once a month. I used to turn in in, but realized it was just being pocketed. Now, I Place it in a special compartment in my large Wallet, and hand it out to homeless people, when asked. Works for me, and them.

  64. @Ms. Pea There's probably a security camera over that employee so, maybe they didn't keep it in the end. And if they did, encountering one dishonest employee is not an excuse.

  65. The writer who found the money in the cab "figured the cabdriver would just keep the money for himself". On what basis? At least there's a chance the cabdriver is honest; the letter writer certainly isn't. This isn't a "pardonable offense"; it's opportunistic theft buried under a pile of self-justification.

  66. @george exactly. and simple greed in taking would be better than the gross speculation about the cab driver and the dubious mention about donation to charity.

  67. Cab money. The back of the cab isn't a public space. You entered someone's space, and took money. It doesn't matter that the cab driver might not have known it was there. In my opinion this was a simple theft. Whether or not the driver can return it is irrelevant.

  68. RE: "... close friends... who are otherwise principled people." People who systematically cheat to amass large sums of money are far from principled.

  69. Huge wake-up call to learn that the overwhelming urge to excoriate banks, businesses and politicians for conspiring against ordinary working people is a sign of mental illness. Thank you! I will reach out for professional help.

  70. @Mark Totally, but I have suggested to friends that they get help in a tactful way and some have, some haven't, but if it's from a place of care it should be fine. You just have to know if you have that relationship or not.

  71. We all recall the childhood mantra, “finders keepers...”. However, how one can keep cash found in a cab when the news is filled with reports of cab drivers in severe debt (many committing suicide in desperation) since the rise in Uber and Lyft is beyond me. The right thing to do was to hand it to the driver, if he was able to return it to the owner, great, if not we all know he could use it himself. It does not make it more righteous that half was given to charity!

  72. @Stefanie Exactly right. The doctrine of clean hands comes into play here. Giving ill-gotten funds to charity doesn't mitigate anything.

  73. If there is no way to identify the owner, I would give the whole amount to the driver when the fare is due.

  74. Re the essay. Perhaps the son is simply reflecting the father's views, in which case it would probably be futile to comment.

  75. One thing the cab passenger did not think about was the possibility that when the previous passenger realized he had lost the money and called the cab company, the driver could have been accused of theft! The money should have been given to the cab driver!

  76. I choose to believe that the previous taxi rider was practicing a random act of generosity to whomever fate should deem worthy of the 100 dollars. But I am from Santa Fe and don’t live in Manhattan.

  77. @Okbyme: Horsefeathers. More likely it was someone's food money for a week.

  78. @Frank O: or even more likely, it was someone's drink money for the night.

  79. @Frank O People in those kinds of financial straits generally take the subway or walk.

  80. [email protected]: I have patients of a very wide variety of backgrounds. When asked my religion I often find a way to defer But I have realized that I feel most discomfort when a Muslim asks, as I am Jewish Recently I have come to believe by acknowledging my heritage (I am not observant all) it could be lesson in cross religion/cultural understanding...

  81. Working retail in the 70s in NYC I have returned several wallets to their owners with everything intact. I never received a single thank you, but I still do the right thing. As far as he $100 in the cab, the driver, many of who have reached the point of considering suicide, deserved the money more than someone that could afford to hire a cab. I doubt very much you gave anything to charity.

  82. @Paulie Which suggests a separate question: I've returned, and once had my stepson return a wallet, also with no acknowledgments. I wonder why that is? Is it because they are afraid that in seeing their personal information you become a danger?

  83. A common thread on each of the 'problems' discussed is that each individual involved feels a need to involve themselves in a process that needs no involvement. In sum, an 'ethical problem' is being created where there is, in fact, none. Perhaps that's the way 'ethics' works in the first place. Heaven forbid you just find money and you keep it. The "finders keepers" of our childhood is apparently too simplistic a model for our neurotic world. As for feeling an obligation to tell a friend about the wacko rantings of their offspring, what ever happened to MYOB? In sum, I wonder in how many other cultures than this sort of column would be widely read, or regarded.

  84. It's not possible to identify lost cash so I think the rider should have offered it to the driver.

  85. I once found $700 in a cab. Which I happily pocketed.

  86. LW4 - If there is one thing I know, don't mess with the IRS. You should have a talk with your friends. Ask them what the upside is to sharing this information because the downside is not pretty. If they shared their secret with you they probably have shared it with others. All they need to do is share it with someone who thinks the IRS should know about it and they are in big trouble. As a friend, I would advise them to stop sharing this information.

  87. skimming from the top resulting in a safe full of enough cash fro retirement? If nothing else this is serious tax evasion. It is a major crime. Does hurt all of us who are honest. should be reported.

  88. @Honeybluestar Nobody likes a snitch.

  89. @PrairieFlax I want my fellow taxpayers to pay their fair share. I don't want to pay their share on top of mine. So don't speak for me.

  90. @Laura Lets start with Fortune 500 Corporations and the 1%; including all those in the White House. The way the laws are written they are not paying their fair share.

  91. There's a moral hazard in this taxi scenario. You keep the money and it is possible the taxi driver gets blamed. It's not free money.

  92. You had no business keeping that money. Between you and the cab driver the cab driver had a better chance of returning the money to the rightful owner. The rightful owner might have contacted the cab company which would have been easy if the rightful had paid the fare with a credit card. Plus, if the cab was owned by the driver, is essence you went into someone's place, found something that did not belong to you and kept it. Not nice.

  93. And at the very least the cabbie probably remembers where he dropped the previous passenger off and could swing by there again.

  94. I have been asking a similar question of my pediatric patients for decades, beginning at age 3. You would be amazed at some of the insightful answers and horrified at others. The bottom line: IT’S NOT YOUR MONEY. There are obviously multiple variants of solutions to this conundrum, as the writer stated here, but the ETHICS involved should remain constant for someone with an ethical compass. If this happened on the street within sight of the person dropping it, regardless of the amount, return it without question. If one finds a “bag” containing a large sum of cash or something expensive, make every reasonable attempt to return it by advertising time, and location - NOT amount or what it is. Usually, giving it to the “authorities” will result in “someone” claiming it. I have become cynical about that avenue but wish that police could always be trusted. Often, when you increase the amount of the find, the finder’s “keep response” will increase. This person could profit from a “teaching moment” that might change his/her life for the better, especially in the present state of our occupant of the WH setting a lawless and unethical example for weak, unprincipled people. HE would pick your pocket and not wait for you to drop anything.

  95. @RealTRUTH It is so disturbing, isn’t it?

  96. I'm sure most of us agree that if you CAN return lost money to its rightful owner, you should. When you can't really be sure the money is going to its rightful owner, I don't think it's so clear. I think I am in the minority here, but I'm not convinced there's an obligation to give it to charity in that case. There seems to be something a bit superstitious or mystical about these beliefs - like it's karma maybe? If you just took it and went and got a sandwich with it, would the universe smite you? I don't think there's any way to judge what the universe or God or karma thinks should "really" happen to random unclaimed wads of cash floating around the back seats of taxicabs or anywhere else. Giving money to charity is a good thing to do - but that's because giving money to charity is a good thing to do ANYWAY - completely independent of how you came by the money you give. Money someone loses isn't somehow earmarked for specific causes in the universe, in my worldview. Supposing the person who lost the money is actually a drug dealer (that's another person who frequently carries cash). Is giving their money back the right thing to do? Or supposing you give it to the cab driver, and the cab driver gives it to jihadists? Or he takes it and goes out to get drunk, even though he's late on his child support? I'm not sure I, individually, am any more or less qualified than the next person to decide where random unclaimed cash "really" belongs.

  97. The finder failed to get the bills checked for DNA/fingerprints and return the money along with a bouquet of sustainable (fake) flowers. That would've gotten an "attaboy" response from any decent, unavoidably annoying yet earnest ethicist of note.

  98. The so-called "ethicist's" answer to the money-left-in-the-cab answer was so uninformed and unethical as to be appalling and to leave me wondering what the qualifications are to write this column---leaving me even more appalled when I read that he teaches philosophy at NYU! --at the very least the columnist should have called the taxi and limousine commission for information before authoritatively claiming that there was no way to trace the owner. As many (ethical) readers have pointed out, there is a lost-and-found service. It works best if you have a receipt from the cab or credit card record, but even without one if you know the times, site of pick up, and drop off, they will work to try to match the cab. Also--I find drivers to be very ethical; once, in a conversation started with my finding a cell phone, the driver recounted driving luggage to a tourist across the city (this took his time, gas, and decreased his income, but he did not ask for compensation nor did he complain, just praised the tourist to me for the very large tip) [re the cell phone---yes, called the person, who was just a few blocks away---we pulled over and waited until the guy came] It is likely that the money belonged to the person immediately before this person and that the driver would remember-=--might have just left them out a couple of blocks away; in fact, the person might well have been running after the cab even as the person who wrote was pocketing the cash.

  99. Wait--if you found someone's cellphone, how did you call him & have him answer if the phone was with you in the cab?

  100. @melanie_hammer How? Lynn probably used her own cell phone.

  101. If you find a celtel that is on, just wait, the person who has misplaced it will call it from another number.

  102. I can't believe that a person would take a hundred bucks from the back of a cab, donate half to "charity". and then write to the nytimes for confirmation of his/her good intentions (what else?) What did you do with the fifty bucks you kept for yourself?

  103. @mbellovin I agree. I find it very unsettling nowadays at what passes for ethical behavior. I see it rampant, but especially among the young people. They are not even bothered by it. The concept of shame is disappearing.

  104. Not trying to sound "holier than thou", but I was always taught to not take something that wasn't mine. I can't break that teaching and wouldn't make any assumptions about the ability to find the person who left it nor the honesty of the driver (really??? you really questioned that??? who are you to make that judgement?). So in my book, keeping the money was unethical. If it was your money you forgot, what would you wish would happen?

  105. @WeThePeopleI so agree. Who is this letter writer to assume s/he is of better moral character than the cabbie and more deserving of someone else’s money than the cabbie? Entitled people make my blood boil!

  106. At some point the amount of money become material. A quarter we can all agree is immaterial. Five thousand dollars (or francs) is certainly material. But a hundred bucks, It's a judgement call. I would have likely handed it to the driver, but if the driver jut pocketed it, it would not bother me.

  107. The clear ethical imperative in the "Two close friends" situation is to stage (and film) a heist of what must be a big pile of cash! Sell the rights, pay taxes on the huge payday, and pay your friends pack with legitimate earnings. This ethics thing is so easy!

  108. Is it unethical for you to jist go ahead and write this screenplay? Because I'd watch it now.

  109. @adam hammond Seems like money laundering to me.

  110. Many years ago when I was a student, I found some cash on campus near student parking. It was the beginning of the semester, and after I picked it up, I looked around to see if anyone was in obvious stress looking for it. The few who were around were at a distance and they certainly appeared to be simply going about their business. I knew I couldn’t start waving money across the parking lot and yelling if anyone had lost cash. Still, it was clearly not my money, and so, I bought it directly to the main office. After I explained to the secretary I had found some cash and where, I showed her the crisp 100 dollar bill. Her eyes grew large, and she placed it in a sealed envelope and kept it safe. She told me to return after a few weeks, and if no one claimed it, I could. I truly wanted the owner to have found it. But I suppose no one thought to come to the office and inquire about it as it was cash. At any rate, after I returned at the appropriate time, the secretary said no one claimed it, and she gave it to me; I donated some to an organization—and then bought groceries with the rest. In hindsight, I should have donated it all. But I felt I had made an honest effort to reunite owner with their money. After all, as difficult as it may be to return cash we may find, I’m sure we can all agree that it is not our money, and an effort should be made to return it. It’s how I was taught as a child, and I’m also sure most of have been taught this as children as well.

  111. @DD I was registering for classes at a local community college in north Virginia years ago. The man behind me, holding a fussy infant, left a roll of several thousand dollars on the table next to us and walked away with the crying baby. I brought the money to the registrar and told her where I found it and described the young man. Hours later I stopped at the office and registrar told me that the distraught young man returned with baby and was immensely relieved that his money, for college classes, was returned. What I did benefitted me immensely, I was responsible for returning the money that perhaps changed this young man’s life, and the life of his small child. The ripple effect from my act of honesty made me feel as if I may have altered the trajectory of the future by one small act. The feeling of doing the right thing lasts a very long time! My sense of self esteem has lasted much longer than a couple of thousand dollars and whatever I would have bought with money that wasn’t mine to spend.

  112. @ ginny s Interestingly enough, the money I found was also at a community college— where years later—I was lucky enough to be hired and actually teach there. Many of my students often need to work to pay for tuition as they juggle family, school, and work. It’s quite challenging for them, but they persist. So your integrity may truly have meant all the difference in this young man’s ability to attend college. I’m sure he has never forgotten your kindness and honesty! It’s also gratifying to know there are still those who are honest and do the right thing.

  113. There are ways to track down the person who left the money in the cab. At least, if you believe crime dramas, it should be simple. In reality, it may not be worth the effort to track someone down for $100. Leaving it with the cabbie (and if you don't trust him, mentioning it to the home base if applicable), at least leaves a chance of it being returned to its rightful (if forgetful) owner. Proof of ownership would be tough for something so fungible, but if someone called unprovoked and was able to provide the right information, a reasonable lower standard of proof may be achievable.

  114. The ethicist on another circuitous route away from ethics. The money in the cab belonged to the previous occupant or it would have disappeared already. People pay with credit cards so it is possible to identify them. The person would have phoned the lost and found. The taxi commission would probably been able to return the money. If the finder didn't trust the driver he could have notified the lost and found on his own. Even if taxi drivers are underpaid it was still not his money. The disturbing online rant is a big red flag for deviant behavior. I am tired of ready about mass murderers who left an online trail of mayhem but those around them were too stupid to do something about. The friend should be told that his son is severely mentally ill and needs help, even against his will. Jeffrey Dahmer's father suspected that his son was engaging in deviant behaviors but failed to act. The father needs to address this before it's too late. For those who think that is violating his civil rights, I worry more about his innocent victims.

  115. @S.L. I pay taxi fares with cash.

  116. There is an interesting article on NPR about an experiment with 17,000 "lost" wallets. The experimenters dropped wallets with varying amounts of money and other personal items. They found that wallets with more money or with personally valuable items were turned over to people who could help return them more often than those with less. One hundred dollars was the number in question. It is germane to the first letter. https://www.npr.org/2019/06/20/734141432/what-dropping-17-000-wallets-around-the-globe-can-teach-us-about-honesty

  117. @S.L. Also in today's NYT.

  118. The retired business owners are not only wrong, but foolish. First, they cheat the IRS, social security, and state taxes, and tell others. Now they are keeping a small fortune in cash in their house and telling others the location. So many home invasions, often violent, involve households where it is believed the owners have cash on hand.

  119. @M.R. Sullivan I hadn't thought about the home invasion possibility. Good point. A coworker once told me something confidential (I forget what) and my reaction to her was: "should you be telling me this?" and she responded: "Oh, it's just you and me." I doubt that I was the only one she told. Some things one should just keep quiet about.

  120. LW 2: Rather than give advice, I will address the ethical question: is it unethical to withhold personal information from relative strangers to avoid making them uncomfortable due to (your perceived) cultural differences? It seems charitable to them to do so, and it doesn't dishonor your partner because she is not harmed by it, true? So it seems perfectly ethical and even kind.

  121. @Roger why is it her job to make them feel comfortable with prejudice against gay people? she is teaching english and they may also learn that good people are sometimes gay

  122. @JEM To 'avoid making the uncomfortable' is not the same as 'making them comfortable'. While what you suggest might be positive, is it ETHICAL to withhold personal information? No. (She ASSUMES they have prejudice, or don't know that some gay people are sometimes good, because of their ethnicity - maybe she has some prejudices she needs to examine?) Her job as language teacher doesn't ETHICALLY require her to teach 'acceptance', nor do they come to language lessons to be taught what someone else thinks they should believe. When I was a teacher I didn't share unless personal information unless I was asked, and only in context of he course curriculum.

  123. @Roger I think people choose to share personal information at various disclosures based on the circle they are interacting with. I also a teacher, for example do not discuss religion, politics, or hot button issues with parents. I work with families of all backgrounds. I provide an education. When asked about hot button issues, I simply state I don't discuss those with my clients. But, this individual feels she is dishonoring her relationship which is a completely different situation. She really has three options: Say she doesn't discuss her personal life, Say she is married and leave it generic, or do what was suggested and open a dialogue. And frankly she could do any of the three based on how she sizes up the individual she is interacting with and how she feeling about "getting into it" at the time.

  124. Taxi - Since I found a lottery ticket today (blowing around in a parking lot), what would the readers think about finding a ticket (or several tickets) in the back of that taxi. Do you quickly make an effort to find whoever left them there, or should you maybe wait until Saturday and see what happens? If the tickets were a winner, and someone claimed that you had kept the tickets he lost, how would you respond? Does the dollar amount matter?

  125. It’s not yours, so don’t take it. Seems simple enough.

  126. The story about finding money in a cab reminded me of when I found $140 in new $20 bills near the mailboxes in my apartment building. I put up a sign and my cell phone # that some money had been found but received no response so, I gave the $140.00 to a friend with financial problems.

  127. I wonder if it would be possible for the passenger in the taxi who found the $100.00 to use the Taxi Lookup tool of the Taxi and Limousine Commission himself or herself. The passenger could state that if another passenger could somehow identify when, where, how, and how much, etc. some money was left in a cab, that that person could reclaim it. I believe also (but I'm not sure) that found items returned to the police can be given back to the person who found them if no one claims the items.

  128. I once accidentally left a small coin purse, containing one to three dollars, on a bus, on my way to work. I never contacted the bus company to report this loss (in case another passenger or the bus driver found the purse and turned it in to "Lost and Found department"). However, if I had lost more than $25, I might have reported this to the bus company. Losing a few dollars, as well as the change purse, did not seem worth the time (to me) to try to get it back.

  129. The previous passenger may or may not have a receipt or otherwise be able to identify the taxi they were in. That’s irrelevant. If the $100 isn’t returned to its owner, the driver needs the money more than the passenger. In my experience, cab drivers are gems. Several months ago, I hadn’t even realized my phone was missing after a cab ride when the driver was at my door returning it. I had to force him to accept a reward. Another experience, not involving taxis: in my supposedly “rough” neighborhood, I had walked a block to a store and discovered I didn’t have my wallet and feared I’d lost it. When I got home, a guy was standing inside the lobby holding up my drivers license. He’d seen a sketchy-looking guy picking up my wallet and snatched it from him and brought it to my building. Wouldn’t accept a reward. The only time it’s okay to keep found money is small amounts of cash with no one around. For a large amount, I’d post a sign with my contact information and ask the person to provide enough info to ID the cash.

  130. Don't understand why cab drivers' honesty and ethics were presumed lacking when the passenger who actually took the found-money was considered ethical.

  131. It seems to me it's 100% OK to take it as no way of getting it back to the owner. As you found it you have a greater claim than the driver. Had you left it the next fare would have found it. If you told the driver to tell the cab company that some money was found in the cab, and if anyone calls about it they should contact you via email and if they knew it was five 20's then you could arrange return.That would seems to be the best solution but yours was second best and giving half to charity was a very nice gesture. I hope you gave the driver a generous tip

  132. I think part of the answer should at least include giving the cab driver a handsome tip.

  133. The thing about stealing the money from the back of the cab is that it leaves the cabbie vulnerable to being accused of keeping that money and lying about it. And there could be worse consequences for them since it leaves a stain/uncertainty on their character in the future. The other thing is that people who carry large amounts of cash are often those who don't make much to begin with: Those who cash their paychecks at currency exchanges, or don't have enough money to use a bank account. Giving half of it to charity assuages one's conscience while profiting from crime - no more, no less. You can't justify your own actions by impugning another person's moral character.

  134. There's a question on the standard IQ test for children that asks what to do in the cab situation, just when it happens in a store. The best answer is to give it to the storekeeper. There are other answers that get full or half credit, but none involve keeping it for oneself, giving money to charity, questioning what the store worker will do with the money, considering the worker's likely wage, or thinking through what systems may be in place for the owner to try to recover the property. It's obvious that the rider should let the cabbie know that the money was left there. Almost all children taking this test, get this answer right.

  135. @Ken Why would this be in an IQ test? For the children, the question would be a test of whether they understand adult expectations of them, not of their intelligence. They mostly gave the expected answer, but it does not mean they would do the action if they were in a real circumstance.

  136. Years ago, I was at a local deli when I saw a greenback sitting far away on the floor. I thought it was a dollar bill. As a got closer to it, it started looking like a ten. When I picked it up, I saw it was a $100. There was one other customer in the deli, and when I asked them if it was theirs they said, “No, but you should keep it.” I turned the bill over to one of the deli managers with my phone number, telling them that I would claim it after 6 weeks if no one else did. The 6 weeks went by, and I got the $100, which I donated to charity. I’m not superstitious, but spending something I knew wasn’t mine made me think I was definitely asking for some kind of trouble later on.

  137. LW #1: The money was clearly not yours, it could have been turned in to the driver, to his employer or to the local police precinct. The one time I found a sum of money ($60) in an airport while running to make a connection, I held onto it, 2 days later a friend asked me to sponsor him in a 10K run for a very worthy charity, and I donated those funds. I would not have felt right personally benefitting from someone's misfortune. LW #2: As you are not a trained professional. I would tell your friend that you find his his son's essay disturbing. One suggestion might be that he show the essay to a psychiatrist for a professional opinion.

  138. #1 I was a lot younger and poorer when I went to a grocery store with my cashed paycheck of $230. After I paid and was trying to juggle my purse, the wallet, and the grocery bags, the cash slipped out of my wallet when I left the check-out counter. I went back shortly after. Nobody returned it. It was pretty devastating at the time. No matter the amount, whenever I find money, I always think that someone will need it back. #3 It's not your business. Hold your hand, your tongue, and your heart.

  139. What if it was a tip or a pay-it-forward experiment ?

  140. LW4 is talking about an issue which I think is endemic in the US. for anyone who has a business with transactions done in cash which can often be all or partially off the books. it is justified by the attitude of " they all do it" or antagonism to the federal government, or simply greed. One of the problems is that we do see all the time that power and wealth begets more wealth and power because it can demand special treatment. We have a President who is a poster child for cheating. As for what this writer should do: he gave tacit approval to cheating on taxes by not speaking up before. He is providing tacit approval now. And there is no way to capture the ethical high ground. Would people see this differently if this was a bout a larger company hiding profits? Or about, say, a drug researcher who lies about results to maintain funding? I guess the Ethicist is leaving it to the writer and readers to to decide if the value of supporting friendship trumps the responsibility to report stealing ( essentially what this is about).

  141. I find the comments in the vein of “you should have given it to the cabbie; he needs it more than you do” puzzling. If the point is to ensure the money goes to the most needy, surely there are needier people on this planet than a cab driver. Why should the can driver be the beneficiary of charity due merely to proximity? The only reason it should go to the can driver is to increase the likelihood that it returns to its rightful owner.

  142. If the cab driver refused to take the money to return to original owner, leave the money where you found it. Very clear cut situation.

  143. You should've given the money to the cab driver to return to original owner - quite clear.

  144. @Outspoken, Howw exactly was the cabbie to find the original owner?

  145. Unfortunately, I have friends and family members who cheat on their taxes. They don't see it that way, but when you write off a private surfing session at a water park as a business meeting it sure squawks like a duck! Another example - writing off a trip to Europe because of a 1 hour visit to some office some where (and not an office that is affiliated with your employer or anything), and writing off a private fishing charter because you went with "business acquaintances". I know, I know, the real problem is our lopsided tax code, corporate welfare and robber barons, but this slippery thinking makes all that possible. And my daughter is being audited by our state because they think she erred in using a free online tax service that told her to expect a $40 rebate from the state. THAT is what catches their attention.

  146. The ethical thing to do in life is to know yourself as an honest person. That means that the ultimate fate of the $100 is irrelevant to you. LW's nod to giving half the money to charity is proof that the LW knew at the time it was dishonest to have kept the money. I don't know how giving money to a charity makes one know oneself as honest when the money isn't yours. Like others, I think this aspect was moral queasiness, as is asking for permission to steal but still consider oneself honest.

  147. Most people who buy cab rides are not in desperate financial straits. Cab drivers, however, are not rich, and some are in such financial trouble that it's led them to suicide. The best response would be to tell the cabbie what you found and that you'd like him to take it.

  148. @Hardbull While agreeing that cab drivers are not rich, I am not sure telling the driver that you'd like him to take the money is the right response as it is not yours to begin with. Better to inform the cab company and wait for somebody to claim it.

  149. I once found a $100 bill while waiting in line at a deli. It had been folded several times which makes me think it was probably dropped by a young person who didn't have a wallet. I wanted to wait and see if someone came in in a panic, looking for their lost money, but I didn't have time so I handed it over to the cashier. Some guy named Vinnie came up behind her and said, "oh yeah, someone just called about this", and took the money. I'm 100% sure he was lying. Oh well.

  150. I once found a hundred dollar bill on the floor of an event attended by several hundred people. I took the time to locate the event chairperson and turned it in to her. She in turn put out a general notice to hundreds of people. After two weeks no one claimed the money. She donated it to a local charity. If I’d found it on the sidewalk or in a parking lot, I personally would have donated it to charity. If it was in a cab, I would have asked the driver for the proper person in that company to contact, held the money until the company confirmed no one claimed it and then donated it to charity. Once I laid eyes on that money it became a matter of personal responsibility. What’s so hard about this question?

  151. Let's not forget that it was not only LW3 who found the online essay disturbing. After all, the essay writer's employer took the extreme step of firing him after having read it. And even before the company took that step there must have been some internal discussion.

  152. Thanks to LW3, I'm afraid my employer will see my NYT comments and fire me. And not just mine. This sounds like a fair summary of many comments that the excellent moderators let through and that often rise to the top of Reader Picks: "It excoriated banks, businesses, politicians and society in general for conspiring against 'ordinary people.' While not directly calling for civil unrest, it urged readers to take matters into their own hands."

  153. To the teacher of english: please do what is most comfortable for you. You have no obligation to "educate" anyone, and no right, as far as I'm concerned, to assume that they need to be educated. Your business is to do what you feel comfortable with, and accept the consequences.

  154. Ethics is what you do when you don't think anybody's watching you.

  155. Several years ago, I found $7,000 in clash in a rental car console. While I surely would have loved to keep it, and could have used it, I immediately drove to a State Police post near my home. Within two weeks, the owners were identified; they had rented the car before I had. They were an very elderly couple, one hard of hearing and the other with Alzheimer’s. They offered me several hundred dollars as a thank you gesture, which I refused to accept. It’s not that difficult to do the right thing. Sometimes, all the reward that’s needed is knowing that you did, and feeling good about it.

  156. To the friend whose son was fired for an allegedly inappropriate essay. As a friend, the best you can do is offer sympathy but no direct comment. How about, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say. That’s really difficult. Please let me know how things work out.” To the person whose friends confide about unreported taxes. You may want to ask them not to discuss that with you in the future, if it comes up again. Now you decide whether in addition to perhaps adjusting your opinion of them you also adjust the level of your friendship if their behavior really bothers you.

  157. As a juvenile court probation officer I taught a victim impact class to youngsters who had committed misdemeanor offenses. One of the activities we did was about what “would/could/should” happen if they found a $10 bill on the ground. As they talked through how their immediate reaction as finders (“Sweet!” “Lucky!!!”) compared with the possible reactions of the person who had lost the money, the kids were able to get the most salient point of the exercise: whatever unknowns might have been true, they KNEW the money belonged to someone else, and was not theirs. There MUST be someplace that cabbies can turn in items that have been left behind in their cabs (diamond rings? divorce papers? passports?) That’s where the money should’ve gone - in an envelope, marked with the finder’s contact info. That money belonged to someone, and may (despite the world weary view of others) have been needed. Your title is Ethicit, not Expedientist.

  158. Of course you should keep it- the passenger seat of a NYC yellow cab is the legal and moral equivalent of a 'no-man's land.' The caveat to this, of course, is that anything with the possible identification of the owner should be returned and, realistically, you should take this on yourself rather than expect the driver to do it. But cash, especially considering what $100 is worth today, should be spent and enjoyed.

  159. In 1955, when I was 16, I found a money clip on what is now McGuinness Blvd. in Brooklyn. It had $382 in it (the equivalent of $3,600 today); I can still recite the denominations. It scared me to death to even be holding that much money. Still, the mores of the time and my RC upbringing dictated only one possible course -turn it in at the 94th Precinct. I did so, received a receipt, and was told it would be mine in 90 days if not claimed. I felt good about it, and my parents felt the same (even though it was the equal of my dead's take-home pay for about 6 weeks back then). It was claimed, but only after a very short article had been printed about it in the local newspaper. The man who lost it (who worked within a block of where I found it) hadn't reported it because he didn't think anyone would have turned it in. Result? The man got his money back along with a renewal of his faith in human nature; my parents faith in their son was reinforced; I felt pretty good about it, too, because my conscience was clear; I got a $30 reward, half of which went to my parents (the remaining $15 was still more money than I had ever held in my life up to then), and I had nothing much to confess on the following Saturday. A total win-win situation. But if it had been only $10, which is about the 1956 equivalent of the $100 in the first question here, would I have turned it in? I doubt it. Lesson: If you have to think about whether an action is right or wrong, it's probably wrong.

  160. Bargain down payment on your way to RC heaven.

  161. @Suburban Cowboy Actually, I gave up on RC very shortly afterwards, but I did take away from it the lifelong belief expressed in my last sentence. (Thank you, Father Schmidt and the less manic sisters of St. Alphonsus!) Maybe Professor Appiah should occasionally recommend that thought to certain people who write in to him.

  162. @Joe Pearce I very much disagree that "if you have to think about it," that means it's wrong. We could use more people thinking more about ethics, not less. Thinking through an ethical problem, acknowledging possible arguments on both sides is a sign of a thoughtful, conscientious person. Many of the problems in the world come from people who are dead certain they know what is right, and don't hesitate or stop to think it over or consider views other than their own knee jerk response.

  163. If a boss is a closet racist ( i.e. only says such things among his clique or in a barroom ) yet vocally espouses tolerant views in the more mixed and sensitive public/ corporate milieu is it ethical to out the boss ?

  164. If a wallet is found, another common choice can be — drop it in a USPS mailbox. Rumor has it , in the good ol’ days, some pickpockets would take the cash and then drop the rest of the wallet in the mailbox so it would be returned to the owner as his credentials in the wallet read. There was little to no credit card and ID theft rackets then.

  165. You know, it's easy to tell people what to do, but when it happens to you (or, in this case me) it is a little different. In my case, I was by a farmers' market and I noticed a $20 bill on the ground. I picked it up and looked around for who might have dropped it. I guess it was an off or maybe rainy day, because the market wasn't crowded and I saw no one who might have dropped it standing near me and it was in between farm stalls so I couldn't tell where it might have come from. I stood there feeling foolish. What to do? I am a senior citizen living on social security. I just wish I could buy things at farmers markets. I spent it at the market. But, my point is that when I held it in my hand and looked for the owner, I felt ashamed that I even considered keeping it and that I felt that if I turned it in to someone in charge, they would keep it. Did I do the right thing? $20 is a fortune to me now. I live in an affluent neighborhood and maybe the person who dropped it worked there or was rich or was poor like me. Sigh

  166. @Susan Don't sweat the small stuff. Pass the good karma on. Do something good as a surprise for another. Better that you create more good will with the experience than stew in misery.

  167. I cannot believe the response to LW #1. It is completely unethical to keep even a dime of the money. Give it to the cab driver - it is then his decision as to what he deems the ethical response to be. I acknowledge that ethical decisions are not black and white, but the responses to LW#1 and LW #4, are not conclusions based on the ethics of the situations, but rather what is expedient and what will soothe the consciences of the LWs.

  168. @NK I disagree with your approach. Years ago when I was unemployed and really broke, I found a $100 bill in the aisle at a Safeway store. I turned it in to the manager. A week later I checked back with the same manager and he told me that someone had claimed it - but I could tell by his expression and body language that he was very likely lying and had kept it for himself. If this same thing happened now, I would let the manager (or cab driver) know that I had found some money (without describing it), leave my contact information, and hold onto the money. If no-one claimed the correct amount or denominations after several weeks, I would keep it.

  169. @NK I agree keeping it was outrageously unethical, but I would have notified the cab manager, and had them direct any inquiries to me personally. Let’s face it, there was only going to be a single inquiry - how many people leave 5 20’s in the back seat of a cab? This is not a complicated situation. The LW is trying to justify his/her passive thievery by saying he/she donated half to charity. The fact is, they could still call the cab company and make an effort to make it right. But I suspect they’ve spent their ill-gotten gains.

  170. Re: LW 2. Your students are probably asking questions according to their social norms and politeness. You are free to tell them you are in a long-term relationship with a partner without having to specify the sex of your partner. I did contract work in a western African nation over a period of two years; in that culture family is priority and one of the first questions they ask is if you are married and the second is how many children you have. It is a way of establishing cross-cultural bonds and not a way of judging you.

  171. Re LW3 - Absolutely, the concerns should be communicated. One of my sons was in a 5th grade classroom with a teacher who self-published a couple of books. They were execrable; bad grammar and bad sentence structure were the least of it and this was after he had hired an editor to help clean it up. The teacher, an American who was educated in a different country, also wrote about Americans with hostility, especially referring to boys with "American" names and how they would get ahead based on that. He was abrupt and threw students backpacks and chairs. As a parent (with a boy having an "American" name), I was upset and asked the school to review this work and more closely monitor the classroom. The other teachers knew, but not the administration. It didn't happen, if anything less was done. Backpacks were to be left in new lockers to "resolve" things. As it turned out, the teacher left before the end of the year, having caused standardized test scores to drop and loss of the students in the class to other private schools. Nobody should entertain an idea that the unhinged among us will be benign unless triggered - leaving this behavior will simply let it escalate. Even if all you see is printed word, there can be congruent actions as these thoughts become more ingrained.

  172. Re LW#1 I think where you find the money has some bearing on this. If you find money in a taxi cab, a bus, a train, a plane, a rental car, or a building, you should make some reasonable attempt to find the owner and return it to him, even if all you do is give someone your contact info and ask them to have the money's owner contact you. If you find it loose on the street and it's a considerable sum, turn it into the police. Otherwise, keep it.

  173. While this column and writings often make me think about events in a different way, I am disappointed in the Ethicist's response to the money in the cab. Not because of the keep it/don't keep it debate but rather because of the apparent assumption that the cab driver will be dishonest or make an unacceptable ethical choice. As a society we need to quit assuming the worst of people and that we are better arbiters of situations. Would the writer, as a guest in the cab, apply the same advice to money found in someone's home or an Uber? Cab drivers are often persons of color and born other than in the US, and I wonder if that unconsciously effects the thinking here? Would we as a society struggle with this choice if the driver was an elderly white woman? We need to look at our ethics from our core not just situationally.

  174. @Tamara I agree with your assessment, Tamara. In addition, the passenger donated only half of the money to a charity (with possible tax benefits via deductions) and kept the rest. Is that really better than the taxi driver potentially keeping it all?

  175. A comment on the English tutor's question: don't assume that an individual from a country that is not accepting of LGBT people would personally hold those same views. It is entirely possible that the student would themselves be LGBT, and statistically probable that they have a family member or friend from their home country who is. Being open to such an individual could be a real kindness.

  176. I found 1,000 pounds in a wad of cash (that had clearly fallen out of the tourists's pocket) in the back of a black cab in London, after a couple of men with suitcases got out. I immediately ran after them to hand it over and they looked totally bemused and didn't even say thanks! I don't know exactly which country they were from but clearly that would never have happened 'at home'. The taxi driver looked miffed that he hadn't found it! Three days later I found a wallet in a cab in NYC. I sent a what app to the guy and he was so grateful to get it back as he was off on holiday and needed his drivers licence. He offered me a reward to buy lunch but I refused. I recon if everyone just gives stuff back then you will also be the recipient of that honesty one day. I was in a shop a couple of days ago and I found a wallet on the floor so I handed it to the shop assistant. Either people are getting careless or I'm just finding a lot of wallets and money.

  177. Finders keepers, losers weepers.