Sociology refutes Economics (again)

by Kieran Healy on August 9, 2008

This morning I was out for a walk and I found a twenty dollar bill lying in the street.



Trey 08.09.08 at 9:14 pm

That wasn’t a $20 bill!


kevin quinn 08.09.08 at 10:06 pm

Trey is of course right. Who are you going to believe, your economics textbook or your lyin’ eyes?!


Punditus Maximus 08.09.08 at 10:09 pm

That wasn’t a street!


alfanje 08.09.08 at 10:14 pm

People have strong incentives to let their money escape


abb1 08.09.08 at 10:17 pm

Economists don’t want lying twenty dollar bills. They only want the truthful ones.


ogmb 08.09.08 at 10:17 pm

Ceci n’est pas un commentaire.


Harl Delos 08.09.08 at 10:43 pm

Alors pourquoi avez-vous fait post-it ?


newshutz 08.09.08 at 11:01 pm

But there is no “Truth”. So there can be no lies.

Nor can the report of an individual be accepted, as reality is a social construction and there is no society of one.

So send the delusion to me, and you won’t have to worry anymore about it


Bernard Yomtov 08.09.08 at 11:15 pm

I bet it was in a spot where picking it up was very risky. You might have hurt your back.


bdbd 08.09.08 at 11:17 pm

pshaw! I once found a $100 bill literally in the middle of the deserted street, slowly making its way toward me (with the help of a light fall breeze). I’m an economist, and I very briefly thought about ignoring it as what must be a hallucination, but that thought passed, and I leaned down to pick it up — a solid Franklin! smokin’!!

Another time I found a twenty in the grass, but that’s no big deal


Tom Parmenter 08.09.08 at 11:21 pm

Deadly biology trumps abstract social science

I found a $20 bill in Harvard Square. Someone said, “I never look at the ground when I walk.” I told her people from south Georgia always look at the ground when they walk. Workmates from Alabama and southern India agreed that they too always looked at the ground when they walked. When I was a Boy Scout, I was so proud that all four kinds of poisonous snakes found in North America were native to south Georgia. I’ve seen more snakes on the ground than I have $20 bills.


Tom Parmenter 08.09.08 at 11:32 pm

Practical social science

The best time and place to find money lying in the street is parking spots near bars about a half hour after closing time. People in bars stuff bills in their pockets while sitting down and then dislodge them when they pull out the car keys and drive away, leaving their money, and sometimes drugs, behind.


Colin Danby 08.09.08 at 11:40 pm

The stronger refutation would be not picking it up.


PeWi 08.09.08 at 11:45 pm

Saturday mornings in Glasgow – best hunting grounds. Found over £50 in only a couple of weeks….


Jeff Rubard 08.10.08 at 12:47 am

Did you ever really think about that, man? I mean, I lose money sometimes, but…


OneEyedMan 08.10.08 at 1:33 am

I see how that may refute some claim of economics, but how does that make sociology the refuting idea?


andrew 08.10.08 at 2:52 am

You should mark it so that you can tell it apart from any other $20 bills you might have.


Andrew Edwards 08.10.08 at 3:30 am

Nonsense, if there were a $20 bill there, someone would already have picked it up.


Will Scarlet 08.10.08 at 4:07 am

The reason for this is deceptively simple. Whoever dropped it makes at least 624,000 dollars a year (4 seconds to pick up a 20 dollar bill equals an opportunity cost of 5 dollars a second equals 624000 dollars a year). Everyone else who passed the note made at least that much. Another bubble is on the way.


Paul Gowder 08.10.08 at 5:25 am

Did you take it?


Henry (not the famous one) 08.10.08 at 5:51 am

When I was in college I found a $20.00 bill on the ground. For reasons I don’t recall, I posted a notice saying that I had recovered a large bill (well it was large at the time) and inviting inquiries. Believe it or not people came forward to claim it. The first person who could describe in detail got it.


Dave 08.10.08 at 8:42 am

I found £20 on the floor in the British Library last week. I gave it back to the guy who’d just dropped it. He was very grateful. I felt good about that. I would have felt like a complete sh1t if I’d kept it. Lucky I’m not an economist or a sociologist.


Dave 08.10.08 at 8:45 am

p.s., whoever did it, thanks for closing the comments on the “chest-beating for a Greater Russia” thread below, gad that was tragic to watch.


chris y 08.10.08 at 11:09 am

Another time I found a twenty in the grass, but that’s no big deal

That was your change from your dealer.

Kieran, I hope you put an ad in the Lost and Found.


ogmb 08.10.08 at 11:16 am

I see how that may refute some claim of economics, but how does that make sociology the refuting idea?

Must be that sociology assumes that agents’ arrivals follow a Poisson distribution, with λ determined by population density, wealth and carelessness of the local populace, and incidence of poisonous snakes in the vicinity. In your face, econ!


Hidari 08.10.08 at 11:25 am

‘Saturday mornings in Glasgow – best hunting grounds. Found over £50 in only a couple of weeks…’

You are up and walking about on Saturday morning? You are not a true Glaswegian (unless you work at the Barras).


Eszter Hargittai 08.10.08 at 12:26 pm

Something similar happened to me recently (I tweeted it here).

You should mark it so that you can tell it apart from any other $20 bills you might have.

In fact, I sort of have. I placed it (it, that specific $20) in a box and it still sits there. (I’ve been completely conscious of these actions, I’ve been reminiscing about my economic sociology reading list for my Generals back in grad school.)


mollymooly 08.10.08 at 7:08 pm

‘Saturday mornings in Glasgow – best hunting grounds. Found over £50 in only a couple of weeks…’

Urchins would once scour the slobbanks of the Liffey at Saturday lowtide for gold fillings puked down from the quays by the Friday night drunks heading home.


flubber 08.10.08 at 7:17 pm

Didja buy a free lunch with it?


thompsaj 08.10.08 at 8:33 pm

I don’t see how it refutes economics: clearly the guy who lost the money reveals his preference for losing money by doing so, hence derives some utility from the activity. In fact, he probably carefully placed the bill on the street!


bdbd 08.10.08 at 8:41 pm

it’s the sociologists who are losing all the twenties, you see — it’s a norm …


John Quiggin 08.10.08 at 8:57 pm

Fortunately, inflation will soon ensure that Will Scarlett’s opportunity cost calculation works for all of us, thereby providing a retrospective triumph for economics.


PeWi 08.10.08 at 9:12 pm

“Urchins” yeah, that does describe me best and no – only went to Uni there…


Barry 08.10.08 at 9:56 pm

I found a $5 on the sidewalk yesterday. Definitely a bubble, because this was right outside of a gas station!


Roy Belmont 08.10.08 at 11:31 pm

Yeah, Dave#23, chest-beating bad.
Not to mention those desperately angry accusations in broken English. Pathetic.
When people are so driven to make a point they can’t even talk good…well, it’s nauseating is what it is.
They should stick with forums of their own kind and not bother their betters in the higher realm, nu?
Given the impregnable bias of US coverage, all of it anti-Russian to the point of inanity, we’d be well served if the other side just disappeared. Or were silenced.
Or something.
Because fomenting the idea that the Georgians, and their advisers and enablers, might be complicit to the point of outright causative guilt will only upset decent people with better things to do like watch the Olympics, or debate Edwards’ infidelity.


Colin Danby 08.10.08 at 11:43 pm

We’ve been listening to the telepathic parrots again, haven’t we?


Roy Belmont 08.11.08 at 12:01 am

Witty engagements about something as bloody and tragic as what just happened in Georgia I don’t do.


david 08.11.08 at 12:16 am

John Tierney filmed you and will make a youtube for the nyt website proving that people will indeed not leave 20s on the ground, no matter how much an academic lefty hippy postmodern loon they may be. Sucker.


ogmb 08.11.08 at 1:20 am

it’s the sociologists who are losing all the twenties, you see—it’s a norm …

More like, multiple economists already walked by and saw it before Kieran, but didn’t bother to pick it up.


CJV 08.11.08 at 1:51 am



Jon H 08.11.08 at 2:36 am

The Euros and Pesos were already taken.


dirc 08.11.08 at 3:18 am

Will Scarlet@19,

Assuming a 40-hour work week, there are about 7.5 million work-seconds in a year. The annual income of all passers-by must have been greater than $37 million. You apparently missed a “60” when converting hours to seconds.

Your joke was quite droll, even with the math error.


Helen 08.11.08 at 3:20 am

I found $10 (Australian) in the washing the other day. Having the laundry work disproportionately fall on me (and doing it properly, ie. checking all pockets) has its rewards.


Roy Belmont 08.11.08 at 5:28 am

I’ll follow this parrot of shapes and mock it
copying what copies me
for the like to stumble on the like
and I would not see it, nor it see me.


Dave 08.11.08 at 8:03 am

I hope for your sake it isn’t a Langford Parrot you’re seeing:
[Though it would explain a lot]


Andrew Edwards 08.11.08 at 11:03 am

(4 seconds to pick up a 20 dollar bill equals an opportunity cost of 5 dollars a second equals 624000 dollars a year)

The found 20 is tax-free. So more like $1M a year (roughly, depending on tax rates).


wjd123 08.11.08 at 12:51 pm

The $20 was outside the house of a CEO of a national pharmaceutical company. He has just been indited for backdating his stock options. But more importantly, I hated the pharmaceutical industry that he was a part of. So suspecting that it was his since he had the only house around, I joyfully shoved the $20 into my pocket, had my dog poop on his walk, and went merrily on my way. What a good dog I had, and what a fortuitous day it was.


Greatzamfir 08.11.08 at 1:04 pm

Andrew, is the 20 really tax free? I can imagine that technically, you are not even allowed to take it, or have to pay tax if no one else claims it. That’s at least the case with treasures in lost ships, so perhaps also with twenties.

Unless, of course, the owner was earning $624000 tax-free, like the drug dealer above who leaves twenties in the grass.


Will Davies 08.11.08 at 1:29 pm

Don’t see why that is at all problematic for economists: someone must have simply priced the effort of looking after their money properly at more than $20.

Now this incident on the other hand…


Rich B. 08.11.08 at 3:45 pm

Last month I found a wallet with over $200 in it sitting on top of the ATM I was using. Checking the driver’s license and seeing that the address was only a few blocks away, I drove it over and returned the wallet to the owner.

He thanked me, but them proceeded to grumble at length that he had canceled all of his credit cards already. Made me wish I had kept a few of the twenties for my troubles.


eck 08.11.08 at 4:02 pm

people from south Georgia always look at the ground when they walk

In a word: geophagy.


Tom Parmenter 08.11.08 at 11:33 pm

Dog my cats, those -phagy jokes sure do appeal to my primitive sense of humor. Bring on the kudzu and the snake chunkers.

BTW, the correct, Menckenian term, is clay eater from the pellegra belt.


Jeff Rubard 08.12.08 at 2:42 am

I guess what I said was a little portentous. Of course there’s a “reasonable” explanation for why the money’s on the ground, but you weren’t there when it landed on the ground and so by definition you really can’t know what’s up. But on the other hand, really knowing is sometimes a rather cold comfort, especially when dealing with economic America: “we never sold that product”, “nobody by that name ever worked here”, “we don’t honor coupons on which it is written ‘valid all day’ at lunch”, etc.


Jeff Rubard 08.12.08 at 3:12 am

Why think there’s any other possible reason you’re finding the money? Well, you know, there really is such a thing as society: it’s little Billy, and Mrs. Jenkins, and the Saturn dealership, and the crackhouse down the street, and all the people doing “incision play”, and all the people carrying concealed weapons.


Walt 08.12.08 at 4:16 am

Your last comment is pretty funny, Jeff.


mike shupp 08.12.08 at 4:55 am

Hey, I once found 12 $100 bills in a library book. Took it up to the desk and by sheer chance a city cop was there, who took it into custody. The cops ran an ad in the local paper (“Cash found; rightful owner describe circumstances”) for three weeks than turned the money over to me when it went unclaimed.

True story. What the f**k was going on, I asked a detective when I collected. Probably a payoff to a city councilman, he answered. And grinned. I’ll leave the date and location out of this to protect the not-quite-proven-innocent, but it wasn’t a place famous for civic corruption…..


abb1 08.12.08 at 6:49 am

56, could you at least tell what book it was? Please.


Dave 08.12.08 at 7:41 am

Atlas Shrugged, obviously.



mike shupp 08.12.08 at 4:01 pm

abb1 –

I’ve forgotten, to be honest, but it had a Dewey library classification of something like 301.18 or maybe 013.78. Nonfiction, not new, and not on the most busy floor of the library. I think the relevant description was “second basement, hallway to the left all the way down, first book on the second shelf at the end.” — that’s what I’d be looking for if I were a corrupt councilman…


Harry 08.13.08 at 12:31 am

I found a wallet with $500 in it in bills. The owner is a local media celebrity. I called his office, but he was out boating on the lake, so they said he’d call back. He did, eventually. He hadn’t noticed it was gone, so was not grateful. He picked it up from me an hour later. 2 days later he dropped off a box of chocolates that tasted like soap. A day after that I read that he’s a major contributor to local Republican candidates. I felt stupid.


ajay 08.13.08 at 2:45 pm

I told her people from south Georgia always look at the ground when they walk.

They’re probably worried about the penguins.


Tom Parmenter 08.13.08 at 5:33 pm

Or South Ossetians.


Maurice 08.13.08 at 7:18 pm

That was my 20$ bill!

Please return it.

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