I just got back home from Wegmans. Going over the receipt, I noticed that the cashier neglected to scan my coffee beans, so my espresso is free for the week. (See footnote.) Small victory.
Now, I felt a little bad when I noticed the error. I blame my mom for this. But then I started thinking–should I really have any moral obligation to correct the error?
The answer may appear trivial. My mom would say yes without any second thought. However, consider this:
- Register errors happen.
- Retailers knows this.
- Therefore, they increase the prices of these goods by some small amount to recover their losses. Call this the liar’s tax. (I name it this not because the liars pay it but rather the presence of the liars forces retailers to include it in the price of goods.
- If I correct the error, then I am essentially being double taxed, once because I have to pay for the good whereas a liar would not and twice because I have to pay more for the good than I would have to if liars did not exist.
So, I ask again: do I have a moral obligation to correct the checkout error? If I do, I am penalized twice for being an honest man. If I don’t, should I feel guilty?
Here’s how society should resolve the problem. Let’s begin a social norm not to correct checkout errors. Never ever ever ever ever. This will increase the liar’s tax to compensate for all of the errors. However, now liars and honest people are paying the exact same for the good in expectation. Retailers will complain that they are losing money by having no one correct the errors. But that is bullcrap–they are collecting that lost money through the liar’s tax they collect on all correctly processed sales.
Footnote: At Wegmans, you must weigh and label your own coffee beans. In the two plus years of living in Rochester, the label maker has worked effectively exactly twice. Usually, the label sticker fails to automatically come off the back paper, so you have to peel it for yourself. Today, the label printed at an angle where the barcode was supposed to go. So the cashier probably scanned it, but the register didn’t take it, and the cashier failed to notice that. But you’d think a business operation as large as Wegmans could develop a solution to a problem that has been going on since at least summer 2010.