Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Local produce on the honor system

Here in rural Vermont it's not uncommon to see stands at the side of the road selling local corn, flowers, or produce on the "honor system". There's a pile of fresh corn, probably pulled from the immediately adjacent field the previous day, and an old coffee can to put your money, and there's no one around.

Many people who come to Vermont and see these are astonished at the idea that anyone could still, in this day and age, count on people to pay for what they take in a situation like this. And yet almost everyone does.

What I find amusing, though, is that everyone's first reaction is to think, "why don't people just take the corn and not pay for it?" but hardly anyone thinks, "why don't people take the money that's sitting right there in a tin can?"

It's odd how somehow the idea of not paying for your corn is a different level of dishonesty from the idea of taking the money. On an absolutist level, it's exactly the same; corn and money must be interchangeable since the very existence of the booth proves one can be exchanged for the other at a fixed rate. Yet virtually every single person approaches the situation and concludes that stealing corn is "not as bad" as stealing the money from the can.

Including me; in some way I can't work out, that's my reaction, too. Though they're not as far apart for me, as evidenced by the fact that when I first saw one of these, I thought of the money theft almost immediately after thinking of the corn theft, while many people never get to the money theft possibility at all.

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