Would You Accept $200,000 If You Didn't Know Where It Came From?
You know, I hear a lot of people say that frugal people would do anything for dime. Personally, I think that applies more to greedy people, but it got me thinking of a question that combines morals with money. Would you accept $200,000, no strings attached, if you did not know where it came from.
As I was thinking of this question, a classic episode of The Twilight Zone popped into my head. Based on a story by Richard Matheson, it was one of those episodes that creeped me out for days, and I was only a young lad at the time. Here's an outline of the episode "Button, Button" (you'll see why this is apt in a moment):
Norma Lewis is the wife of a down-and-out man named Arthur. One day, they receive a mysterious box with a button on it. Then, a smartly-dressed stranger comes to their door and explains that if they press the button on the box, two things will happen: they will receive $200,000, and someone "whom you don't know" will die.
The episode then concentrates on the enormous decision that Norma Lewis has to make. And, after some back and forth, the climax of the episode (and the moral, we hope) is revealed:
Norma decides to push the button. She does it and her husband looks at her with disgust. They go to bed after seeing nothing happens. The next day the stranger returns, takes back the box, and gives them a briefcase with the $200,000. The Lewises are in shock and ask what will happen next. The stranger ominously replies that the button will be "reprogrammed" and offered to someone else with the same terms and conditions, adding as he focuses on Norma, "I can assure you it will be offered to someone whom you don't know."
It's a classic Twilight Zone scenario, in which greed is rewarded with the ultimate penalty. But what if there wasn't a penalty; at least, no penalty that you were aware of?
If the Lewises has been offered the money and told "accept this money, no questions asked, and you will feel no repercussions" I doubt they would have taken as long to accept the money.
Imagine, especially in these tough financial times, that a stranger offered you the money with absolutely no chance that it would come back to bite you. There would be no mob guys knocking on the door, no prison terms, no danger. The only condition is that you cannot know where the money came from. Would you take it? Would you even hesitate?
The problem here is that although the money could come from a generous benefactor, it could also be the result of something terrible -- perhaps the slave labor of children, war profiteering, drugs, prostitution or something worse.
And yet, it's not so far-fetched to think that we all do this, every day, on a much smaller scale. When we choose the $59 Nike shoes, do we think about the way in which they were made? When we demand lower prices for clothing and toys, do we care about the conditions that exist in order to make those deals possible? When we buy cheap eggs, do we care about the factory-farming hell that created them? Food, electronics, cars, beverages, everything we touch these days has a moral price attached to it.
So, think about that question again; would you take the $200,000? At what point would a no become a yes? At what point would your conscience kick-in? And when is a bargain something that has a much higher cost associated with it? Over to you...