For 47%, honesty is still the best policy

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

There is still hope in the world when it comes to honesty, if the conclusions of a Reader’s Digest honesty test is used as the measuring stick.

Reporters were told to “lose” wallets all around the world, and they waited to see how many of them were returned.

Before I go any further, I want to know how to become a Reader’s Digest “reporter.” I can lose wallets with the best of them if I had to. I haven’t lost one yet, but I’m a quick learner.

I spent 15 years with daily newspapers, including 12 at The Houston Chronicle, and not once did I receive an assignment that included losing my wallet in a far-away city where I could also have a grand time.

That would have been the greatest, most cushy assignment of my career. But no, not a single one. I did other things, though, that required more work than simply losing a wallet and waiting for it to show up.

Anyway, reporters dropped 12 wallets in 16 cities around the world. A total of 47 percent were returned.

All but one was returned in Helsinki, Finland. That is expected. After all, Helsinki is that type of a city. People are pretty mellow. One man interviewed for the story said they don’t even run traffic lights. I doubt that, though.

Here is a surprise: Mumbai, India came in second. People there returned nine of 12 wallets. Who would have thought? After seeing “Slumdog Millionaire,” I thought any city in India would finish on the bottom of the list. It goes to show you that people can be honest everywhere.

Here’s another surprise: Budapest, Hungary tied for third place with New York. Eight out of 12 wallets were returned in those cities.

I have lived in and visited both cities. I was taken for an expensive cab ride in Budapest and was gamed by the hotel clerk for a few cents.

I returned to the U.S. with a different impression, but this just goes to show you that impressions are not always right. Or, that the Reader’s Digest reporters didn’t encounter my cab driver or hotel clerk. Those wallets would have been long gone.

New Yorkers are a mixed bag. I never really had many problems with them, except for a cab driver, who, during a visit, showed me his big, illegal handgun (illegal in NYC, that is). He got a big tip, needless to say.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands, tied for fourth, returning seven out of 12 wallets. Come on, Amsterdamians (I just made up this word). You people have social everything, plus lots of money.

What’s the deal there? You should have returned all of them.

London came in sixth. That is another big disappointment. Bucharest, Romania finished seventh. That’s expected. I’m surprised it finished that high.

Zurich, Switzerland finished seventh also. Really? You guys are already well off.

Madrid, Spain only had two of 12 wallets returned for a ninth-place finish. Understandable again, since they have around 25% unemployment there.

The least honest city is.... drum roll please.... I know everyone has been waiting for this one: Lisbon, Portugal. Only one wallet out of 12 was returned, but it may not even count.

“A couple in their sixties spotted our wallet and immediately called us. Interestingly, our reporter learned that the two weren’t from Lisbon at all—they were visiting from Holland. The remaining 11 wallets were taken, money and all,” reported Reader’s Digest.

I know some people who would have taken the whole thing, and so be it.

But I know more people who would have returned the wallet in full.

Ill-gotten gain is not worth it.

So, what would you have done?