DALLAS — Dallas will keep $2,000 found by a teenager in a parking lot last February.
The money will go into the city’s general fund — not back to Plano high school student Ashley Donaldson, who found the cash in an envelope at the Pavillion Shopping Center in North Dallas.
“I don’t regret making the decision I did,” she said. “I feel proud of myself for giving the money back. It’s one of the biggest decisions of my life.”
The 15-year-old Shepton High School student spotted the money on the… [more]
Now that the government of Dallas is the default owner of lost-and-found money, you can expect fewer people to try getting found valuables back to the original owner.
Under common law property rights, if you find $2000 in a public area, it’s yours unless claimed by the one who lost it. Honest people like Ashley could publicize the find, get the satisfaction of reuniting the money with its true owner, or else keep it if no one makes the claim. However, under Dallas’ new policy, she loses the money either way. If the true owner claims it, he gets it. If not, the city gets it. This creates an economic deterrent to being honest.
There are those who say that you shouldn’t have to reward honesty, for it is its own reward. To them I say, you don’t honestly hold honesty to be good; if honesty is good, why punish it? Where’s the honesty in saying honesty is “good,” then taxing the finder 100%? How is taking the found goods from her commendable in any way?
There’s another reason not to report found goods under this policy. The reason you “report” found goods is to get the state to help you find the true owner, for it has what amounts to a megaphone at its disposal; the ability to broadcast the information to the public. But now that the state will keep the money if the original owner is not found, it will have an incentive not to find him. You might object that the finder has the same incentive, but in the case of a finder who has reported it, that incentive has already been overcome, so it’s absurd to place another such incentive between the finder and the one who lost his property.
In a free society, a lost good becomes the property of the finder, whose claim is good against all others except the original owner. The state’s claim on lost property is a tacit assertion that the state is the default owner of property in its territory. This is a dangerous precedent. I predict that the state will extend its claim from property that is “lost” to property whose title “cannot be determined.” In difficult cases between two claimants to property, the state as adjudicator will have an incentive not to determine the true owner, and then take title itself.
The people of Dallas must reverse the city’s policy regarding lost property before they lose their own.
~ Manny Edwards