Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Harvard anthropologists and unenforced contracts

Anthropology Department Chair Theodore C. Bestor said that in recent years, while the department has provided coffee to its faculty and staff, drinkers were expected to leave 25 cents for each cup consumed. But Bestor said that the $2,000 the department spent on coffee brought in only $400 worth of quarters. The department will not continue to offer coffee this year.
--Elyssa Spitzer and Noah Rayman, Harvard Crimson, on honesty in the Harvard anthropology department

Reader M.E.L. suggests a more charitable interpretation: the deficit is being driven by underpricing and wastage due to underconsumption, not failure to pay. Here's why I think that's not the case. If underpricing were the main driver, the department could have increased the price. If wastage were the main driver, the department could have simply decided that less coffee would be put out each day, even if that meant that on some days, they ran out. The fact that they eliminated coffee altogether suggests to me that people simply weren't paying for what they drank.

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