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Against Tipping?

To continue this off-topic Monday, here is a good article from the Wall Street Journal on why we shouldn’t tip.

The author’s first point is that it is vulgar and demeaning:

When tipping first caught on in the U.S., late in the 19th century, it was the old-world, aristocratic overtones of the practice that drew the most ire. An 1897 editorial in the New York Times declared tipping to be the “vilest of imported vices.” The paper lamented not only that “we have men among us servile enough to accept their earnings in this form” but that others were willing “to reward the servility.” Joining the chorus against “flunkyism,” the Washington Post denounced tipping as “one of the most insidious and one of the most malignant evils” of modern life. Tipping was seen to foster a lord-and-vassal relationship that the prouder professions resisted. Well into the 1910s many bartenders refused gratuities as an insult to their status.

Opposed to vassalage and servility (except to the state, that is), communists have often targeted tipping. When George Orwell arrived in Barcelona in 1936 to fight in Spain’s civil war, “almost my first experience was receiving a lecture from an hotel manager for trying to tip a lift-boy.” In fact, one of the best arguments to be found in favor of tipping is that Fidel Castro tried to eradicate it in Cuba.

Naturally, the WSJ makes the economic argument against tipping.

To resist the custom is to be radically antisocial, like “Mr. Pink,” the crook played by Steve Buscemi in “Reservoir Dogs.” He doesn’t tip “because society says I gotta tip.” When a fellow hoodlum avers that waitresses are underpaid, Mr. Pink answers: “She don’t make enough money, she can quit.”

Generous? No. But economically sound. It’s not that we tip waiters because they are paid so little; they are paid so little because they can expect to make up the difference in tips. Starbucks is known for paying relatively well and providing respectable benefits. Yet, without the tip-jar take, the company would have to raise its wages commensurately to maintain the same caliber of employees. Perhaps prices would rise too, but I suspect many would be happy to have the full, unambiguous cost of the transaction up on the board. As things stand, the tip jar subsidizes the company’s payroll costs. So when you toss a dollar into the cup, you’re really making a donation to Starbucks — and I can think of needier beneficiaries.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not suggesting that we all go on a “tip strike.” I personally always over-tip. I’m a former taxi driver, and I remember what it was like to need those tips to survive. I also feel like my economic success requires me to pay a little bit back. Finally, I’m encumbered with the Italian-American “tip everybody” syndrome.

Nevertheless, the WSJ presents a compelling argument. Of course, if we followed its logic, a lot of people who don’t have any cause to read the Wall Street Journal would suffer.

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