Insomnia Thoughts On Tip-Baiting, And A Poll

Pop quiz: What does Grover Cleveland have to do with the Wuhan virus?

Unfortunately, this is how my mind works…

Something about last night’s post on the despicable practice of tip-baiting to lure financially desperate Americans to go grocery shopping for the tippers bothered me, and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. The thought that I was missing something kept churning in what I laughably call my brain (my wife calls it an ourdated hard drive that has never been cleaned of junk, cookies and malware and is going to crash any day now). It kept me awake tonight: I’m at my keyboard out of desperation. Weirdly enough, I kept thinking about the Civil War. Why was that? There had to be an ethics connection somewhere.

Ah HA! Got it.

Isn’t paying someone else to risk infection by the Wuhan virus like the Civil War practice of allowing conscripted men in the Union and Confederacy to pay substitutes to serve in their places? The practice is regarded  repugnant today as ugly classism, and it was pretty unpopular at the time. Future President Grover Cleveland was one of those who paid the going rate ($300, about $5000 in today’s currency) to someone otherwise exempt from the draft to go to war; so was John D. Rockefeller. (Technically, so was Abraham Lincoln, which takes a bit of explaining.)

Isn’t paying someone to take a risk that you are just as capable of taking yourself and is your personal responsibility at very least ethically dubious? I was impressed with all the Instacart shoppers in various articles talking about the danger they were courting for the promise of a big tip. Here’s one:

“I don’t pretend to be a hero, like a nurse in a hospital … but I literally am exposing myself [to coronavirus] and when I return home, exposing my own family to the possibility of transmitting this disease. When you know that it’s somebody who’s just doing it to game the system and to get their order when they want it, it’s really frustrating.”

Wait—you put yourself and your family at risk of infection for a $55 tip? Is that really a wise gamble?

As for the one who is paying–isn’t shopping your responsibility? Just because you have more money than your personal shopper, is that a good enough reason to induce her to risk her own health and that of her family’s to do your job?

At very least, isn’t this the ugly side of capitalism, bringing to mind not only the Civil War draft substitute practice but also NFL owners paying players to turn their brains to mush, and paying addicts and drunks to humiliate themselves for someone’s amusement? This is a legal use of financial resources and a common use of financial resources, but is it an ethical one in an epidemic?

The counter arguments are obvious. Nobody is forcing the shoppers to take these risks. If they think it’s in their interest and that of their families to trade increased risk for needed income, why would it be unethical to give them what they want (as long as you don’t cheat them, as described in the tip-baitingt)? This is free will (though is it truly voluntary?) and freedom of contract.

You know, like John D. Rockefeller paying someone to get shot at in his place.

The various ethics systems aren’t much help here, either. The Golden Rule? Useless. Kantian ethics dictates that it is unethical to use a human being as a means to an end, but who’s using whom? If this is just another utilitarian trade-off, what’s being traded?

Maybe I’m crazy to let this keep me awake. I’m going back to bed now, but here’s the poll:

33 thoughts on “Insomnia Thoughts On Tip-Baiting, And A Poll

  1. I feel like it’s a grey area because it really depends on the level of risk.

    $55 for a couple of hours of work braving a supermarket is an excellent trade-off if the chance of catching the virus is minimal.

    If you live in Nebraska somewhere and are healthy and youngish, you’re still more likely to die in a traffic accident than COVID-19, so if Instacart is unethical for you now, it would have always been so, seeing as how you have been braving deadly traffic in others’ place all this time.

    But if you’re in, say, New York City…well I wouldn’t do it.

    And if most Instacart app users are either older Americans, immunocompromised, or have large families, and the shoppers tend to be younger or single, then it rises to the level of noble; the strong bearing the burdens of the weak.

  2. In the Civil War, the Payee had no control over the circumstance: He was given a uniform, a rifle (musket), told where to go, what to do, whom to follow and obey, for how long, etc… and hoped for the log shot he didn’t get killed or maimed for life. Not so great odds …but still his choice.

    The Wuhan War, however, in terms more controlled by the shopper, say: more affluent neighborhood and matching store, a wise sterile strategy (protective clothing, time of day to shop, adequate distancing), status of age and health, electronic contact with customer, and maybe even immunized for prior successful contact with Mr. Chinese Wuhan itself. Who knows?

    With these thoughts in mind, I was your first No Vote. Not saying I’d do it. Just saying. Maybe it’s my insomnia talking ??

  3. Theodore Roosevelt’s father – the original Theodore Roosevelt – was implored by his wife, born and raised on a Southern plantation – not to enlist in the Union Army because she dreaded the possibility that he might find himself in battle against her brothers who were fighting for the Confederacy.

    So TR, Senior paid a substitute to go in his place, to his regret. His children, especially his oldest son, grew up hearing glory stories about his Southern uncles. Young TR, though, sided with the Union and always felt that the incident marred the integrity of a man he otherwise idolized.

    In fact, it may have pushed the best known of the Theodore Roosevelts into hankering for a war so he could prove himself. This lust for war would not end until his own son was killed shortly before the end of World War I.

    His sons followed his reckless example. Besides the one who died in WWI, two more sons would die while serving in WWII with his oldest son, Ted, providing invaluable service at Utah Beach on D-Day.

    What’s this have to do with anything? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I was inspired by the Presidential trivia element of this entry. Maybe I was inspired by TR’s attempt to “redeem” his father’s one lapse in integrity. Or by his sons’ desire to live up to their own father’s expectations.

    Or how the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree and the kids of all those tip-shirkers will be grown-ups with little integrity, too.

  4. As usual, I’m bothered a bit by some of the wording used in these polls.
    For example, “someone no less at risk of infection” is quite different from “someone with the same risk of dying from the infection.” I would certainly hesitate to use an Instacart shopper if I knew that person was as elderly as I am (based on my age, not my actual elderly-ness), whereas, with a young shopper my decision would be easier.
    To illustrate, I am in the group at high risk of dying from the infection due to age and at least one underlying health condition. But, yesterday, I used Walmart’s ‘buy online – pick up curbside’ service. The associates that I saw were all young and apparently healthy, so in the low risk of dying category, so I wasn’t bothered by having them do the shopping and loading groceries into my car for me.
    Since this was linked to the issue of tip-baiting, I’ll add that Walmart’s policy is that their associates do not accept tips. I was unable this morning to get definitive information on whether Walmart increases the prices of their grocery items for this service, but I don’t think so; Instacart does come with higher prices than in-store.
    I don’t have a problem with the higher prices nor with tipping; I don’t mind paying extra for the extra service. But, I don’t like the idea of required tips; for me, tips are a small bonus for the person who rendered some personal service well, and, sometimes, a way of encouraging future exceptional service. Required or mandatory tips that are shared among all employees frustrate that purpose, and they should just be called a service fee.

    • Walmart’s prices are the same for online ordering or just going in and shopping yourself based on our experience.

  5. I voted no because many occupations impose equal or higher risk. Is it unethical to pay (indirectly) for someone to go into a mine and get the coal out to electrify your home? No. Your could theoretically do that as well. We all pay for different services directly and indirectly. Simply because we do not ordinarily do a particular job that could impart significant risk to ourselves and families does not mean we don’t require them and that but for these persons who take the risk we would have to do them ourselves if we wanted to maintain the same lifestyle. None of us would really like to do the risky work of sewer maintenance. We pay people to subject themselves to potential infection all the time. Who incurs more risk to ensure public health a nurse or a garbageman?

    • Yes. The list of dangerous jobs we pay others to do is very long. It’s no more unethical to pay someone to shop than it is to clean your gutters.
      That said, the tip-baiting folks should be horse whipped, as should anyone who promises to pay for something and then cheats the seller.

      • But the gutter-cleaning analogy doesn’t work. I actually thought of that, because my nimble young son is cleaning our gutters today. he’s doing it because it’s no risk at all to him—he’s like a cat—and I would almost certainly fall off the roof. The issue is whether it would be ethical for me to pay someone if we both would be in equal peril and had equal skill in performing the task.

        • Your likelihood of falling off the roof, and your son being fine, is comparable to the risk my 86 year old mother would take by shopping, instead of having the nice 30 year old gal from Insta-Cart do it for her. The peril is not equal. And, having been shopping with my mother, the Insta-Cart gal has got to be more skilled at it…

        • “The issue is whether it would be ethical for me to pay someone if we both would be in equal peril and had equal skill in performing the task.”

          But the whole question requires distilling out of a large group of “paying people to get your groceries for you during an epidemic” a very small group that fits the characteristics of equal peril and equal skill that *also* requires us to make assumptions about other people’s own perceptions of peril and skill.

          I don’t think we can make those assumptions and therefore can only answer the question in the abstract without seeing particular instances of this conduct to make our own judgments of actual individuals engaging in the conduct.

          *if* there is equal peril
          *if* there is equal skill
          *if* the conduct is only in reaction to fear of the epidemic and actually hasn’t been the way someone has conducted their personal business for a while now.
          *then* sure, the conduct is unethical.

  6. We used delivery for our last shopping purchases after finding out it was available. Before that, my wife did the shopping and wore a mask and gloves. I have had respiratory issues in the past and now I’m 62 and don’t want to take the risk if I can avoid it. The person doing our shopping gets a tip and they also have the option of taking the precautions of wearing a mask and gloves, if they so wish, to minimize their risk. We aren’t wealthy but we’re going to spend the extra money at this time to reduce our risk and avoid the hassle of “suiting up” to do the shopping.

    I don’t see this as the same as paying someone else to go to war. You can pretty much protect yourself against the virus with proper precautions.

  7. I find the idea of changing what you are willing to pay after the service is received to be repugnant. Offering an amount and then reneging seems like contract fraud to me. Tips, if they exist at all, should not be used as an incentive. Uber at least changes their actual rates based on shortages. Varying the fee and locking it when accepted is much fairer.

  8. Looking through the other end of the telescope, by forbidding people shopping-for-hire, the law is depriving them of an opportunity to earn some money, and the law does not know how bad their need is, or what other alternatives they have.

  9. This is just another example of what my folks taught me early on–Life’s not fair and no one promised it would be. That lesson does not excuse the unethical behavior of others but it prepares children to function in a world that has a certain percentage of people who will take advantage of their situation if given the opportunity. My observation (as a non-parent and business owner) is that too many parents clearly have not taught their children that lesson judging from their children’s lean toward socialism. And, the once acceptable admonishment of “Oh, grow up” is quite useless on this batch of humans.

  10. The problem as I see it, is that instacart (and many of the other gig delivery jobs) have conflated the idea of tips – a bonus rewarded for good service – with a bid based economy. When I dashed, if two jobs came up, one with a 10.00 tip and one with a 0.00 tip, I’d take the 10.00 one. But that’s a bid for service, not a tip. Now, occasionally the 0.00 tipper would hand me a 5 or 10 spot when I got there, but not commonly. Not nearly enough that it was a smart gamble to make, surely. In that case, though, it was a tip – unannounced, after the fact, direct to me, unaffecting my wages at all. (For a while, doordash was using the restaurant normal of using the tip to subsidize a portion of the driver’s pay, which they claim to not do anymore.)

  11. As the moron of this group, I should refrain from taking a stab at this, but, see above…

    I peel it back to the basest element, should you put others in harm’s way to take care of what is your responsibility?

    The risk involved may or may not be high, but as I used to tell my kids, it’s not so much whether or not it will happen, the probability may be very low, but if it does, are you willing to accept and live the rest of your life with the consequences?

    Taking care of oneself and one’s family is the responsibility of the individual. You take the good and bad of it, and you don’t put it on anyone else’s shoulders. If you are unable to, that’s a different can of worms. But if you are, don’t put it on someone else.

    • I have to repair the rotting gable on my house. My family’s health and well being depend on shelter from the weather. Guess I’d better do that myself knowing scant little about proper carpentry instead of hiring a carpenter.

      My family needs to eat. Better cut the farmer out of his part of the community and grow my own food.

      Beyond a reasonable doubt, I’m certain the house at the end of the block is a meth house serving the local dealer whose known to employ thugs in other deplorable tasks. My family’s security depends on their arrest trial and incarceration. I can’t ask the police to handle this risky task…better do it myself.

      We have community and division of labor partly *because* it *increases* the safety and comfort of the community as a whole.

      • Not quite the same thing – in each case, you’re not paying someone to risk death for something you’re quite capable of doing yourself (as Jack’s civil war example illustrates). Sure, you could stretch each of those you’ve listed to the extreme, but it’s disingenous to the agument in question. But lets take your last example – lets say the meth dealers start rummaging through neighborhood houses for whatever reason, and shooting the occupants before they leave.

        You’ve heard the shots, and heard the screams, and then the silence. Surely 911 has been called, you might have called yourself. You watched them from your window go house to house. Now you see them coming to your house. You have a firearm, and are capable of using it to confront the meth dealers. But doing so might risk death. You pay the police to take those risks for you through your taxes. Division of labor suggests the police are better at it than you. Yet, as the old 2nd amendment argument goes, when seconds count, the police are only minutes away. Are you really not going to confront the meth dealers and risk your life for your family?

        My opinion, but your dog isn’t hunting there.

        • If someone has been employing someone to handle personal business for years. Nothing changes because of a pandemic.

          If someone now has the budgetary wherewithal to begin employing someone to handle personal business and this has occurred now…it’s not because of the pandemic.

          This is a case by case analysis and there can be no black and white blanket assessment of the practice of hiring people to run errands for you.

        • A carpenter working on my roof is most certainly being paid to accept a risk in my place.

          All manner of labor we delegate to others accepts risks we aren’t willing to take.

  12. ” … allowing conscripted men in the Union and Confederacy to pay substitutes to serve in their places? The practice is regarded  repugnant today as ugly classism, and it was pretty unpopular at the time.”
    Repugnant? Well, what about the all-volunteer force? We pay men and women to serve, and we pay them enough so that we don’t need a draft. So, maybe it’s just the one-for-one substitution that is repugnant.
    Ugly classism? There are a lot among the wealthy and elite who make a show of respecting the men and women who serve, but would they serve themselves? Or their kids?
    Among politicians, whether having served is important for top positions, or not, depends on which side is doing the talking and who the candidate is. So, we look down on draft dodgers and evaders (Clinton, Trump, Biden, Bloomberg) and those whose service is deemed lesser (Johnson, Reagan, G.W. Bush) while mostly ignoring it for those who could have served but didn’t have to and never did (the other Clinton, Warren, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Harris, to name a few).
    We, the American public, are of many minds when it comes to military service, but getting others to do it for us is not as repugnant as it may seem.

  13. The especially wretched thing about paying out of being drafted is that common defense is a civic duty. Albeit a civic duty that most people will never have to perform. But given the right circumstances (such as the Civil War or World War 2), many more than typically would be called up are called upon. When there are not enough volunteers there must be a draft and a draft must be fully randomized with no citizen ready to avoid their duty if the random call lands on them.

    There were already people before the pandemic paying others to take care of various tasks and errands for them. I don’t think there’s a civic duty to take care of specific personal tasks.

    I think this is a case by case thing depending on the intent of each person and the other budgetary responsibilities any particular person has.

  14. Thing is it can start looking like a wash in matters of risk. At base, gypping fees is being an ass- verging on criminal. Services are almost always upfront about required fees and other stores may absorb the fee if you are card customer or something like first-time. If you’re too cheap to pay the stated fees, don’t call. Calling a service fee a required tip is misleading oxymoron as tips depend on gratitude for service.

    If fewer enter stores, it lowers the risk of germs floating around for everyone shopping. For oickup services, which have less tipping, it reduces germ sources inside, but increases the ‘cashier’ over staying apart.But for the customer, pickup is almost as good as delivery as no extra sources enter the home and those going stir crazy can take a ride without argument.

    But these delivery services have to balance enough paytips to make it worth the delivery time.risk. Our household is pretty immune compromised and we got hit bad with viruses (yes plural) for January plus. We’ve been using pickup services for years, and the grocery shut them down for weeks, so we had to traipse into the store, where people had been coming and going all day. Hoping the store wasn’t a new hot spot, but groceries and meds can’t wait. The gig services aren’t viable when money is already tight.

    Part of the survey phrases about things you can do yourself, but these things have a very different slant if you’re already immuno-compromised, and these services are NOT a luxury for them. Then it’s what do you need and what you can afford, pride doesn’t get you milk and bread. Worrying about people choosing to so a slightly riskier action is part of many many jobs. You can drive yourself insane if you obsess about the risk all workers face in life, like miners, healthcare, or even pizza delivery people take on the highways.

Leave a Reply to Jack Marshall Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.