Monday, October 01, 2007

No, really, it's up to you

Economists do not have a good theory of tipping. Normally, we assume that consumers pay as little as they have to when buying the products they want. Yet, when buying meals, haircuts, and taxi services, most consumers voluntarily pay more than they are legally required. Why does this happen? Why is it more true for some services than for others? Why do tipping customs vary from country to country? I have no idea.

The rock band Radiohead is putting this phenomenon to the test: You can buy the download of their latest album for whatever price you choose. You can pay as little a penny or, they hope, much more. The whole price you pay is, in essence, a tip (but paid before the service is rendered).

Since we economists don't understand tipping, we can't really say whether this new scheme will work. But if it does, during my next ec 10 class, I will put a hat next to the lectern.