Rolling in money

The scene: Heathrow airport on Saturday, where I was waiting (with countless others) for a flight out of London, after a little snow closed most of it down; some bemused American travellers couldn’t believe that this really major airport was so easily overwhelmed by what they thought was a really minor amount of snow, but more of that another time.

Anyway, back to the scene. Four children were amusing themselves by rolling two-Euro coins along the floor, with the target of hitting a house of cards constructed some five or six feet away. When their flight was called unexpectedly, the parents called them away urgently. The children asked to pick up the coins first. ‘No time’, the father shouted. ‘Anyway, they’re only Euros.’

This is what they left behind (subsequently placed in a charity box).

lost euros

lost euros

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15 Comments on “Rolling in money”

  1. MunchkinMan Says:

    Could you have misheard the father’s response? Perhaps, being less engaged in his childrens’ concerns and in their world (and maybe in their money), he was actually saying ‘No time – anyway, they’re only yours.’ Stress at airports can sometimes bring out the worst in people…

  2. V.H Says:

    I’ve never found Heathrow to be anywhere near as bad as Dublin. At least there is something to amuse you in London. Dublin has a hike half way to Newry then a segue to Sligo coming back to somewhere near Cork.

  3. Al Says:

    Was he trying to coin a phrase?

  4. MunchkinMan Says:

    …maybe to reflect the current dire economic plight of the Euro, the father sternly warned his children that they were in fact ‘lonely Euros’, and not ‘only Euros’ as was reported, and should be left to their fate (the charity box)…

  5. Anna Notaro Says:

    Nice composition, like the black and white, adds some dramatic effect, appropriate given the events. Euros are really beautiful coins, aesthetically..well worthy of taking center stage in any photographic representation..
    ‘Anyway, they’re only Euros.’ How revelatory such a comment is of (some) American attitudes…The Euros are worthless, currency for children to amuse themselves with, so they can be left behind, lost..and yet they could bring a house of cards down…

  6. no-name Says:

    The humane instinct to put such an amount into a charity box is worthy of reflection. Why a charity box? At what value does an amount of money recovered in such a fashion become something to chase back to the person who felt pressured by time to abandon it, or to forward to the police if found without knowledge of its history, rather than to donate it to a charity?

    One might wonder much about such charity boxes. What percentage of deposits may one safely conclude are spent directly on the individuals (human or otherwise) for whom the charity declares its focus? What percentage may one safely conclude to be spent on administrators? What percentage on physical infrastructure and consumables? Do those distributions matter? If the photo is of “only euros”, of those four that went into the charity box, is it only one to the nominal beneficiary of the charity?

    Is there a case to be made that for amounts smaller than one would be obliged to take to police if found without knowing the provenance, that the more efficient redirection of such lost items would be to people sleeping on the streets?

    It is worth considering that people pay taxes of various sorts partly to provide existential safety nets to all sorts of living things. Do most charities really fill niches that would not be better addressed with shared administration through tax-funded public services? Noting the un-regulated salary caps for administrators of charities, is there really a compelling case that their salaries should exceed those of civil servants who would otherwise look after the relevant matters?

    Or, do salary levels associated with administering such services not really matter much at that end of the scale, so far beyond the poverty level? When the numbers of euro are large, just when small, do they also lose particular relevance?

    • Interesting thoughts, but I don’t agree with a good deal of what you suggest. I suspect, for example, that the amount of money sliced off the top for administration of a charity is less than what is top sliced for drink and/or drugs when distributed directly on the streets; although I do make such donations, I am never sure about whether it is a good idea. Secondly, I wonder are you suggesting that we should not donate to non-state overseas aid (as there is no other way of directing it).

      As for your comments about the relative merit of charity versus state provision, if your suggestion that all relief of disadvantage should be through tax-funded services, then the people of East Germany should have been infinitely happier than those in West Germany pre-1989. It wasn’t so, however.

      • no-name Says:

        First of all, to clarify, expressing these thoughts is not meant to criticize you or your motives. It is easy to imagine, on the basis of all else you have written in other posts, that your note records your having acted with a reflexively charitable and humane fashion in placing the coins in a charity box.

        A point is not that donations should not be made, but not made without reflection: it is useful to know the efficiency of one’s donations. If one examines the public financial statement, for example, of the Irish Cancer Society for 2011, one will see that 24% of its annual income (of 21.3 million euro) was spent on categories one could reasonably consider “administration” (and which they group together, including 4 million spent on raising the 21.3 million). If one supports the cause, and accepts this administrative tax, then one proceeds with a donation, and three of the four euro go to the cause.

        Now, for the airport charity box; what proportions go to which charities, and what levels of administration taxes are imposed along the way? (Or would it be more efficient to pocket the four euro, and later act on a promise buy a cup of coffee and fresh fruit for someone in a sleeping bag in a doorway?)

        How is it that a decision not to fund someone sleeping on the street directly with money because the recipient is thought likely to use 25% or more of it for “drink and/or drugs” does not actually coincide with the reasoning of a totalitarian state in determining what services and supports are available or unavailable to its citizens?

        If one is assured that the state is compelled to provide services in accord with public support for causes, then the administration of the effort has potential for greater efficiency, and the causes are supported. That can include non-state overseas aid, if that is what the citizens demand. (Even with potential for fluid flexibility, just as sometimes “justice” is meted according to public demand, rather than with consistency across all people who appear before the courts.)

        The people of East Germany were unhappy for reasons largely other than the provision of services. Constraints on movement and on other aspects of the economy figured largely — it is not difficult to find people from East Germany who will profess that services declined after 1989.

        • MunchkinMan Says:

          Hi no-name, I feel you’re a little harsh on Ferdinand here, notwithstanding your subsequent interesting expansion on the issue of vaule-for-money charities and the misty-eyed reflections of some former East Germans. Airports are busy places, as Ferdinand’s initial blog on this issue conveys; they can be stressful, impersonal and bring out some regrettable human behaviours, including selfishness. But here we have a selfless act of one person, who, not wishing to personally gain from a situation, does the next best thing (in my view) and places the unwanted money into the nearest anonymous and most suitable receptacle. Such charity boxes, like the mouths of the hungry children across the world, are screaming out to passers-by every day (and night).

          I take your point about admin costs for charities – but hey, there’s admin costs in all worthwhile endeavours. Deciding on which charities to support can be a complex matter leaving some people (perhaps you’re one of them?) suspicious about unscrupulous operators. For my part, I support (very) small charities where I personally know the charity founder and where I can see the fruits of my (modest) giving.

          As for the decline of (public?) services in the former East Germany, it’s a commonly held belief that public services will always be in decline…everywhere…

          • no-name Says:

            Your reply suggests that either I have not been sufficiently clear or that you have not understood what I have written: I do not doubt Ferdinand’s charitable instincts. Moreover, I imagine him to be kind and generous consciously as well as reflexively. In any case, my response has not been about him in particular beyond these caveats that have attempted to explain this.

            Without information to the contrary, I do doubt the effectiveness of the bins provided in airports in translating donations (which are not limited to any national currency) via those bins into amounts for the nominal beneficiaries that exceed the value which more direct contributions would provide. My follow-up clarified that whatever portion they might manage to transfer to the Irish Cancer Society will be reduced by about 25%. What reduction may be anticipated before such a transfer?

            In the absence of such information, I think that people in general who make such donations are making themselves feel good (in what sense is that selfless?) without any reasonable expectation that the nominal beneficiaries of the charity actually gain anything. Further, I suggest that if they wish to have more certainty that they are affecting a person in need, they could do so more efficiently by direct means, even if later, outside an airport.

            The Marie Keating Foundation also collects money from bins. Its 2010 annual report provides annual accounts for the year ending 2010. They record an income for the year of 1.5M, a cost of 0.65M spent on fund-raising, and 0.23M on “overhead expenses”. Is an administration tax of 59% of income efficient? The total annual cost associated with wages and salaries for 2010 is reported as 0.64M, 42.4% of the income. One might be safe in assuming that this foundation is rigorously administered.

            It is interesting that in in general, people appear to express greater satisfaction with throwing some coins or low denominations of paper into a bin for which no pretence of rigorous administration is offered than in accepting tax increments in order to provide a sound and consistent administration to the same charitable endeavours run as public services. Do you think that this relative reluctance to pay tax has any causal relation to the sense you report that people find their public services in decline? Your reference to “the misty-eyed reflections of some former East Germans” is dismissive of the reality that services from conception to the grave were comprehensive and substantially better throughout the eastern bloc, and not just for “some former East Germans”, before change during the shift to “free” market economies also was accompanied by what is called “reform” in western Newspeak, where “reform” tends to be expressed to mean exactly intended decline in public services and supports.

            The dispreference people tend to express for making sustained substantial commitments to public services whose absences charities redress, in favor of pittances to poorly regulated change bins (people expect civil servants to be paid according to salary scales that are available for public inspection, but do not similarly require by law that executives and administrators of charities to restrict their salary expectations, or even that they do much of anything), ultimately, remains well summarized by the point that Ferdinand conveyed: the coins were “only Euros” that could be abandoned without impact.

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