Oslo residents pass an honesty test

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A local Norwegian bank decided to test the honesty of Oslo residents by dropping 10 wallets full of cash and credit cards around the capital last autumn. All 10 of them were returned intact.

The project at Sparebank 1 in Oslo was called Vi bryr oss om Oslo (“We care about Oslo”) and its goal was to reward people who were honest. The wallets were of various sizes and shapes, filled with personal as well as financial items, to make them appear as authentic as possible.

“I was positive about what kind of results we’d get before we started, but I hadn’t expected that fully 100 percent of the wallets would be returned,” the bank’s project leader Svein Øvregård told newspaper Aften.

Had thought ethics were sinking
Ottar Hellevik, a professor of political science at the University of Oslo, was also pleasantly surprised by the strong showing of basic human honesty. “Our numbers have shown that Norwegians’ ethics have been sinking, so this is encouraging,” Hellevik told Aften.

He noted that earlier studies have shown that, in 1985, 63 percent of Norwegians felt it was wrong to keep money that was found. In 2009, only 33 percent felt it was wrong. The bank’s project suggests that at the very least, wallets were viewed differently than money alone. Oslo Police can report that more than 2,000 wallets found by local residents are turned in to them every year.

Philosophy professor Lars Fredrik Svendsen was also impressed with the bank’s results. “If you’d asked me in advance how many of the 10 wallets would be returned, I would have said eight or nine,” Svendsen told Aften. “I’d expect a clear majority to return them, but that some people would have been tempted to keep them.”

Not ‘cold-hearted’
Among the wallets was one found lying on a sidewalk near Oslo’s bombed government complex, by 29-year-old Ane Fossum. She was on her way to work when she spotted the wallet, picked it up and saw that it contained various hand-written notes, stickers and 250 kroner in cash (about USD 40).

“I thought it must belong to a young girl, and that 250 kroner is a lot of money for a girl,” Fossum said. “It would have been cold-hearted to just keep it.” It wasn’t until she made efforts to return it to the fictitious girl that she discovered the bank had planted it, and had a reward ready.

“Instead of giving the standard 10 percent of the amount of cash in the wallet, we gave 10 times the amount,” Øvregård told Aften. “It was well-deserved.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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