Saturday, October 26, 2019

But it's better to be immoral than unconstrained

Wall Street Journal isn't complaining about Singapore dim sum in spite of the tipping policy.

I was going to skip yesterday's Brooks ("The Tipping System Is Immoral"), because it has so little relevance to the ongoing intellectual wildfires that threaten to kill us all—he's like a schoolkid who has to write an essay to be graded by some randomly selected teacher and whose main concern in choosing the topic is to make sure no matter who it is they won't be offended, and I didn't even think I disagreed with his ostensible conclusion on a first quick reading:
Tipping inflames a sexist dynamic. Some men use their tips as leverage to harass female servers. Young blond women are tipped more than older brunettes. Male Uber riders tip female drivers 12 percent more, but only if they are young.
Tipping inflames a racist dynamic. African-American and Latino servers get much smaller tips. In a 2005 study of more than 1,000 tips to taxi drivers in New Haven, black drivers were tipped about a third less than white drivers.
Tipping widens class divisions. Servers who work in upscale restaurants can make good money. Servers who work in diners struggle. The people who work in the front of the restaurant might do well; those who work in the back do not. Many people think the very custom of tipping is a demeaning remnant from the age of aristocracy....
I’ll cheer on those who want to move America to a no-tip system. In the meantime, there are ways we can all make the best of a bad system...
like always tipping, never punishing a server by giving them a lower rate than you otherwise would, and paying a relatively higher rate for a relatively small bill (he suggests 30% for under $25). It's unfortunate that our society has institutionalized this immoral practice, but at least we can keep our own personal karma accumulation to a minimum by following these simple tricks for the time being.

But on closer look there's some serious oddity there, because far from cheering us on, he's strenuously advising us not to change:
in an ideal world, it would be a good idea to move to the French model: “service compris.”
But we live in actual America. In actual America, efforts to eliminate tipping have generally failed. Voters in Maine and Washington, D.C., passed ballot measures to phase out tipping. Both decisions were overturned after protest and confusion. Restaurants that move away from tipping often backtrack.
No explanation as to why France is in an ideal world and we aren't. Those are the breaks, I guess.

Anyway, his column isn't actually about tipping at all, as he candidly notes; "the real reason I'm writing this column" is the usual plea for a humble, nothing-can-be-done approach to social and economic policy and the intellectual totem ancestor of the present version is Thomas Sowell's 1987 book A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, and its dichotomy between "constrained" and "unconstrained" visions of policy proposals, in which advocates of the nothing-can-be-done view pat themselves on the back for their rueful wisdom about how things inevitably are and make fun of those wild liberals who think France and Singapore are in the real world.

So Brooks is applauding us for a clear moral view here, but in fact declining to do anything about it, because that would be unwise. It's the same little parable about socialism: sure we could make everybody more equal, but who knows what that would lead to?

I'd add that it's still very early days in the no-tipping movement in the US, since the first big splash in 2015 when Danny Meyer and other important figures began instituting it at New York City restaurants partly in response to changes in the local minimum wage law, which went up from $5/hour cash for tipped workers to $7.50 at the end of 2016 (it's now $10), partly from a desire to equalize earnings for the untipped cooks and dishwashers and so on (restaurants in New York are not allowed to institute sharing with the back of the house), and most of the restaurateurs that did it then are still on course, and New York is not the only place where it's happening—it's hot in Michigan, where the unconstrained Republican legislature abolished the tip credit in 2018.

Similarly unconstrained was the New York customer who lost a lawsuit in January:
An over-the-top lawsuit painting Danny Meyer as a no-tipping conspiracy leader is no more.
In a lengthy dismissal, a U.S. district judge found dubious evidence that Meyer and his non-cronies David ChangAndrew TarlowGabriel StulmanTom ColicchioDaniel Humm, and other big-name chefs worked together to pocket money through increased prices when going tipping-included.
The suit, from diner Timothy Brown, alleged that Meyer “spearheaded” it all during a meeting with the restaurateurs, but the judge did not agree, at least from present evidence. The dismissal does not preclude Brown from suing again.
Inequality and attendant hostility between high earners in the dining room and low earners in the kitchen has always been a bad thing since I was cooking for a living in the 1970s, and Meyer is right that we'll all benefit from ending it. Ask anybody who's ever eaten in France or Singapore; it turns out that both are in the real world after all.

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