Tips and Democracy

Tips and Democracy

The most frequently consulted section of every guidebook is that on tipping. Habits and customs vary from one country to another. Travelers usually try to adapt to local customs; the failure to adapt is often a cause for embarrassment. It is embarrassing enough not to leave a tip where one is expected; in the United States, European tourists are notorious for leaving extremely modest tips. But it is even more embarrassing to leave a tip where one is not expected. In Japan, for instance, taxi drivers, porters in hotels, and waiters courteously refuse to accept tips, causing some discomfort to the misinformed tourist. A guide I consulted on Stockholm tells me that “tips are always included within the bill, but if you would like to leave a tip for good service you are welcome to round the bill up.” This isn’t quite right: it’s the service, not the tip, that is included in the bill, but the guide provided me with the information I was after: work remuneration is automatically included, whereas tips are additional.

Tipping is a custom, and as often happens with customs, individuals want to conform. If we were to base our behavior exclusively on the idea of self-interest-as economic theory does, as well as most of political science nowadays-we would hypothesize that each individual attempts to “maximize” the tip when finding him/herself on the receiving side and to “minimize” it when disbursing it. Reality, however, doesn’t fit the homo economicus model: receiver and disburser are prepared to renounce their personal gains in order to conform to the system in force.

Tips represent a form of work remuneration that can be abandoned just as easily as adopted. In Japan tips are nonexistent, while in Europe they are being progressively phased out, with the total cost of the service slowly being included within the bill. In the United States tipping shows no signs of ending. This can be added to the list of differences that further divide the two sides of the Atlantic. I argue for the European view: that tipping is incompatible with a cardinal principle of democracy, the equality of citizens. It is therefore necessary to eliminate tipping and replace it with alternative forms of work remuneration.

What Is a Tip?

A tip is defined as the price, determined unilaterally by the customer, for a service received; it is not obligatory, and its amount is not fixed in advance, except by a social code. In theory, tips ought to correspond to the customer’s understanding of the service received. For the employee, tips are a part of the compensation for a job performed. Tips can represent anywhere from 0 percent to 100 percent of an individual’s total income.

The tips I am talking about are not bribes, because, usually, illicit payments are made prior to the service, whereas the tip is made following it. The difference can be minimal. In the o...