Creator of Incentives

When I was in the third grade, growing up in Murmansk, a city above the Polar Circle in (then) communist Russia, my buddy and I decided to start a business.

Creator of Incentives

I originally wrote this short story to be a part of the article about Jackson Hewitt and IRS’ (possible) allegations that refund anticipation loans create an incentive for tax preparers to commit fraud.

When I was in the third grade, growing up in Murmansk, a city above the Polar Circle in (then) communist Russia, my buddy and I decided to start a business. We pooled our modest funds (mostly lunch money), bought photo paper and chemicals, and borrowed my older brother’s photo camera and photo development machine. This was in the early 1980s, a time before scanners, laser printers and copying machines. We took pictures of music record covers from the likes of Iron Maiden, Jethro Tull and Kiss, developed those pictures and sold them in school during breaks.

The business was going well, we were onto something, there was nothing like this available. We recouped our costs, and had a small profit, until one dark day (it was always dark during long sunless winters in Murmansk). My buddy and I were taken into the principal’s office. We were told a student stole money from another student, and when he was caught he said he stole money to buy our pictures. Suddenly, with this twisted logic we were at fault. Never mind that we were breaking copyright laws. There was no way in early 1980s to obtain copyright, even if we wanted to. We created the incentive to steal.

My father unapologetically told the principal that we were as much at fault as the movie industry and toy retailers — the creators of incentives. Of course, none of that mattered. To appease the school authorities I donated my profit to the World Peace Fund (still not sure where that money went, maybe ended the Cold War? Nah, I doubt it). My buddy and I received an “F” for the behavior, which was not a big downgrade for me since I rarely got a grade much above “C” for behavior.

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