An experiment tests the honor system across a wide range of demographics and places.

For the second summer running, the beverage company Honest Tea set up unmanned stalls "selling" bottles of tea across the country. Passersby could take a bottle, and were encouraged -- but by no means required -- to slip a dollar of payment into a collection box. You could have made off with some free tea, but not, as it turns out, without cost to your city's reputation.

An honor system for tea was only phase one: the network of stands has now yielded data ranking Wall Streeters, blondes, people wearing sunglasses, and another 75 demographic categories based on their level of honesty. The company's calling it the National Honesty Index, finally putting that silly name of theirs to good use.

It's undoubtedly not a perfect measure of civic honor -- the winners changed substantially this year -- but it's good fun anyway. For one thing, no cross-section of Americans was less than 60 percent honest. Congratulations, America, you are not a nation of thieves and opportunists. Even Wall Street was 97 percent honest.

But top of the pops this summer were Oakland, Salt Lake City, and (it pains me to say) Fenway Park, where 100 percent of drinkers paid for their product. Explain that. At the bottom was Brooklyn, where only 61 percent of people paid for their tea. Midwesterners were slightly more honest than Southerners, and urbanites slightly more honest than suburbanites. Take that, Feargus O'Sullivan.

The least five honest locations were all urban landmarks, though. In descending order of propriety: the South Side of Chicago (82 percent), Denver's 16th Street Mall (80 percent), New York's Chelsea Piers (77 percent), L.A.'s Venice Beach (76 percent), and Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards (61 percent).

The second round of results is also a good occasion for boasting, joking, hand-wringing and excuse-making in the local press. The San Francisco Chronicle blamed the city's coming up short on steroid-using Melky Cabrera, the Giants star hitter, not paying for a bottle of tea. The New York Daily News cast doubts on the validity of the survey by pointing out that Chicago -- where "municipal corruption is a fact of life" -- had won the previous round of the competition. And Dallas Magazine, based on a Freakonomics post, decided to take temperature into account last summer, and determined that -- where else -- Dallas, where the temperature had been 101 degrees, was actually the most honest city (given the insufferable heat).

Full results here.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Young students walking towards a  modern wood building surrounded by snow and trees
    Environment

    Norway’s Energy-Positive Building Spree Is Here

    Oslo’s Powerhouse collective wants buildings that make better cities in the face of climate change.

  2. A photo of shoppers in the central textile market of downtown Jakarta.
    Design

    How Cities Design Themselves

    Urban planner Alain Bertaud’s new book, Order Without Design, argues that cities are really shaped by market forces, not visionaries.

  3. A photo of Andrew Field, the owner of Rockaway Taco, looking out from his store in the Rockaway Beach neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York.
    Life

    Tacos and Transit: Rate Your City

    From taco-rich San Diego to the tortilla wastelands of Boston, we asked you to grade U.S. cities on two critical metrics: Mexican food and public transportation.

  4. A photo of an encampment of homeless people outside Minneapolis,
    Equity

    Why Minneapolis Just Made Zoning History

    The ambitious Minneapolis 2040 plan will encourage more dense housing development in single-family neighborhoods.

  5. A photo of a Christmas tree in downtown Rome.
    Life

    The Tree That Ruined Your City’s Christmas

    From Rome to Baltimore, the quality of the municipal Christmas tree can expose a city’s deeper failures.