Why Don’t People Pay What They Owe?

Liz writes:

Right now I am trying to figure out what to do about moving. I was promised a very large sum of money for contract work that I have successfully finished. I have demanded payment but even though this was for a well publicized request for extensive and sometimes dangerous research, I still haven’t been paid. My lawyer says they will pay up. Psychologically, speaking, what is wrong with people who put other people through this when they can just write a check? Meanwhile I am on a microvacation and might see if a relative might be up for a short visit.

Dr. Chalmer answers:

Liz, I think there can be a lot of reasons why people don’t pay money they owe. Of course, sometimes people don’t pay because they don’t have the money, and don’t want to tell you that. Other times, they have the money and know they owe it, but don’t want to pay you, and as a species we’re well equipped to come up with justifications for not doing things we know we should do but don’t want to do.

In situations like this I like to assume good will—in other words, don’t take it personally—and handle it through legal channels, which it sounds like you’re doing. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong psychologically with the person who isn’t paying you. They have their reasons, which you don’t need to worry about. You just need to get paid, and your lawyer has reassured that you will. If not, work with your lawyer to see what your options are. In the meantime, enjoy your microvacation!

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