Friday, August 10, 2007


Ryan over at Grades Matter pointed me towards this blog post by Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner and company about panhandling. Long story short, they talked about what would you do if you came to a street corner with a Hamilton in your wallet, a hot dog vendor on one corner and a hobo on the other. I think I actually like Mark Cuban's answer the best, but I thought that I'd stick my response in the pot as well.
First things first: I wouldn't give anything to the panhandler. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I am completely against panhandling in all its myriad forms. I think that it's a relatively easy way to make some money. Easy in the following sense: anybody can get into some dirty clothes, write a pathetic looking sign, and stand on a street corner. Depending on the area you choose, you can make just a little (not enough to survive on it alone) or you can make a lot (like the panhandler I ran into in SLC who was riding a brand-spanking new Trek mountain bike. Not one of those low-end jobs either, it was a nice bike). I've witnessed first-hand people who have turned down food even though their sign said "will work for food. " That's the gateway to having someone talk to you long enough to have you give them a little something for whatever they want the money for, be it a bottle of Colt .45 or to send the kids to college. I used to feel bad for them and I still think that it's the most degrading way you could possibly make a living. However, it is a lifestyle choice whether it's degrading or not and it's one that I don't feel good supporting.
I do want to help those who are less fortunate than me though, so I give a goodly amount to charities that help to feed and clothe the poor. I feel that that's where my good deed money should go instead of to some guy who is going to do who knows what with it. The second reason that I wouldn't give to a panhandler is because I want to provide an economic disincentive to doing it. I like my streets clean and non-threatening. If you have to walk through an army of panhandlers it is neither. Call it my own personal version of the Broken Windows theory.
Would I buy the hot dog though? It depends on if I wanted it. Remember that we must be in New York City if that is the case, or possibly Chicago. I think I'd get a dog in Chicago, but New York ones aren't worth the money. I'd go to the next corner, get me a gyro and a Diet Pepsi and possibly a pretzel or something if I couldn't just keep the change (after all, that gyro and Pepsi cost me $7 already).
While I'm on the subject of panhandling, I heard something about what people would do in the panhandling capital of the world, Calcutta. Apparently people will disfigure themselves to get ahead in the game so that they look more pathetic. I couldn't believe that was true, so I did a little digging around and came across this article about it. Apparently at the end of the day giving people that money is just providing an incentive for organized crime to continue to make life miserable for people.

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