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Topics: Begging, Poverty, Homelessness Pages: 2 (933 words) Published: October 31, 2013

I have sometimes given money to beggars. On cold autumn days, when a homeless man has seemed to be in need of some money to buy food or a cup of coffee, I have occasionally dropped him a few coins. Those coins, I have thought, mean much more to him than they do to me, and giving is a nice thing to do. Upon reflection, however, I have come to change my mind, and now I don’t give money to beggars. Let me explain why. On the one hand, there are the traditional, somewhat cynical, arguments that—in spite of their cynicism—carry some weight. First, for every dollar that we give to a beggar, the more lucrative we make begging and, comparatively, the less lucrative we make working. This is bad, for we want people to work, not beg. Working is productive; begging is at best neutral and often a burden and a nuisance. Second, there is no guarantee that the beggar who receives the money will spend it in ways that increase the quality of his life. He might well spend the money on alcohol or drugs, and end up financing organized crime. These objections carry some weight, but they are not decisive. What is decisive is the fact that if you give money to beggars, you almost certainly spend your welfare budget helping the wrong people. First of all, you are likely to give your money to the beggars who already get the most from other givers. Depending on their location, their looks, and what they say, different beggars have different degrees of success in how much money they attract. Like everyone else, you are statistically likely to give the most money to the ones with the locations, looks, and tricks that prompt people to give. A few weeks ago, I stopped and observed a beggar who looked quite a bit like Mother Theresa. She had a small picture of Jesus in front of her. When people walked past, she bowed her head, folded her hands, prayed, and made sure to mention “Jesus Christ” in her prayer. About one in six gave her money. If the average giver gave her 50 cents, and 10-15...
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