Freakonomics got some bright folks together to discuss philosophies on the following:

You are walking down the street in New York City with $10 of disposable income in your pocket. You come to a corner with a hot dog vendor on one side and a beggar on the other. The beggar looks like he’s been drinking; the hot dog vendor looks like an upstanding citizen. How, if at all, do you distribute the $10 in your pocket, and why?

First off, if I’m hungry and want a hot dog, I’ll buy one and eat it. Regardless of whether or not I do, I still have to decide what to do with the rest of my money.

Part of me wants to go with Barbara Ehrenreich and follow JC’s advice. When I was young and idealistic, I used to do that largely due to thinking like Roland Fryar, that it’ll help the bum more than me.

I originally ditched that philosophy because of the old “they’ll just use it to buy drugs” notion. But thats for fascists, well meaning fascits, but fascists none the less. Who am I (or you) to decide how anyone else is going to spend their income. That doesn’t answer the question, because that line of thinking doesn’t mean you have to be the one giving the bum money, but I will rule out giving the bum a hot dog.

Giving to bums around here isn’t a matter of life and death, I live by the beach in San Diego, so most of the bums I see (and I see a lot) don’t have it so bad, so I don’t feel compelled to help them as needy people. But as pointed out in the Freakonomics post, the good book says if somebody asks you for something, give it to them and more. That seems pretty noble.

Hypothetically, me and a bunch of people start giving money to bums. Lets say this amounts to thousands of dollars. Markets being what they are, it seems to me that more bums will enter the market at this point. Some person at the margin, who otherwise would’ve gotten a (shitty) job is now going to be on the street annoying people for money, as bad as that is for us (being annoyed) it must be worse for the person who almost wasn’t a bum.

So I don’t know how to deal with panhandlers, but I do know that working is for suckers, so I shouldn’t get upset with them for trying to avoid it.