Panhandlers receive way too much derision and judgment from the general public. They have various stigma ladened insults hurled at them regularly. Constantly derided as “bums”, “beggars, and “mendicants. All terms lacking any sense of dignity. However, what true societal harm have panhandlers inflicted upon society through their attempts to cajoling passing motorists into parting with their spare change? At worst panhandlers are a minor nuisance and their actions violate insignificant local ordinances. But I will have to draw the line at loitering on private property. From a property rights standpoint, that issue is much more problematic. Why as a society are we so repulsed by the notion of an individual asking for money? We as individual economic agents reserve the right to voluntarily decline to part with our spare change and continue on our merry way. Early this week I was grappling with this question and concluded that panhandlers aren’t a menace at all. That many of the local ordinance aiming to curtail the behavior is nothing more than an overaction to a victimless crime.
Upon stumbling across this idiosyncratic epiphany I naturally conducted a quick survey of the internet to see if any else shared my contrarian perspective on begging. No other than the great Leonard Read wrote an article back in the 1950s arguing that panhandling was less harmful to the economy and society than taxpayer funding of government services. Read details how not only is the action of giving money to a panhandler voluntary but it does not damage the economy anymore so than an individual choosing to retire. It should be noted that again this article was written before the baby boomer generation retiring. The drastic increase in spending on Social Security and Medicare entitlements has made retirement much more detrimental to the U.S. economy. That point aside, Read mentions how government services assist in creating inflation while panhandling does no such harm. Anyone unacquainted with how inflation works may be confused by this statement. Essentially, he is implying that instead of raising funds through the politically inconvenient act of a tax hike, the government will merely print more money to fund whatever programs and services require allocations. Introducing more money into the economy naturally decreases the value of the currency causing inflation. Thus, making a strong case that panhandling is less harmful to society than government services.
However, I take one issue with this pithy and insightful essay penned by the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education. He describes panhandling in a quasi-neutral light. It doesn’t harm society, but also doesn’t benefit society. I would beg to differ on this point. I view panhandlers as being creative and enterprising individuals who have found a novel method of generating income despite their difficult circumstances. I would be so bold to assert that they resemble entrepreneurs. Perhaps and most likely the nature of panhandling has changed over the past sixty-plus years. To persuade to part with their money, beggars have over the years incorporated elements of entertainment in their persuasion techniques. I once saw a gentleman with a sign that read:
“ Too honest to steal, too ugly to strip”
Not only was this sign humourous but it also exhibits the wit of a talent marketing strategist. If wasn’t for his unfortunate shift in vicissitudes could have been quite the asset in the boardroom. Now he provides the service of entertainment to bored the bored motorists of Chandler, Arizona. Those who are amused by his witty sign, compensate him for his innovation. Another more risque example of panhandlers earning their money through entertainment was a witness at the very same traffic intersection. There was an attractive young lady who appeared to be well-washed and not homeless. Adorning a bikini top and short-shorts with her thong conspicuously exposed. Needless to say, she was swiftly crossing backing forth between the median and the sidewalk of the intersection graciously accepting paper bills from male motorists. These fellows weren’t parting with mere pocket change! Another sign that I once saw that particularly struck me as clever read:
“ I bet you can’t hit me with a Nickle”
Before you are quick to pass judgment upon a panhandler remember this, it is a grind just like another vocation. It is merely an unorthodox means of earning an income. If anything, panhandlers contribute more to society than those on welfare who do not work. At the very least, beggars attempt to entertain, making them impromptu service providers. Good service demands just compensation.