WORTH READING: “…Jesus did not say: First, administer a breathalyzer test to the supplicant, or, first, sit him down for a pep talk on ‘focus’ and ‘goal-setting.'” — Barbara Ehrenreich

Freakonomics.com is a website that explores the economics of everyday life, written by an economist and a journalist.

A few ago, the collaborators behind Freakonomics asked several writers and thinkers to respond to the following question:

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?

They received a variety of vastly divergent answers, all which can be read on the blog.

Here’s a portion of the answer of Barbara Ehrenreich, a journalist and activist who has written extensively about the poor in the U.S.:

Although I’m atheist, I defer to Jesus on beggar-related matters. He said, if a man asks for your coat, give him your cloak too. (Actually, he said if a man “sue thee at the law” for the coat, but most beggars skip the legal process.) Jesus did not say: First, administer a breathalyzer test to the supplicant, or, first, sit him down for a pep talk on “focus” and “goal-setting.” He said: Give him the [d—] coat.

Comments 4

  1. Buy a hotdog and give it and the change to the beggar. Descripton of weather wasn’t mentioned so I don’ know if I’m wearing a coat.

  2. I’m all for caring for those that are unable to care for themselves. Yet I attempt to make a judgement (far different than being judgmental) before doling out to a beggar. A beggar (bum) wants something for nothing. A hobo will work for someone that offers a hand. I never want to reinforce to another that I will help them be or stay in their condition or circumstances, especially if they have gotten where they are because they have made poor decisions and, perhaps, continue to make them. For example, if a person is hungry and complains that they have no food or money to buy food, I don’t shell mine out to them if they are able to find ways to obtain tobacco, alcohol, drugs, etc. For me, that would be subsidizing their “habits” and I don’t do that. If they can figure out how to get those items, then they can figure out how to feed themselves without my help. And I take this attitude with a heart of compassion. I just don’t have a desire to give support to something that permits that person to continue with behavioral action that keeps them down. And that’s my gift to them!

  3. I am sorry but I come from a completely different point of view. I also once believed what Jerry Young believes. I once also thought, “they got themselves there, now why is it my responsibility to get them out?” Things are different now. I got educated. I have learned that drugs, tobacco and alcohol are widely available to the down and outs because the people selling them know that someday you will have money on you, and I will beat the tar out of you and take everything in your possession. Or better yet, if I give it to you for free, you will increase my client base and I will make more money that way. Dealers are not stupid. I have also learned that the people who need help the most usually are the ones who don’t outright ask for it. My husband and I sat in a restaurant watching this man order a piece of toast and water. Then he told the waitress he only has 40 cents so make sure he doesn’t go over it. She rolled her eyes and brought him his order. We called her over to our table and asked her to bring him a steak dinner with all the trimmings and we would pay for it up front. She was hesitant saying he comes in every night and orders toast and water, asks to use their phone (which she says no to) and that we were probably wasting our time because he always reeks of alcohol. We asked her to do it anyway. He was soooo appreciative, and I believe somewhat scared to come to our table ashamed in some way. That night we helped him by letting him use our cell phone so he could call family he misses. He and his daughter made plans for her to come and pick him up, he had been a missing person for over a month. This poor man had schizophrenia and had not been taking his meds. He was lost and alone and just needed someone to let him use their phone. Getting involved in other peoples lives is messy work, but think about all the messes God has clean up for us. Where would we be if he chose to look the other way.

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