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.