The liberal and the beggar in the Whole Foods parking lot

A friend’s Facebook status:

This is what inequality looks like: Yesterday I’m accosted in the Whole Foods parking lot by a woman asking me for a dollar to buy a sandwich. I grumpily refused. A poignant moment for me, another rejection out of too many to count for her. What a world [frowny emoticon] [link to Atlantic article on rich bastards worldwide]

This guy is a software engineer married to a Harvard professor. His household income is approximately $300,000 per year. He tirelessly advocates on Facebook for higher taxes on the “wealthy” and for the election of Bernie Sanders. Yet he apparently refused to redistribute 1/300,000th of his household’s income to the beggar. In other words, he rejected a 0.00033… percent increase in his personal tax rate.

[You might reasonably ask why there are beggars in Cambridge, Massachusetts given that a non-working adult can get a free apartment, free food, free health care, etc. Certainly there are poor families receiving packages of assistance that work out to more than $100,000 per year after tax, e.g., starting with free occupancy of an apartment with a market value of $5,000 per month. However, a person who has not been favored by the various government poverty ministries and/or is bad at paperwork might find himself or herself with only free health care.]

I asked about the apparent logical contradiction between his political advocacy and his personal actions. He responded with “A $1.00 donation to a random bum in a parking lot is not equivalent to a tax increase.” His friend who is also a passionate Bernie Sanders supporter added “I have been trained to wonder if panhandlers use monetary donations to prolong unhealthy dependence of substances” to explain why he won’t give money voluntarily.

I then asked “Why couldn’t a welfare recipient just as easily use the taxpayer cash to ‘prolong unhealthy dependence of substances’? If you give me a free apartment, free food, and free health care, what stops me from spending the day doing whatever I want, e.g., smoking crack?” Neither he nor his fellow Bernie Sanders supporter had an answer for that. Instead they talked about wanting to “give people a guaranteed minimum income.” I responded with “Why not start with the woman at Whole Foods then? Her current guaranteed minimum income is $0 (though she may be able to receive an array of goods and services, such as food, housing, and medical care). If you gave her $1 then her guaranteed minimum income would be $1.”

12 thoughts on “The liberal and the beggar in the Whole Foods parking lot

  1. For those welfare-statists who care to feel consistent, it’s usually:

    1. i’m giving that $1 to *efficient* charity instead

    2. it’s just a coordination problem and i’m totally willing to give *my fair share*. if everyone gives $1 then this whole-foods spot will pay out $1000/hr. (panhandler vigilantism enforces actual ownership of spots).

  2. Many genuinely homeless people I know are fiercely independent, more libertarian, and smarter than the average person to survive outside the generous system we assuage our conscience with.

    Ask a long-time homeless person about all the NGO’s that offer to turn them into a client (as a “revenue stream” for the NGO’s good works), and give them a pair or 2, or 3, of new tube socks for their time.

  3. I have to wonder why it was “a poignant moment for [him]”. I didn’t think “rich bastards” were capable of feeling poignant in such situations. Maybe it’s because your friend is one of those rare lefties who is actually capable of recognizing his own hypocrisy. It always amazes me how people like your “one-percenter” friend(s?) can support such obvious losers like Bernie Sanders (referring to his life before he got into politics). Most Engineers that I know are pretty darn good at math. I’m a degreed Electrical Engineer myself, so I am — or used to be — really good at math. I’ll admit that forty-ish years after college I’d be hard-pressed to do any kind of calculus derivation or integration. But I can certainly still do simple arithmetic, oftentimes just in my head, and that’s really all it takes to see through things that people like Sanders propose.

    Actually, I think the big problem with most people nowadays is that they are innumerate. Last year I helped my 31-year-old daughter who has a shiny new degree in Business Management, and is a really smart kid, make a short music video for Secretary’s Day with a bunch of the attorneys in her office. She had printed the names of all forty-three of the court reporters in the D.A.’s office on poster board and was going to have each of the eight participants in the video hold up each name for the camera at a certain point in the video. She and one of her co-workers were trying to figure out how many names should go in each of eight piles. After letting them rack their brains for about a fifteen seconds, I finally said, “Five each, with three left over.” They were both surprised that I was able to do that in my head. I guess that’s what should be expected when you require kids to use calculators for their entire school life. It’s unfortunate that it las left an entire generation of Americans innumerate, and based on what I’ve seen of Common Core math, it won’t get any better going forward.

  4. Phil,

    Many of the died-in-the-wool, extreme left, hardcore liberals that I know wouldn’t DARE go anywhere near a homeless person, a beggar or a merely poor person in general, yet they all espouse “deep feelings” for “those pitiful souls”.
    I guess it’s easy to espouse deep feelings when that’s all you have to do, espouse.

  5. I hate to break it to you but your friend is an asshole.

    Though I tend not to give out cash too but I have had my counter offer of come inside and I’ll buy you lunch refused.

  6. Tekumse: “An asshole”? How is that possible? He is more committed to social justice than anyone I know! The only time that he is not thinking about how to increase social justice is when he is working to turn back climate change.

  7. Haha. 🙂 I wonder how you keep friends, do they not read your blog? I guess it’s because, as shown in most posts, you confront them directly about their opinions and choices so they know you question them and have chosen you as a friend for it, not in spite of it. It’s still surprising to see though.

  8. Ben: I prefer “question” rather than “confront”! Generally in Massachusetts it is not socially acceptable to question the expansion of government, the benefits of new regulations, the heroic accomplishments of the Obama Administration (without which we would have spiraled downward into a depression deeper than Zimbabwe’s), etc. On the other hand, sometimes the groupthink participants like to keep a court jester around so that they have someone to argue against and also to paint themselves as underdogs.

  9. “Why couldn’t a welfare recipient just as easily use the taxpayer cash to ‘prolong unhealthy dependence of substances’? If you give me a free apartment, free food, and free health care, what stops me from spending the day doing whatever I want, e.g., smoking crack?”

    They could, but people who support increased welfare also support it in the context of increased community mental health services, greater investment in education, career training services, alterations in the drug war and policing more generally, and broader cultural changes.

    That all makes it rather obviously different from a random $1 to a random homeless person.

  10. My answer is because I don’t want to reinforce the behavior of begging for money.

    I’m all for a guaranteed minimum income, paying high taxes, and creating a socio-economically equal society. If people take their GMI and spend it on drugs and alcohol, that is their choice. The problem arises when they impinge on others in a direct way.

    Your friend likely shops at Whole Foods because it’s a clean and beautiful environment that contains foods he considers to be healthy and good for him. His expectation is likely that he’s paying good money _not_ to be exposed to poverty or beggars, and having this homeless encounter violates those expectations.

    There are likely more people out there who want to help the homeless than not, they just don’t want to be exposed to them (the worst, _not the majority_, tend to be unpredictable, angry, and filthy… all signals that tell our brains to get away from that person as quickly as possible). GMI gives an indirect path of helping the homeless without having to be exposed to them.

  11. [Phil] “responded with ‘Why not start with the woman [beggar] at [store brand] then? Her current guaranteed minimum income is $0 (though she may be able to receive an array of goods and services, such as food, housing, and medical care). If you gave her $1 then her guaranteed minimum income would be $1.’”

    That’s a false, too-quick-on-the-draw-from-the-hip assumption. The beggar’s median daily income is the multiple of whatever pity, empathy and/or “affluent wo|man’s guilt” compassion she can muster. Were her daily pickings your “guaranteed minimum of $0,” she’d hardly be there day after day. Obviously, however, that “guaranteed” daily income of hers is enough to justify “repeat performances”.

    Let us agree on the fact that, much imperfect though they are, our modern societies offer plenty of help to the impecunious ones, if not always in the monetary form. Nor is there anything deterministic about those unlucky in life needing to become beggars in order to survive. So, if the overall objective is the eradication of poverty and/or leveling out of the opportunities (that last probably not applicable to the USA though), then giving money to beggars can but be an—if minor—act of prolonging their poverty. For that reason alone, I pass beggars by, while feeling conscious of, and irritated by, the poverty desensitizing effects that that has on my psyche. In Tom Wolfe’an terms, I will not be mau-maued into acquiescence.

    ObMovieAnalogy: the Romanian beggar subplot in “Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages” by Michael Haneke, made at a time (2000) when it was still possible to question the practices of panhandling as choice of occupation without being branded a racist.

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