21 May 2018

How are workers different for beggars?

Orwell's very enjoyable Down and Out in Paris and London, which is free to read online (or download), says:
Why are beggars despised? — for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. In all the modem talk about energy, efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning is there except ‘Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it’? Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this test beggars fail, and for this they are despised. If one could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would become a respectable profession immediately. A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other businessmen, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modem people, sold his honour; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.


Unknown said...

Living where I do, in a poorer neighborhood where meeting up with someone asking for money is a daily event, I have a somewhat different take.
First, people who beg are not universally poor, but poverty is a tool of the beggar. It is the uniform, as it were. To be an effective begger, one must put on a good show of being poor, even if one makes over $100 a day with very little overhead and no taxes. And yes, there are some beggars who make $100 here in Louisville. How many? I don't know, but there is at least one who told his story freely to my wife one day while riding the bus.
To beg for money, one must have a story, and "this is my business like plumbing is your business" is not a good story. The fact that the story is often demonstrably false is easily proven. For example, if someone comes up to you and says: "Can you give me some money so I can buy a sandwich/get on the bus?" offer to buy them the sandwich or to give them a bus ticket and see what happens. Frequently, what they want is the money, not the sandwich or the bus ticket.
Which brings me to the first reason why beggars are often despised: they are frequently liars trying to get something out of you that you probably worked hard to get. In my opinion, this doesn't make them much different from a lot of sales professionals, especially those paid purely on commission. Used car sale people also don't rank highly in the public's opinion, I think for this reason.
But there is a second reason why beggars are despised. Most of them seem to be homeless, or at least present themselves that way. At any rate, we don't imagine that beggars have forked over a deposit and first month's rent on an apartment or bought a home. And they often don't stay at shelters except on those nights when weather conditions are bad enough that the shelters will take anyone.
Why is it that people who are without some sort of housing can't stay at a shelter? When you listen to them talk, as I often get to do, they tell each other or people they know how they got kicked out of shelters for smoking, or drinking, or doing drugs. In other words, they will not follow shelter rules. In general, they are not rule followers. And they don't want any kind of permanance in any facet of their lives. They don't really want permanent housing that they would have to upkeep, or permanent relationships with people that they would need to maintain. They don't want that responsibility.
There are some folks who have, through no real real fault of their own, just drawn a bad hand and have fallen on hard times. However, I suspect, from what I have gathered over the years of listening to them, that most beggars don't want to, metaphorically, mow the lawn, clean the gutters or change the oil. They are sales people, and what they sell is pity. And while we don't usually think about it that explicitly, the sale is really the reason we despise them.

Rich Mills

David Zetland said...

@Rich -- great comment, and I agree. The pity is that scammers (and I've met a few) tend to crowd out our best intentions. (Have you read the back story on the "welfare queen" Reagan called out? Interesting.)

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