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Responding to Beggars (stallman.org)
119 points by solipsist 2039 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 134 comments



This has been a huge problem for me. I recently moved to San Francisco after many years of living in the Midwest. I was born and lived the first 10 years of my life in Delhi where poverty was no big deal. It was accepted and not questioned. After living in the States and doing all the chores that someone else would normally do for me in India (dishes, laundry, etc.), it became difficult for me to see people as anything but people and I began to notice poverty.

After 3 months in San Francisco, I'm noticing the pendulum swinging again in the other direction. I don't see anyone paying attention to the homeless, and I know a few pennies here or there aren't going to solve the problem, so I am once again starting to become cold and removed.

I cannot stand saying no to people on the streets, but I have not found a way to get them off the streets either. I promise myself that right now is not the time, and one day I will make a difference.

It feels naive and stupid to think this way. I am 22.


At least you're being honest with yourself. I still struggle with how to respond to these situations, and I'm almost 30.

That said, I like Stallman's response. Gather more information, and act on your values. It's more human, imo.


There are ways to help the homeless without giving out money. For example, volunteering at a soup kitchen, shelter, etc.


And those things make far more difference in the long run. I never give to beggars aside from occasionally buying a "big issue". By my understanding (which I'll admit is almost entirely based on second-/third-/more-hand information and a chunk of cynicism) you can make far far more difference overall by donating to relevant charities and other such groups if you want to help financially, or (as you say) donating your time and effort to those groups by other means.

[] the cynicism part comes from things like the woman who for three years now has been trying to get together the bus fair to Hull, or some years ago seeing someone who earlier had been sat on a corner begging get into a car that appeared to be his and drive away


In the USA? No, there aren't. They're mentally ill or serious drug abusers. Also, your money can go a hell of a lot further and help a hell of a lot more people even in in the US. But you can save a life for about 800 dollars in the developing world.

http://www.givewell.org/

http://lesswrong.com/lw/37f/efficient_charity/

http://lesswrong.com/lw/6z/purchase_fuzzies_and_utilons_sepa...


Wait, so are you saying it isn't possibly to help homeless people in the USA? Or that they don't deserve help? Either way, I think you are very wrong.


It is possible to help people who are homeless in the USA who are neither mentally ill nor drug abusers. The mentally ill are incapable of accepting or using the help available to them. The drug addicts prefer the drugs and being homeless to being off drugs. There is more than a little help available for people who want to quit drugs and if you want to see what kind of support is available for the homeless in the USA visit San Francisco, the only first world city I am aware of where one regularly has to dodge human faeces in the street.

I'm not saying they don't deserve help. I'm saying that your money can do more good elsewhere, which is not something I'm willing to argue as being blatantly obvious. If one subscribes to the idea that there is a continuum of "deserving" to "undeserving" poor most of the drug addicts fall under undeserving and the USA is no longer willing to imprison people indefinitely for being mentally ill so they're probably beyond help. Very possibly also better off because mental hospitals are the closest I have ever seen to Hell, but beyond help.


I appreciate your candor and honesty. Ther are beggars and beggars. I suspect those in India wer truly poor and the solution was to go numb onthem. The ones mentioned inEurope are begging for sport. It is actually organized crime type of thing. The can and should be policed.


I like to leave money (coins or notes) where someone who needs it may find it - under a bridge, down low where a child might find it, etc. Sure to brighten anyone's day :-)

"Donating" money directly is difficult to do with respect and pride for giver and givee... I try to get it right because I feel i could end up poor, old, and drunk on the street. Some beggars strike me as being somewhat entrepreneurial :-).

Try to treat each situation as unique.

Occasionally I will give a beggar money for no reason, occasionally pity, occasionally random, occasionally respect. I accept sometimes I am a chump, but I would rather err on being a chump than be a selfish thoughtless jerk.

When a traveller in poorer countries I become much more generous - the price of a beer at home, or a birthday card, can make a big difference for many. Any person who can fly to a 3rd world country can afford to be very generous. 1st world travellers with excuses for being tight piss me off.

The difficulty is giving without demeaning the receiver ... respect.


All but one of the beggars who approached me in Kathmandu were children. If children can productively beg there is no incentive to educate them. Just send them out on the streets.

It isn't a matter of being greedy. It's avoiding counterproductive behavior.


This. In India and probably in many other countries, a lot of beggars operate under some gangs and most of their income goes to them. Especially true for beggars one sees at the traffic signals. So if you pay them, it is added incentive for the gangs to put more people out on the street.

My take on this is that everyone has a different way of being most effective in helping others. To really improve their situation, a homeless person needs someone who can invest a lot more time and effort. So if you want to help them, give to charities that work with them. In our individual capacity, we are more effective in helping someone who already has a platform. Consider financing the entire education of a child. That is more effective use of the money than distributing it piecemeal to several homeless people.


> So if you pay them, it is added incentive for the gangs to put more people out on the street.

I sometimes think that is just a handy excuse.

I actually enjoy seeing tourists get taken advantage of, and actively encourage it with my own behaviour.

I often admire go-getting capitalist tourist scams or annoying vendors - at times even illegal or immoral behaviour (people take risks because they need to, not usually out of choice).

Love the rest of your comment... exactly my point that we can all find ways to truely help (while avoiding ways that damage).


    I actually enjoy seeing tourists get taken advantage 
    of, and actively encourage it with my own behaviour.
Why?


Hard to explain - however I don't mean in a Schadenfreude way...

E.g. vendor selling something for 10x what a local would pay. I don't haggle much and admire chutzpah. If someone steals my wallet because that is the only income they can get, I won't like it (but I am not about to go hungry, get rickets or fail to get healthcare).

Obviously hard to delineate what is 'bad', or what are downstream effects.


I had my wallet stolen several years ago -- I set it on the bar at a cafe momentarily while paying, and somehow left without it (maybe someone subtly laid a paper over it? maybe I was just distracted?) and it was gone when I realized about 30 seconds later and came back in.

I can't say I admired the chutzpah, though.

The thief took a minor risk, earned less than 20 euros, and cost me days worth of my time and more than 100x that amount of money, to replace documents I hadn't realized would be so difficult to replace (the big one: my US driver's license, and I didn't live in the US anymore; replacing the US credit cards was also non-trivial, but less expensive).

The small amount of cash they got was about commensurate with the risk they took (fairly small); but the waste entailed was huge. I would much rather have been mugged and had my cash taken, and my watch as well -- i.e., items valuable to the mugger, not simply my wallet (which contained things mostly only valuable to me). Or they could have tossed the cashless wallet in a trashcan nearby. They didn't (I searched them all).

The real cost to society of this kind of theft and waste is not so much monetary; it's more psychological. That experience burned into my head fairly well that there are plenty of people around who care so little about me, they'll happily take whatever they can from me, regardless of the suffering it causes.

I have a suspicion that it's the series of experiences like this that turn people from political liberals to conservatives as they age -- they feed easily into racism and classism, they turn us from thinking "how can I help people who need it" to "fuck 'em -- they'll do the same to me if they could". Etc..


Perhaps you mean that they sell it for a higher price to people who have more money, and a lower price to people who have less?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_discrimination


Sure - avoiding counter-productive behaviour is a good goal. However it is difficult to avoid condescendingly 'knowing' what is best for a child if it aligns with selfish motives, and one knows nothing about the situation...

The question is how to help kids though... I have tried gifting useful stuff to local schools, once I helped teach English to a class. Leaving coins where children might find them seems good to me. Hiding small toys down low is fun too - and is suitable anywhere in the world!

I feel churlish if I do not share my 1st world worth when enjoying the hospitality of other countries... but it takes some ingenuity to come up with ways to do so that are good for all involved...


The situation is not much different here in Brazil. It's almost impossible to tell when a beggar is telling the truth or not - they have perfected their story-telling out of necessity.

Once I was walking up to a friend's apartment. Just a few meters from his door, a guy with a desperate face approached and asked me to borrow some money for gas/something, so that he could get to his wife who was in the hospital (red flag). I refused, and then he proceeded to tell me the exact address he was going to, handed me his license and car keys to check. I felt ashamed for being such a cold person, and gave him ten bucks. Just as he was turning around the corner, my friend who was leaving his apt saw him and said -"did you give that guy money? He is always around" :(

Never gave out money since. I try to make up for it by being very straight about taxes and civilization in general.


In the UK we have The Big Issue. It's a magazine only sold by homeless people, for £2.50 per magazine. The sellers buy each magazine for £1.25. The sellers are trained, sign a code of conduct and wear badges so you can recognise them easily.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Issue

I like this approach because I know that they have some degree of control. For example, they can't spend all the money on booze/drugs because otherwise they can't purchase more stock. It's a start.

That said, I like Stallman's method. I might try that sometime.


In the Boston / Cambridge area where Stallman is talking about, we have "Spare Change":

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spare_Change_News

There just are more homeless people that gather there than can viably all sell the newspaper.


They do this too in Australia and out of those who I see regularly in the CBD I don't mind them as they're usually friendly and honest.

The idea of getting them work, as small as selling magazines is, is a great idea.

I personally follow a similar approach to Stallman here in Australia and I agree that it definitely is hard when you go to another country. I spent two years in the Philippines where poverty is common and at first I had no real idea what to do as we were constantly being asked for money, every day.

Another idea I stand by is not too judge too quickly the homeless or so in saying "Oh, they'd just go spend it on drugs or alcohol."


For me it isn't a question of being duped or scammed. It's a question of whether the gift is really going to help them. It turns out this is a very difficult question. When you give money to a beggar, you are saying "great job! here's a bonus to encourage you to keep begging!". At the same time, these are usually people who are in need. I also know that substance abuse is close to certain. I don't have a good answer. Most of the time I give nothing. Occasionally I'll hand a guy a 20, without regard for his story or whether I'm being scammed. It's a gift given freely.

What I know for sure is that I can be polite to them. Recognize them as humans, not treat them as lepers. If they engage me in conversation ask their name, where they are from. But usually ignore them on the ask. Because I can't rationalize that it would help.

But it's not an easy question.


My experience trying to get a homeless person off the street:

http://graceofgodmovie.com/

Available on iTunes:

http://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/but-for-the-grace-of-god/id...

If you watch it and like it please write a review.


Been there done that. I have actually helped a man get off of alcohol and street, securing him a job and a place to live; only to have him go back to the streets: Twice.


I really don't understand why people care so much what the beggar uses the money for. Give him a dollar, or don't. If you do, don't worry that he might use it to buy booze; just feel good that you did something nice for someone. If you don't, don't try to justify it to yourself by saying he might be a liar. Just say "I have the right to not give beggars money because it's my money" and be done with it.

There, I solved all of your altruism problems. You're welcome.


I've always made this decision based strictly on whether I am feeling generous enough in the moment to give money to a stranger who asked for it. I personally find bothering oneself about what they are going to do with it to be extremely condescending, and I sometimes suspect it might be a cop-out for simply wanting to hold on to your money. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with wanting to hold on to your own money.


From the article it's pretty clear that Stallman just didn't like the feeling of being deceived. I don't think condescension has anything to do with it. As an aside: there were two instances in the last year in which I gave a stranger in need of help $20. I analyzed the interactions in the aftermath, and I'm convinced that the first person really did need help and the second person scammed me (I can't say for sure, but when adding up all the little details, things start to ring true or false). When I realized that I had been scammed, I felt pretty raw about it. It wasn't about the money, but the fact that someone would prey on my willingness to help like that.


My general feeling is that anyone who is scamming people on the streets in order to get by has real problems.


I'm sorry, but they have a duty to their shareholders to do whatever will maximize shareholder value, including doing marketing research and pandering to what works.

Oh wait, were we talking about beggars? Nevermind, they should be held to a higher standard than the Fortune 500. They can afford it. (Billions and their own jobs aren't riding on it.)


What I do now when I'm approached like this is asking them to return the money to me in some way (e.g. send it back in an envelope or sth). That way you get feedback and the whole thing turns into a fun little game of seeing how good a judge of character you are. Results for me have been abysmal so far though, but at least I've learned a lot about human nature in the process :p


I don't think there's much you can do to help someone on the street in a way that gets them off the street. That's not to say that nothing can be done, just that the initiative has to come from the person on the street to get out of that pattern.

I can't remember where I got it from, but I carry a pack of cigarettes around. When I get asked for change, I remember to offer the person a cigarette instead. If you're on the street then lung cancer is the least of your problems, and it's a way of showing support to the person but in a way that doesn't contribute to their pattern.

Our culture has some strong messages about charity and a taboo about questioning it. People tend to give to things that are branded as charity in order to comply with this message. The result can often be an office full of people in a nice location, pulling down wages, and doing very little meaningful work towards the cause. It is itself a variation on the deceptive begging pattern, feeding on popular ideas about charity.

I think the best approach for helping people is to look out for things directly in your sphere where you can see how your action will lead to a goood result, and then act at that level.


For the most part, I only give money to homeless people who put out a cup or a hat and don't try to sell me on a story. I've been lied to so many times that I assume every story is a lie. I don't try to buy specific items like food or train tickets, either. I don't want to dictate what they ought to spend the money on. If they want to spend it on food or clothes, great. If they would prefer to spend it on drugs or lotto tickets, I'm not going to reverse a lifetime of bad habits by forcing them to get a sandwich. The money is theirs once I give it to them.


Why would you do that? Is it because you're told to by a priest to be charitable or because your sense of guilt push you into making the world a worse place. Or sympathy?

Look at the long view. It only takes a few people to keep doing that, and they'll keep existing at that level instead of finding a better way to get by. You're enabling them.


The three main causes of homelessness in America are sudden economic misfortune, mental illness, and addiction.

People in the first category are actively looking for a way to get back on their feet. Giving them money is better than giving them a meal, a ticket, or a bit of clothing. They know what they need most, and will spend their money accordingly. Insisting that they choose from my list of pre-approved spending options does more harm than good, from a utility standpoint. From an emotional standpoint, it's condescending and demeaning.

In the second case, the person has few employment options and a weak support network, otherwise they would not be out on the street. They won't use the money I give them as well as people in the first category, but who am I to say what they want or need? I'm not trying to solve a social problem. I'm trying to ease the suffering of an individual.

It's difficult to distinguish people in the third group from the people in the second group, since mental illness and addiction often work in tandem. I don't bother to try. Anyway, the addict's hierarchy of needs is roughly: Food > Drugs > Shelter. If I buy them a sandwich, they can spend the remainder of their money on drugs. If they're a serious addict, a lack of charity won't stand between them and the drugs they need. If they can't scrounge up enough money through legitimate means, petty crime is the next step. Overcoming addiction is a complicated process that comes from within. You can't starve the addict into going clean. If I give a homeless person a dollar and that money goes towards drugs, that's a shame, but at least it eases their suffering for a moment.

Again, giving money to a homeless person isn't a long-term solution to social problems. It's a small gesture from one individual to another. They have a cut, so I give them a band-aid. Homelessness is a difficult and complicated problem. Withholding charity won't suddenly result in homeless people straightening up and flying right. The reality is that many of them, at least in the short term, are unemployable. Withholding charity just increases their suffering.


I don't want to put words in permulis' mouth, but, I think a reasonable assumption is he's concerned of the option you don't list: They won't get by. They'll die.

I think that's why a lot of people do it.


I was on my college debate team; the Nationals final round in 2003 was about this hypothetical ("Give a homeless person a dollar?") I was pleasantly surprised to recently find that it was taped and available online: http://www.parlidebate.com/recordings.php?id=36

I can't fairly condense the salient points, so I'll just encourage you to watch the video - it's long, but well worth it. I can honestly say it changed how I evaluate these sorts of situations (aside from being a very fine round of debate, but that's more of an acquired taste).

(Just to be clear: I was not one of the debaters, just happened to be lucky enough to be in the audience).


Thanks for the video. Interesting round to watch--makes me miss my debate days.

Which direction did it shift your views?


In the direction of giving - either money, or if time allows, something like what Stallman is doing/advocating. The main thing that shifted my views was the notion that even if the money is "wasted" (or might be more effective dollar-for-dollar elsewhere), there's a lot to be said for the human connection - and that even if the recipient is operating under false pretenses (which does happen sometimes), that human connection is worth it.


> In the direction of giving - either money, or if time allows, something like what Stallman is doing/advocating. The main thing that shifted my views was the notion that even if the money is "wasted" (or might be more effective dollar-for-dollar elsewhere), there's a lot to be said for the human connection - and that even if the recipient is operating under false pretenses (which does happen sometimes), that human connection is worth it.

Pardon me if this was mentioned in the debate — unfortunately I'm not in a position to watch the video at the moment — but the worst case in giving money to beggars is not just that the money is "wasted".

In the UK, the overwhelming majority of beggars are not homeless, and are simply begging to fund a drug addiction (usually to 'Class A' drugs such as heroin). A survey by Westminster Council found 86 percent of people begging spend the money they receive on drugs and alcohol, and seven out of ten of those arrested for begging (begging in public is illegal in the UK, although enforcement of the law is sporadic) had Class A drugs in their system (see: http://www.thamesreach.org.uk/news-and-views/campaigns/givin...)

In other words, when you give money to a beggar in the UK, you are more than likely funding a Class A drug addiction. An addiction that drastically reduces that person's life expectancy, and increases their chances of premature death due to an overdose.


I definitely fall on the side of the fence that actually-effective charity is superior than any "human connection" or other warm-fuzzy feeling I personally might get, though I do enjoy my warm-fuzzies every so often. I started treating them separately at some point (most likely influenced by http://lesswrong.com/lw/6z/purchase_fuzzies_and_utilons_sepa... ) and that seemed pretty helpful in a couple ways.

One trick I'm trying this year is that whenever I'm asked for cash or see a bum asking for cash and don't give any (typically because I don't want to or because I want to give less than $20 and I only have a card (and I don't want to give any time)), the next time I'm at a computer I increment a total on my home system by some small delta. It represents the total I intend to donate all at once near the end of the year to where I think has the most expected utility.


I never give, I pay, for example I'll pay to the one who play nice music. I don't pay to soften culpability either, I handle this myself. My preferred way to fix the poverty issue is to participate in this kind of economy: I prefer giving a good salary to a nanny coming from countryside than giving random bucks to those who earned a pithy price in the streets.


I never give money to beggars after having seen how they operate in Berlin. The standard ones are extremely pushy, and in areas like Ku'damm, there are organised gangs of women who bring their children with them. I've seen them converge and hand over money to a central man at the same spot day after day. He doesn't look poor.


I have tried this approach for a while and not once did a beggar accept the proposal. A couple of times when I didn't have cash on me I got cursed at and since then I stopped giving to them. I should also mention that I'm from the Netherlands and no one here needs to be homeless, it's always because of drug addiction.


Or mental illness?


I don't know about Netherlands, but in UK there's a complex mix of substance misuse and mental illness amongst the homeless population. It's difficult to know which causes what.

In theory "homelessness" is a solved problem in the UK. In practice, there are people who sleep on the streets and there are people who are effectively homeless but who have short term accommodation and there are plenty of beggars.


> In theory "homelessness" is a solved problem in the UK. In practice, there are people who sleep on the streets and there are people who are effectively homeless but who have short term accommodation and there are plenty of beggars.

The situation in the UK is somewhat unique. As you mention, homelessness is not really an issue. All homeless people are entitled to benefits to cover accommodation and food.

Unfortunately people still tend to associate begging with homelessness, when the link between the two is tenuous at best. The overwhelming majority of beggars are not actually homeless, and most are begging to fund a drug addition (see: http://www.thamesreach.org.uk/news-and-views/campaigns/givin...)

There really is no need for anyone in the UK to beg in order to survive, hence why begging in public is illegal.


I don't think so, those are taken care of by our government afaik.


I wonder if modern enterpreneurs are recruiting their marketing staff from the ranks of these street scammers. Many scammers are masters of the art of salesmanship: telling people what they want to hear in order to get them to part with their money.

I find it hard to distinguish between their methods, the only substantial difference being much larger turnover for the 'respectable' marketing and advertising experts.


I give money to Shelter, a British charity which helps homeless people. I figure they're the experts, and can put the money to the best use.


I have seen enough professional beggars who live well that I pretty much just assume that they're just about all like that. It seems that if you're good at it, you can make quite a bit of money. And this is hardly new: there's even a Sherlock Holmes story that revolves around a man who gives up his profession to become a beggar because the money is better.

If you feel guilty (and why wouldn't you? it's only natural), give money to charitable organizations which help the homeless. They know how to put the money to better use.


When someone asks me for money, I just give them money. I dont care what they do with it. I think people complaining about being deceived are just looking for excuses for being greedy. The end result is the same, no matter if the beggar is honest or not: i'm more happy because I feel generous, the beggar's more happy because he got money. The first time I relised that the story I got told was a lie I was upset, but I realised that it doesn't matter.


And this is why I hate begging so much. It's a transaction - the beggar gets the money, you get the feeling good. But try to take this to its logical conclusion in a free market situation and you'll understand why the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I've seen a little girl being taught to beg once. She was as beautiful and clean as a young girl can be, and she was with a slightly older boy in a subway. He was leading her by the hand and showing her the ropes... what to say, how to say it, how to act... Most people there thought that it was so very charming and paid well for the feeling. All I did was to try hard as I could not to hit something or somebody, because I was watching a soul being mutilated.


I guess some people's problem is that we "care what [the beggars] do with it" when we give money.

i.e. I don't want to give someone money that they'll use to further destroy their life with drugs/alcohol/whatever. I don't want to be complicit in that action. If that's too 'morally' or 'judgemental' for some people, so be it.

Now, I'm more than happy to buy them some food, transportation, etc. Or even better, spend some time with them (when possible) and treat them like a real person for a few minutes.


Well, when there is a high probability they will use the money to buy drugs - substance abuse is one of the primary reasons for homelessness in the US - then it does in fact matter what they do with it. Giving money to beggars is virtually synonymous with supporting the corner dealer in many cases.


Thats great of you :) I agree completely. I don't think we should believe that we have the right to judge others just because they are poorer than ourselves. Too many people do.

Even if they use my money to drink themselves into oblivion, thats their choice and I'm happy that I can provide them with the means to do whatever they want with their lives.

That said, I do prefer to give to certain types of people. It can be hard to really tell how needy someone is, but generally I don't give to children (this encourages parents to not send them to school), those who occupy prime locations (main street, outside a supermerket etc. - as I've seen these being worked by groups who muscle others out of their patch - and besides they make plenty of money from others there), and those who hassle every passing stranger.


It might just be someone doing it as a 'job', to supplement their trust fund, or their government benefits, for instance. Or they might be using the money to buy meth and support meth dealers.


I think that in certain situations the moral question of doing or not performing an act is either a weak function of the entities we interact or is not a function of them at all. I think this is one of those cases: I would give a small amount of money (e.g. a quarter) to anyone who has to ask for it for whatever reason. I find Stallman's attitude to be condescending to extreme, i.e. "you lied to me", how can you judge that person?

A similar ethical question: Should we eat animals? Some people object to this citing the misery, pain, etc. that the animals have to endure. But suppose we create a certain pig/chicken/sheep clone that is incapable of thinking (or, as in http://www.amazon.com/The-Pig-That-Wants-Eaten/dp/0452287448, actually wants to be eaten): Would your attitude on this matter change? I think it should not.

The way I treat entities with less power than me (homeless people, animals) wholly depends on me and not inputs from them.


How can you judge them to be needy?


That was my whole point: I don't.


I know how important Richard Stallman is to the tech community, and I appreciate his tech-oriented stuff ... but I'm kinda getting bored with seeing his LiveJournal posts on the HN homepage.


Well, there are a lot of others nowhere near as influential as RMS whose "LiveJornal"-esque posts about "entrepreneurship" - a la: How I made $2 million from $2 - regularly make the HN homepage. I could live with the former (and for once, RMS is making sense).


Some panhandlers really need money, and some don't. There's no way to know for sure which is which, and I can't afford to give money to everyone who asks for it. So the only "rational" solution is to not give money to panhandlers at all.

Of course, I don't follow that rule perfectly because saying no or ignoring somebody makes me feel like a dick. But I'm not going to pretend that giving money to a panhandler is ever a rational act.


I used to do the same thing while I was commuting to San Francisco to do an expert system for PacBell. Lots of homeless people begging and the people I worked with lectured me on not giving them money. That was in my pre-vegetarian days and I had a serious hamburger addiction; occasionally when I bought a hamburger, I would buy a second one to hand to an apparently homeless person.


I think I'm going to apply this to my day-to-day life. I bet I'll give out less money overall, but more money to those that need it.


I've done this in the past. When I used to travel by train (and live in England) I spent a lot of time waiting at London train stations. If my train wasn't imminent and I was approached I would offer to buy the beggar a meal at any of the concessions in the station.

In contrast to Stallman's experience, I was never rebuffed - occasionally asked to go outside the station to get vegetarian food (seemed reasonable to me) and once asked if I could also buy food for someones girlfriend as well (chutzpah pays!). Some of these people where interesting, some less so, just the same as any random sample of the human race.

I don't find myself in those situations in my current living/working situation, but I like to keep my mind open to these possibilities


If they're walking up to you on the platform and you're offering them free food of their choice (within reason), why not? Whereas if they're in a good, high-traffic, spot, they might not want to give it up for the free food.

I had a guy run up to me just as I was getting on the bus to ask if I could spare fare for him too. I dug it out and handed it over and he turned around and walked off. I thought that was pretty funny, especially as the fare was a quarter.


My mom taught me never to give money to beggars, only ever give them food. Seemed entirely logical.


I keep a couple of gift cards in my wallet and hand them out if someone's in trouble. I tell them there's money on it but not how much. Obviously, someone could still sell the gift card, but the buyer will have to take him at his word.


This is what my parents have taught me to do as well.

It's also a possibility though that the beggar wanted to be efficient and accumulate more money for other fares throughout the day, just trying to be efficient.


Tickets, food and anything else is always almost refundable, so in most cases, it would have been cheaper to have given them a quarter, even a dollar.


Is a beggar an analogy for a startup looking for funding?


and you are an angel.


Not yet. I only asked the question in context of this article being posted to Hacker News. I thought maybe the author was describing an approach to more than just qualifying requests for money from beggars.


In Thailand this situation is quite terrible. The Mafia collects people with missing limbs and other disfigurations, basically the people who will elicit the greatest sympathy, and forces them to sit on the same corners begging day after day, month after month and year after year - and turn all of the money they collect over to them. If they steal any, they die. In return they are provided with the bare minimum subsistence living one could imagine.

This situation is so bad that the country had to pass a law giving the death penalty to anybody dismembering children for the purposes of turning them into beggars - because people were doing that on a large scale.


It's similar in India, although Indians from the more respectable classes find it just as shocking as a westerner would, and find it hard to believe this happens in their country.


It's funny, in Dungeons and Dragons, "beggar" is the lowest ranking person in a thieves' guild.


The situation is similar in Sweden, but I have thankfully not heard of anyone disfiguring someone else for these purposes. Yet.

One of the glorious benefits of being a member of the EU is that we now have to put up with organized gangs of beggars coming in from Romania, Bulgaria etc harassing us on our streets. (The leftists have proposed that we add these people to our welfare rolls and give them their own apartments - an entitlement not available even to Swedish citizens, mind you. Of course, the only reasonable response is to institute a sufficiently vague law against vagrancy and then deport them.)


Have you a problem with Bulgarian people or Bulgarian criminals?

If you have a problem with Bulgarian people in general, then, well, that is called xenophobia or more simply racism.

If you have a problem with Bulgarian criminals, then complain to your police force. How come you able to spot such criminals so easily while they cannot? Did you make precise and detailed reports to the police about cases you witnessed, experienced personally or know from local hearsay?

Talking about apartments, do you agree on the principle that access to public housing should be given to those most in need? Do you also agree on the principle that the needs for every lawful person should be addressed regardless of their country of origin? If you do, what is the problem them? If you do not, why?

Question for the US readers: do scenes like those depicted in Steinbeck's novel The grapes of wrath still happen? Are people from rural zones like Oklahoma's countryside treated as filthy dangerous foreigners in California? Because that is what we are seeing and experiencing right now in the EU.


I'm Romanian, and I have no problem with Muzza's comment. He's perfectly right. If anything, we can breathe a bit easier here in Romania with all the gangs gone to better countries.

I do disagree though that deporting is the way to go. The problem is real, and shoving it under the carpet doesn't really solve much of it. What is needed is an EU-wide solution, and it needs to be well-thought and well implemented, because the problem isn't easier.

We've had a lot of negative feedback here in Romania because of the various criminals we exported to Italy. To my surprise when I went to visit Rome I found surprisingly large, very prosper and very hard-working Romanian minority. Yes, we exported beggars and criminals, but the number of "legitimate" immigrants was dwarfing them.

This is the main purpose of an open EU - to move labor, capital and markets where they are naturally needed. I'm pretty sure even northern countries like Germany, France or Holland (and quite possibly even Sweden) benefit from highly trained immigrants from Eastern Europe. I personally know Romanian doctors who lives in each of those countries. Sadly, Romania can't afford to retain good doctors - but this is how an open market works.


> If anything, we can breathe a bit easier here in Romania with all the gangs gone to better countries.

Ha! At least two parties (the gangs and the Romanians in Romania) are profiting.

> I do disagree though that deporting is the way to go. The problem is real, and shoving it under the carpet doesn't really solve much of it. What is needed is an EU-wide solution, and it needs to be well-thought and well implemented, because the problem isn't easier.

Yes. My criticism concerns only various leftists who believe that Romania's (and Bulgaria's, etc) problems should be solved by Sweden alone.


> If you have a problem with Bulgarian criminals, then complain to your police force.

The Swedes likely don't have a problem with Bulgarians. He says Bulgarians and Romanians so he means gypsies. He may not know this but even if he does he's Swedish so saying that it's a gypsy problem would get him in shit socially.

http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/myqdy/why_do_euro...


Read the parent post again, no problem with Bulgarian people in general.

What's with your xenophobia/racism haunch? It is not unreasonable to discuss such effects due to relative open - e.g. compared to US - borders.

Last year in Germany I myself saw 'gangs of beggars'. While not a problem, it annoys me when on touristic places you'll get asked for money every two minutes from one of the (romanian) women with child. It feels like an industry.


It feels like an industry.

It is an industry. Most of these gangs are exactly that: organised gangs. In a recent documentary in Ireland, they studied the problem and even followed them back to their own countries (where they lived in mansions). One of the women they followed carried a baby around for 14 hours while begging and it turned out it wasn't even hers - a number of the women shared this baby as a tool to gain more money while begging.

A friend of mine once overheard a beggar talking on the phone complaining that he only made €500 that day...

Not all beggars are like this, of course. Some genuinely fell on hard times. I have no problem buying someone food or paying their bus fare (if I have the money), or donating money to charities which help these people directly, but I refuse to ever give someone who is on the street begging for money anything.


The same reason you don't say black beggars or Mexican criminals. The racial or national background of these people might be interesting for sociologists but it's unhelpful in everyday discussions. It strips people of their dignity, whether it's intentional or not. Don't be that guy.


It is interesting and helpful, because the reasons that these beggars are operating in Sweden was given (internal migration within the EU).

If he hadn't said it, replies would have expressed surprise that the prosperous Swedes had resorted to aggressive organised criminal behaviour, and there would have been speculation on why that is.

There would also have been questions on why the government hasn't done anything about it yet, which he also addressed in his comment.

Stop telling us what we can and can't talk about.


Look, this is about good manners, not censorship. Everything you've just said is trivial and unhelpful. Naming ethnicities this way will only make you look like a fool and undermine the point you're trying to make.


If you have a problem with Bulgarian criminals, then complain to your police force.

Unfortunately the legal system here (and I assume elsewhere in the EU) doesn't cover this situation so there is little I or the police can do.

Talking about apartments, do you agree on the principle that access to public housing should be given to those most in need?

I think the point was that they do not need them and even their own citizens don't get this.


> Have you a problem with Bulgarian people or Bulgarian criminals?

> If you have a problem with Bulgarian people in general, then, well, that is called xenophobia or more simply racism.

Presumably you are Bulgarian and I have offended you by not being nice to those compatriots of you who are begging on my streets. I am actually kind of sad for that, because I'm sure you and I could in fact get along quite beautifully. But the fact still remains: when I go out, I don't wish to be accosted by beggars. This is human nature.

> If you have a problem with Bulgarian criminals, then complain to your police force. How come you able to spot such criminals so easily while they cannot? Did you make precise and detailed reports to the police about cases you witnessed, experienced personally or know from local hearsay?

My bloody point was that vagrancy SHOULD be a crime. It ISN'T at present. (Also, the police are corrupt and willing to overlook crime when it suits them.)

> Do you also agree on the principle that the needs for every lawful person should be addressed regardless of their country of origin?

Certainly not. I find it totally absurd that if I (a Swedish citizen who's paid a lot of tax to the Swedish state) were to wind up on the streets, the Swedish state could quite possibly refuse me even a bed at a homeless shelter, at the same as a foreigner should be given his or her own apartment, no questions asked. This is not just. It's borderline evil.


> Presumably you are Bulgarian and I have offended you by not being nice to those compatriots of you who are begging on my streets.

No, I am not a Bulgarian or a Romanian. But yes, I am offended by people who use nationalities to denote groups of criminals. I am not that old, yet I have heard "Albanian", "Italian", "Spanish", "Polish", "Romanian", "Turkish", "Portuguese", "African", "Brazilian", "Senegalese", "Nigerian", "Egyptian", "Moroccan", "Chinese", "Arab" and many other demonyms used as an insult and to identify the latest and biggest threat to EU security and welfare systems. I find it difficult to think that all the Albanians, Italians, Spanish, Polish, etc., are all criminals. I am pretty sure that each country has its own fair share of criminals and that many of these flew to other countries in order to exploit their there-unknown cons, but I doubt that this warrants anyone the possibility to call out a whole nation as a problematic issue.

> when I go out, I don't wish to be accosted by beggars. This is human nature.

Isn't compassion part of human nature as well?

> My bloody point was that vagrancy SHOULD be a crime. It ISN'T at present.

It is in many EU countries. Many people in those countries complain just like you do.

An old saying of my country says «Never say "I will never drink from that spring"». You never know what may happen. There are many homeless people on the streets right now that used to be plain middle-class workers only 5 years ago. [1] Also, vagrancy, and homelessness in general, are on the rise. [2] An hungry person will not care much about anti-vagrancy laws. It will came to you and ask for help.

> (Also, the police are corrupt and willing to overlook crime when it suits them.)

This is your problem, not foreigners' problems. Your police is subject to bribery from gangs from other countries, what is the most effective action? Fix your police system or kick out gang X waiting for gang Y to start bribing the police?

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/29/middle-class-family... [2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-17303892


> No, I am not a Bulgarian or a Romanian. But yes, I am offended by people who use nationalities to denote groups of criminals. I am not that old, yet I have heard "Albanian", "Italian", "Spanish", "Polish", "Romanian", "Turkish", "Portuguese", "African", "Brazilian", "Senegalese", "Nigerian", "Egyptian", "Moroccan", "Chinese", "Arab" and many other demonyms used as an insult and to identify the latest and biggest threat to EU security and welfare systems. I find it difficult to think that all the Albanians, Italians, Spanish, Polish, etc., are all criminals. I am pretty sure that each country has its own fair share of criminals and that many of these flew to other countries in order to exploit their there-unknown cons, but I doubt that this warrants anyone the possibility to call out a whole nation as a problematic issue.

Straw man. I have never suggested that all Bulgarians (or Romanians) are criminals. For Christ's sake, I even acknowledge that the current beggars on the streets where I live AREN'T criminals!

> Isn't compassion part of human nature as well?

I pay a 30% income tax (and my employer pays an additional 30% in payroll taxes, which is of course simply a hidden tax on me) and then 25% VAT on everything I buy. This pays for much welfare. I think it's /exceedingly/ compassionate of me to give away such a large part of my income - certainly more than the Christian concept of tithe. My compassion is not endless, however. And neither is yours.

But I wonder, why aren't the Bulgarians compassionate towards their own countrymen? Why don't you criticize them?

> This is your problem, not foreigners' problems. Your police is subject to bribery from gangs from other countries, what is the most effective action? Fix your police system or kick out gang X waiting for gang Y to start bribing the police?

I never suggested it was the foreigners' problems. Please stop your fucking straw man arguments.


I believe if you just call said vagrants/thieves what they are: gypsies, Bulgarians will be less likely to be insulted.

Us Romanians are more used to being confused with gypsies than Bulgarians, I guess. Gypsies even when to the trouble of renaming themselves to "Rroms", so they are more easily confused with Romanians.


Downvoting because its ridiculous to compare the situation in Sweden with that of Thailand (the difference is immense), because it engages in leftist bashing (I'm sure there must be very few 'leftists' if any who really say "lets build new apartments for foreign criminals whilst Swedes get nothing", although this is exactly what you imply they say), and because you claim to answer a complex and nuanced issue with a single sweeping generalisation.


His comment was relevant to the discussion, and was a relevant comment reply (talking about organised gangs using begging to further their goals).

I'm guessing you just want to shut out views that are at all critical of immigration, or even just seem to be. You want to shut down that discussion entirely.

I'd downvote you, but that button doesn't appear for me.


Sorry, but I feel like you are putting words into my mouth here. I downvoted for the specific reasons mentioned, none of which were about my views on immigration (which you might be surprised to know are not one-sided at all). I'd also be happy to have a discussion about immigration, but at most it is a side issue in this thread and the above post.

I don't want to get into an argument here, but its hard not to refute the views you seem to be imposing on me.


I apologise if I have misrepresented you. You are right, I do not know what your views are.


> organized gangs of beggars

I'd say that that part is similar, and it is not something I was aware of. So, I find this informative and contributing to the discussion.

Some of the other language might be viewed as a bit slanted. Or it might be viewed as a bit ironic. Given that uncertainty, I didn't find it too extreme. (Although, I am in the U.S. and so separated from the particular circumstance, and my judgment/opinion is of limited value.)

P.S. I should add that I have not yet read all the ensuing responses, which I am now getting to and which might change my opinion somewhat. But, based just on the original comment, I think the above applies to it.

P.P.S. HN is getting way too political. Reading through this thread reinforces this impression. Makes me sorry to have commented on it. OTOH, I rather liked the description of RMS's approach, and I found it informative to read comments on the "industry" behind some of the world's begging. (To which begging, like many other commentors here, I have a hard time formulating a coherent response that I find helpful, practical, and coherent.)


We have the same problems in Ireland. There was a documentary recently where they followed some of these people back to their homes in Romania to find that they owned mansions back home - the same people were begging and collecting social welfare here (some were collecting social welfare for children who either weren't even their own or weren't in the country).



I am 100% confident that deporting all foreign beggars in Sweden will solve the problem of foreign beggars in Sweden. I don't really care if this doesn't get to the "bottom of the problem" or whatever. I (or the Swedish people in general) simply cannot be held responsible for the suffering of the entire fucking world.

Your links don't make any sense. The DDR used slave labor? Ingvar Kamprad uses various tax avoidance schemes? Did you choose them simply because they are related to Sweden?


3 Free movement of capital

4 Free movement of services

5 Free movement of people

    5.1 Free movement of workers

    5.2 Free movement for the non-economically active

    5.3 The Schengen Area

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Freedoms_%28European_Unio...

I also invite you to read the labels of ie. the plying wooden chairs and crude mugs from which all those world-mesmerising profits arise.


What is your point? Do you think I'm somehow ignorant of what the EU means? I know about the free movement of people - I reject it since it has negative consequences for me!

For some reason you are unwilling to come right out and simply say what you think about IKEA, thus leaving me to read your mind. Presumably your argument goes something like this:

"Ingvar Kamprad is Swedish, Ingvar Kamprad used forced labor in the GDR, therefore all Swedish people must pay for these sins by putting up with foreign beggars on their streets".


Your presumption is wrong. I gave examples of free movements of products, services and capital. If you are ready to accept these freedoms, you should also accept the other items packaged in this very same deal: the free movement of people.

The Swiss also like to cherry pick the good stuff from the Europe, just like everybody. Not taking responsibility of the economic externalities, as the euphemism goes, is not sustainable. Economically speaking of the West, the short-term advantages of this short-sightedness are over.


> If you are ready to accept these freedoms

Who says I am? I am not Ingvar Kamprad.


Democracy and freedom are double-edged swords by their very nature.You are perfectly entitled as an individual to reject those freedoms.

I think you as an individual then should be slapped with a visa requirement to visit all other nations in Europe. Then you'll have fun strutting around with your papers to all the different embassies - which I guess you'd certainly prefer than having foreign beggars around. Or you could stay in Sweden forever if you don't even want to do that. We certainly wouldn't mind.


What a brilliant "solution": if somebody does something you are not happy with... just deport them!


Certainly. Foreign criminals are deported all the time.


You (and I) are responsible if you are enjoying your privileges while – through no fault of their own - others suffer.

Sweden and the west got rich through luck and exploitation. You are privileged. You are lucky. Recognize that and act on it.


I'm extremely happy to see that there are still generous people around. You see, I'm African, and when I see the current mess in my continent, I think that we should do something about it.

Since you disagree with Muzza, I would suggest that we create a partnership in which we bring every african beggar to your country (Sweden?). That's a lot, and it'll probably severely mess up your country, but hey, here's your opportunity to act on your words!

/sarcasm

On a more serious note, would you want all the beggars in the world to go to Sweden? Why not? Oh, because it's too much and it wouldn't be good for Sweden right? Well every person has a different tolerance threshold for "what is good for Sweden". Maybe someone would argue with you that making Sweden an asylum for all the world's beggars is the ultimate way of repairing for your sins, and then call you a fascist for not wanting to do it.

Well you're doing exactly the same with Muzza. What you consider something very reasonable (hosting Roumanian beggars and providing them with apartments or whatever) is seen as unacceptable by someone else.

I guess I disliked your patronizing tone: people have different opinions and tolerance, and yours is no better or worse than any other.


West did not get rich through luck and exploitation. Particularly Europe didn't. If you look at the map, it's just some tiny backwater at the end of the world with little natural resources. Yes, there was plenty of exploitation but that's hardly unique to the western culture. And European peasants were the ones exploited for the most part.

West has gotten rich because of its culture which allowed for development of science and technology (or at least hindered it the least), private property and enterprise, stable governments, honored contracts, and -- perhaps the cause of all those freedoms -- no single hegemon for much of its history and so a ruthless competition between the states on all field.

You're confusing cause with effect. It's not exploitation that made Europeans do much better than the rest of the world, they were already doing much better which allowed them to conquer the world.


To the degree I am privileged as a Westerner is not the result of luck or exploitation. It is the result of a very specific tradition of rights and governance. My obligation is to fight to protect and continue that tradition.


I am certainly not responsible in any way for (for instance) Romania's poverty. There was this guy called Ceaușescu; he had a little bit to do with it.


It is an open secret, that as all dictators, the Ceaușescus were also maintained by powers outside Romania. His wife was elected as member of the Illinois Academy of Sciences, besides multiple doctorate honoris, ie. from the Faculty of Sciences of Nice (and if I remember correctly, member of the Académie). Seemed like an approval of Western Europe, so to me it seems, that they had a little bit to do with the current situation. Actually little has changed since at the core, despite appearances.


And once again the Swede* must atone for the sins of others (such as the Académie française).

* Or more generally: white Western European.


that may be so, but the actual beggars are not at fault, and this is important. simply because someone was not born within the borders of your country does not make them any less human. This is the point. A swedish life is worth no more or less than a romanian one. Your nationalist attitude is baseless.

You happen to be born in sweden, they happen to be born in romania. If the tables were turned I'm sure you wouldn't think too highly of people with your opinion.


The tables are turned. Someone born in Western Europe might well lead a life of poverty while a Japanese or South Korean person will have a great education, get a job straight out of university, and not want for material needs. Will South Korea or Japan donate their money to help such people, or allow them immigrate to their safe countries? They will not. Do you think the Chinese will?


So basically, you think we shouldn't have welfare because you're not allowed to immigrate to China.


I don't know how you got that out of what I said. I think welfare is quite good.


> that may be so, but the actual beggars are not at fault, and this is important. simply because someone was not born within the borders of your country does not make them any less human.

I have never denied anyone their humanity, only insisted that I shouldn't have to support them.

> A swedish life is worth no more or less than a romanian one.

If we are all equal, why do the left insist that a Romanian arriving in Sweden should have more entitlements than a Swedish citizen?


While you basically built this country? It happens that Swedes who are actually paid to think(or paid at all) don't often share your views. This might be because they are not expecting life to be a free ride just because they were born here.


1) It does not follow from "I am not responsible for Romania's poverty" that I claimed "I built Sweden". Läs om, läs rätt. 2) I am not unemployed, nor paid to work with my hands. 3) Even unemployed people and manual laborers can have valid views on things, you elitist. 4) I never once mentioned wanting a free ride!


so where do you stand on Brevik, both motive and method?


The answer is mu ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mu_%28negative%29 ). There is no link between mass murder and the deportation of criminals; my stance on Breivik is irrelevant.


motive vs method.


The situation is not similar in Sweden. In fact, from the entire planet, Sweden is one of most dissimilar places.


I fail to see how the gypsy beggars are the problem and not your legislation or enforcement. If hostile begging is an issue, legislate it out of the streets. Pass a law that would criminalise it once you've been caught three times.

Instead of complaining, you better appeal to your fellow citizens and solve it


> I fail to see how the gypsy beggars are the problem and not your legislation or enforcement. If hostile begging is an issue, legislate it out of the streets.

He did explain why that wasn't being done.

> Instead of complaining, you better appeal to your fellow citizens and solve it.

Wouldn't that involve some complaining?

Anyway, I notice you didn't say that to wilfra. Why doesn't he get accused 'complaining'?

Why didn't you try to solve the issues in your post with action instead of with complaining?


In SF, I witnessed the classic: guy offers sandwich to 'hungry' homeless guy. Homeless guy responds, "what kind is it?" Apparently, beggars can be choosers.


It's a psychological reaction to having very little control over anything around you to exert more control in any area you can. It's not ironically funny, it's ironically sad.


Perhaps he is a vegetarian. Being homeless doesn't require you to sacrifice your principles.


Did you ever think he might have had a life threatening allergy to certain foods ? It's pretty common.


When asked for money for food a few months back, I offered to buy the guy a burrito. I asked what ingredients he wanted, he suggested no beans to make it easier on his fellow humans...


Did you ever think that I was there and might have taken note of such a thing? There's a difference between "I don't eat meat" and "I don't like corned beef." Do you ever give people the benefit of the doubt, or do you always exploit omissions in order to paint the other in a negative light?


Ask them to break a $20.

What happens if they naturally learn to collect money, and we record these activities through our hearsay? If we expect them to be able to break a $20?


I love how this page has no styling information. Just times new roman on a white background. User agent stylesheet ftw.




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