A friend of mine recently had an experience they shared on Facebook. She encountered a woman asking for money, begging, in the middle of the street. At first, my friend drove by but touched, she turned her car around, went back and gave the person five dollars. Beyond the question of why this person is in the predicament she is, begging for money in the streets, or how she got there, it started me wondering about that interchange between my friend and the beggar. Also, does the beggar fulfill a role in society and how might we compare their role to that of a charitable organization, any business, politician or government bureaucrat?
What is begging? Really, nothing more than asking for a donation, asking for charity. Yes, it is a donation to themselves, and potentially their children, but it is simply asking for a voluntary donation. Is this any different from a politician asking for a donation to fund his or her campaign? Not to single them out, simply an example, but how about United Way, are they not asking for donations? Do the employees of United Way take a cut of the proceeds? Yes, they do. Does that make them “beggars”? Should we cast a disparaging light on charitable organizations that solicit voluntary charitable donations? No, we should not. Nor should we cast dispersion on any person seeking out any type of voluntary assistance. The mere existence of someone begging, their presence in our society, tells us they actually perform a very valuable service. If they did not, they would not exist.
Why don’t beggars sell something instead of just begging? Why don’t they work? Actually, they do work and they do sell something. What does United Way sell? The donor values the feeling they get by donating, to whatever the cause, more than they value the specific sum of money they donate. If they did not, they would not part with their money. It turns out that the charitable giver is no less self-interested than the butcher or the baker. The fact that one receives no monetary or economic gain through their kindness and generosity does not make them any less self-interested. What they receive in return is psychic income, a non-monetary or non-material satisfaction that accompanies an occupation or economic activity.
It should also be noted that profits need not be monetary; they may also be psychic. For instance, if one were to decide to give a homeless man on the street five dollars, this would not yield the benefactor a monetary profit, however, the psychic pleasure he receives from the gesture is more valuable to him than the five dollars he surrendered. Once again, such an act would be considered one whose aim is profit. It is through this concept of psychic profit that economists are able to explain actions taken by actors in the economy that deliberately result in monetary losses. Monetary profits are merely a subset of all possible motivations.Rachels, Christopher Chase. A Spontaneous Order: The Capitalist Case For A Stateless Society (pp. 103-104). Jacksons – Balham, London. Kindle Edition.
First, there is no such thing as performing a public service. All services are provided to individuals, by individuals. There is no public. The public is made up of individuals, the oft-maligned corporation is made up of individuals, all of society and civilizations are made up of individual people. At the very least, we are unable to discern whether the services, so-called “public services”, of a bureaucrat are valued or not. We cannot discern the level of satisfaction on behalf of a taxpayer. Why? While beggars get their loot through voluntary choice, government gets theirs through force. One might inform me that my stay in this country is voluntary, thus my payment of taxes is voluntary. If I do not like it, I can leave. In the United States today, yes, that would be correct, I can currently leave. I would ask that person, however, not to confuse tolerance with satisfaction and no good choice with free choice. I do not mean to say that every part of state government is bad and that no services they perform are valued, only that there is no way to tell when fines and imprisonment are the only alternative to paying up. The fact is that many tolerate government and are far from satisfied. If the most recent election did not make this crystal clear, nothing will. So, the services of beggars are valued, the validity and value of state government services is indeterminate.
Above, with regards to beggars, I stated, “their presence in our society, tells us they actually perform a very valuable service. If they did not, they would not exist.” I hope I have proven this point. If no one voluntarily gave a beggar money, they would not return to beg. This same litmus test applies to every single business or organization, charitable or otherwise, in the world that relies on voluntary exchange. Obviously, governments exist as well and begs the question; does government perform any valuable services? Setting aside the question of whether or not private businesses would do better, I continue to claim that no doubt governments do, but in many cases they do not. I can say for sure that government, in no way shape or form, can ever perform a charitable act. I can also say with certainty that beggars perform a more valuable service, have a more justified and valid role in society, than some government bureaucrats. Unfortunately, we may never know exactly which ones. The government is more like a mugger than a beggar, in this regard. I might actually hand over my money for what I consider a good cause, but under threat of being hit over the head, I’m not exactly in a position to make that choice.