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ARTICLE

The Case for Panhandling

JULY 01, 1959 by LEONARD E. READ

Often enough it is an alcoholic who sidles up to one on a sidewalk and pleads, "Buddy, can you spare a dime for a cup of coffee?" Oc­casionally, the panhandler shows real initiative, like the one who re­cently accosted me near New York City’s Penn Station, "Buddy, could you gimme the fare to South Carolina?"

Panhandling is a pretty low-grade, demeaning trade into which people sometimes sink, a vocation of last resort. Yet, this type of begging has its relative merit: Those importuned are allowed freedom of choice—to be lenient or not to be lenient. Person-to-per­son begging has far less to con­demn it than does the legalized, "federal-aid" type currently en­dorsed and widely employed by our country’s social, intellectual, polit­ical, and commercial elite, as well as the not so elite! Let us test this startling assertion.

Los Angeles, or any other city, would, under the sidewalk variety of panhandling, place an advertise­ment in a Paducah newspaper—indeed, in papers all over the na­tion—asking alms:

Our sewerage system is in dis­repair! Widows and orphans, rich and poor—from Hilo to Nome, from Bellingham to Key West, from Chula Vista to Bangor—give us, we pray, the fruits of your la­bor. We are not prepared to dis­pose of our own sewage. We no longer wish to stand on our hind legs. So, won’t everyone lend a hand? Have mercy, for how else can weaklings like us survive?

Now, what is wrong with this procedure? Not much, except with the people who make such degrad­ing acknowledgments and confes­sions of weakness. At least, every citizen in the nation would be free to choose how he would respond.

Would the citizens of Los An­geles or any other community, farmers or any other group—un­happy with their economic plight—resort to the panhandling prin­ciple in its pristine form? No, in­deed! That would be too revolting. But, behold! We have found a way to "ennoble" the panhandling principle and to remove all feel­ings of revulsion: Legalize the principle. Allow freedom of choice to no one. Bring the police power of government into play and coerce all citizens throughout the nation into financing the local sewerage system—whether they wish to do so or not.

Has legalization made the action any less degrading? Or restored manhood to the weaklings? There appears to be not a trace of miti­gating evidence.

Sidewalk panhandling allows freedom of choice and causes no inflation. Nor do panhandlers in­jure the economy any more than do others who have retired from productive life. Legalized panhan­dling, on the other hand, allows no freedom of choice and is one of the principal causes of inflation and, thus, is destructive of the economy. Sidewalk panhandling is not nearly as bad as the legalized variety, this being the best case that can be made for panhandling on sidewalks.        

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July 1959

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