Saturday, January 06, 2007

Business of Begging

Here's a little thought experiment.

Consider a beggar, dressed in rags, hair gussied up, face smeared in grime, cracked hands outstretched in supplication. How much would you give him? P5? P2? P1? None at all? Whether you give or not depends on your mood, of course; but at some point or other, we've all taken pity and given in.

Consider, too, how long your encounter with the beggar takes. Ten seconds? Thirty seconds? A minute? It's a fleeting encounter, perhaps tinged with a little guilt but brushed quickly from the mind. After all, what can we really do?

Now consider it from the beggar's perspective.

In an hour, a beggar can appeal to anywhere from 60 to 100 benefactors. Some will be stingy, some will be generous. So let's assume a "hit" rate of fifty percent: one out of every two people approached will give alms.

In an hour, therefore, a beggar will receive something from at least 30 people.

If the average dole-out is P2, then a beggar, in an hour, can earn something like P60.

If a beggar is assiduous in his line of work, then he will, like the rest of us, put in a solid eight hours on the streets. P60 per hour for eight hours of "work" nets about P480. Not bad for a day's work, don't you think?

In the Sherlock Holmes short story "The Man with the Twisted Lip," the detective investigates the disappearance of a country gentleman. The gentleman's belongings eventually turn up with a beggar; of the gentleman himself there is no trace. Holmes solves the case by applying sponge and bathwater to the beggar to reveal...the missing country gentleman.

The fellow had apparently been living a double life. Given the choice between his salary in his prior occupation as newspaperman and his high beggar earnings, he eventually became a professional beggar. His takings were large enough that he was able to establish himself as a country gentleman, marry well, and begin a respectable family.

Of course, that's just a fictional short story, and the preceding was just a thought experiment. By no means am I discouraging you from supporting mendicants. I just thought it would be something interesting to think about the next time you give to these poor victims of society.


  1. perhaps beggars even earn more than professional writers eh?

  2. that's why some people here in the u.s. prefer to be bums on the street rather than work despite the many economic opportunities.

  3. Well, travel and spend time in Manila. The home of the pro beggar families. They send out all their kids after making sure they smell bad and are rubber with dirt. Then the kids hassle everyone who is a foreigner or a business person. These kids can scoop some serious coins in an hour. Now multiply that by 4-6 kids per family...ouch... I have met and spent times with these families. They brag about their income and respectable profession and rate of income (which is well above the norm of the average working family) and then try to feel pity on them. Nope..sorry... It is a culture that has been cultivated by suckers...very sad...are you one?

  4. Bob: In Western countries, they would be called performance artists.