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Day: June 14, 2017

The Economic Violence of Morally Upright Americans

Posted in Uncategorized

A car dealership in Brighton, Michigan, had some strong words about a panhandler seen frequently near their building. So strong, they felt compelled to make a sign calling him out. reports:

“Please do not give anything to this Panhandler. We offered him a full-time job at $10.00/HR,” the sign reads. “He said ‘I make more than any of you’ and he did not want a job, please donate to a more worthy cause.”


When the story went viral, the response was overwhelmingly in favor of the dealership. They offered this man a job! What would possess him not to take it?

Well…it could be any number of reasons, but if we’re going by the sign alone, it’s the pay. Years ago, Amanda Palmer gave a TED Talk wherein she described working as a street performer. She kept track of the amount of money she made and was surprised to realize that it was a predictable income, despite the unconventionality of the job. She didn’t have a name tag, she didn’t have a W-2 or a union, but she knew basically how much she would have made by the end of the week. It sounds like this Michigan panhandler is in the same situation. He knows what he makes, and he knows it’s more than $400 per week before taxes.

This man had sound economic reasoning not to take the job they offered, but beyond that, we have no reason to assume that the car dealership sign is giving us the entire story. Did the man react that way out of pride? Is there a reason he doesn’t feel he could accept the job, such as not wanting to be seen as the office charity case? Is there a felony that would prevent him from employment? Are there disability benefits, like health insurance, that he’ll lose if he has to report even that meager $10.00/hour income? None of these questions are answered by the sign, and all of them are within the realm of possibility.

But maybe people are right. Maybe he’s just lazy and wants free money. Which is, of course, shameful. Good people do not want free money. They only want that which is given to them as recompense for good, honest work. Oh, and whatever they might win from their weekly lottery tickets or at the casino… Clearly, there are only some kinds of free money that are morally right, and simply taking what someone willingly hands you isn’t one of those.

So, why turn down the job? Obviously, it’s because he’s a lazy good-for-nothing, looking to live off the backs of hardworking Americans who are barely keeping a roof over their heads. And we’ve always known that people asking for money on the street are just scammers, anyway. We’ll find “more worthy” causes, like charity organizations that spend $0.02 per dollar on easing poverty while diverting the other $0.98 to their millionaire board members’ paychecks. After all, those board members are working for a living and are therefore more noble and deserving.

If you read between the outrage and performative morality, though, the dealership’s sign highlights a major economic flaw in our country: begging for money on the streets is a better financial decision than having a steady job. A man who panhandles for a living would be downgrading if he went to work for a car dealership because the car dealership doesn’t pay a living wage. Yet we’re supposed to see the man as ungrateful because he won’t take a loss to provide discount labor for this business, rather than examine why a business is paying their employees less than they could make begging on the street in the first place.

No wonder so many people are furious at this man; he’s opted out of the system that oppresses them, leaving them no choice but to embrace economic inequality in order to place value on themselves. Because that’s the lie the working and middle classes have happily swallowed since someone figured out how to wield the Bible as a weapon. Blessed are the poor, so stop wanting money, and God forbid anyone beneath you in the social hierarchy value survival over piety when you don’t have the courage to demand better for yourself.

The dealership didn’t make this sign to right a great injustice the man is perpetrating; they’re angry because they felt entitled to this man’s time, labor, and gratitude, and he dared to give them none of it.