This Christmas, Give Cash
Walking home from the bar last night I came to a dark underpass. Under the bridge there stood a man who asked me for 25 cents. Too often, I would walk by and not give anything, making up excuses, “No change”, “No Time”, or “No Interest”. Last night I did not have 25 cents or any change, but I did have some bills. Since learning about basic income and the philosophy behind it, I am more and more convinced that the ideal way to help others is to let them help themselves. And the best way to help people improve their situation is to give them the means to do it. So, instead of walking past the man under the bridge, I pulled out my wallet and gave him 10 dollars. He was thrilled, opened his arms and gave me a hugging embrace. He seemed genuinely grateful.
Giving money directly to the needy is growing in popularity. Joy Sun gave a good TED Talk on her conversion from a traditional aid worker to becoming an advocate for direct cash transfers to the world’s poorest, leading her to start GiveDirectly. Another TEDx talk explains well the benefits of Basic Income and a shorter talk by a founding father of modern basic income mouvement explains that a direct cash transfer puts a floor under people’s feet and allows them to stand up. We give cash presents at our friends’ weddings or our children’s birthdays, so why not give cash to the less fortunate?
Of course a 10$ gift to a person on the street will not be enough to change his life, but it is a good exercise in compassion and direct exchange with the less fortunate. Direct cash transfers and basic income do not negate the need for societal investments in infrastructure, education and other common services. Yet, when it comes to helping someone who is down on their luck, cash is often best.
Last year a Chinese billionaire announced he would offer a free Christmas lunch and a direct cash transfer to the homeless in New York City. Thousands showed up for their meal and cash, but at the end of the meal the homeless were informed that the cash would instead be donated to a local charity and not given to the people present. They were understandably angry. Many had planned to use the money for travel, clothes, food or other items of their own choice. The local charity had good intentions, but the point is that no matter how much effort we put towards understanding someone’s needs, we will never know exactly what they want.
This advertisement above is a perfect example of the complexity of poverty, it states “Why can’t street kids get a life?”. The explanation that follows is unreadable from the distance where you can stand, about 10 feet away, but is clearly long, complex and detailed. It concludes simply “That’s why”. We should have the humility to respect all people and their unique challenges and life stories. To help them, we need to trust them and one way to demonstrate trust is to give them your hard earned money without constraints. Try it this holiday season.Published on November 29, 2014