Perhaps it is mistaken to give to beggars, especially in a rich country, as it is to encourage beggary; but unfortunately this is abstract reasoning and beggars are people, not abstractions. A donation gives relief or pleasure (perhaps a malicious pleasure if the beggar is a fraud), but to pass a beggar by without giving when one is perfectly able to do so is to harden one’s heart by means of a chain or reasoning that justifies meanness. I am reminded that Doctor Johnson, who was neither rich nor unaware of the perils both economic and psychological of dependent idleness, and who was a true liberal in economic matters, never passed a beggar without giving him something.
Of Beggars and Men
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Dalrymple’s attitude to begging, expressed in this new piece for the Library of Law and Liberty, would probably surprise many:
Whilst I applaud the sentiment behind this article, coincidentally, today I have been discussing the concept of honesty and whether or not society’s attitude towards honesty has changed since the 1980s. I believe it has. I know I have become less charitable. I think that the ‘loads-a-money’ mores of the Thatcher years led to (or possibly simply reflected) a move away from the social good and towards the individual good. The corollary to this was a rise in personal dishonesty, which has led to more con-artists. Had I been able to spend 20 minutes observing each potential recipient of my charity, I might very well have decided to give, but if I were passing by, I too would walk past. I am not a wealthy person, and my funds are limited, so I try to husband them well. I probably don’t always get it right. I’ve stopped giving to the RSPCA and their like, but I do still give to street collections, street musicians etc. I have seen too many professional immigrant beggars in London, so unfortunately I have become hardened to all street beggars. If I were a Daily Mail reader, I would ask where was the financial and humanitarian support for which the European taxpayer supposedly pays to prevent people lying destitute in the streets, but I think I already know the answer to this, so I won’t bother asking.