Institutionalised beggary

Most living in Pakistan will encounter a beggar within the next 24 hours, but the issue still persists.


September 27, 2010

While everyone talks about it and most living in Pakistan will likely encounter a beggar within the next 24 hours, the issue still persists and increasingly so. Beggary often gets cast under a social light or is weighed down by morality. However, the economic ramifications deserve more deliberation as beggary continues to grow into a professional occupation and is even systematically organised.

Trickle-down effect

Free market capitalism often rests its hopes on trickle-down economics which suggests that even though the disparity of wealth is much higher in capital markets, wealth trickles down and creates a better standard of living for everyone. As such it is possible to argue that giving alms to street beggars synthesises the trickle-down effect and alleviates the standard of living for all involved. This argument although valid, does not apply to professional beggars who operate systematically and deliberately without a dire need.

Consumer votes

Every rupee spent on a good or service, is in effect a vote cast for the continued production of that good. If people seek out controlled substances, a black market develops. Conversely, if people stopped buying cigarettes altogether, the industry would dissipate overnight. Begging continues to thrive because of the votes being cast every day in favour of it.

This has led to systematic growth and seasonality within the profession. Each year around Ramazan, a large number of beggars flock to the cities to collect alms. Fridays generally see higher volumes of beggars flocking to the city centres as do the evening rush hours when white collar workers return home.

Socio-economic impact

Beggary does not contribute any economic value nor does it in anyway add to the alleviation of society. Instead it competes with other professions such as chauffeuring, cooking and general labour since the income prospects for beggars can be much higher.

Over the years, the begging profession has continued to grow rather than diminish. It now also encompasses children, eunuchs, windshield cleaners and others masquerading as vendors for toys, flowers and newspapers. These latter guises have in turn given a further rise to beggary since these are grey areas even though the vendors often rely on the generosity rather than margins.

The profession is not bound by any age limits either which often leads to children starting out early and operating in groups or under distant vigilance to counteract the age-deficit. As a consequence, professional beggars seek a higher birth rate to raise the overall income potential for the household which exacerbates the problem even further.

Under such circumstances, it might be far more responsible to institutionalise charity and popularise initiatives such as micro-financing which also relies on small donations but does so responsibly.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 27th, 2010.

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COMMENTS (6)

MC | 9 years ago | Reply | Recommend "beggars are not professionals because there is no exchange of value" This is statement is entirely untrue, if you are a believer in the free market! Such a specious thing to say, and a convenient juxtaposition of the multiple meanings of the english word "value". The word is used in the general sense to denote "quality" or "desireability", which are both entirely subjective judgements to make. That is to say, one person might find great "value" in a piece of art, literature, or religious teaching; whereas, another may find absolutely NO "value" in those objects. One person might assign value to the services of a chaufer, or a cook, as mentioned in the article, another might find NO substantial value in their services. For these reasons, this meaning of value is useless in the context of Capitalism. The appropriate definition is: the amount (of money or goods or services) that is considered to be a fair equivalent for something else. In a market economy, that is the only meaningful way in which value can be judged. Since we are discussing beggars, and not muggers or criminals, the exchange is made freely, and is a legitimate transaction. One makes contributions to their religious order, but recieves no tangible goods in exchange. Why does one do this? They are purchasing a elevation of self-worth based upon their beliefs. This is the same service that the beggar peddles, but without the pomp, circumstance, and official title of the priest, imam, or rabbi. The value of this self-worth is exactly equal to the contribution made minus the value attached to any goods and services exchanged (religious totems and brickabrack, flowers, prayers rendered, newspapers, songs and dance, and so on). If the people of Pakistan, or any country, wish to officially regulate what "feelings of self-worth" are, and who can distribute them, then perhaps there would be a legitimate argument in this article. Otherwise, it's an attempt to cast the author's own perception of the value of self-worth upon the whole of society. He further damages his own claim by insisting that donations to an established charity DO have some manner of value (he never mentions that if people ceased to contribute to them all the various temples, mosques, cathedrals, and churches of the world would also whither and die). He makes a mockery of the entire institution of Capitalism by stating that somehow beggars should be punished for organising and improving the efficiency with which they operate, increasing their net profits. That is ANATHEMA to Capitalism, and if there were an established "Holy Order of Capitalism" Of course, what Mr. Bawany means to suggest here is that, in the case of Beggary, it is disadvantageous for society and the economy to allow the business to operate within a Free Market, and that rather a more communal or socialist approach should be taken to the matter of feeding, clothing, and housing the poor and destitute. But, of course, we know that such policies are only appropriate when applied to the wealthy, or to the militarily empowered.
Khurram Zahid | 9 years ago | Reply | Recommend It is not right to call beggary a profession and a beggar a professional. Professional is a person who is involved in a system where exchange of values occurs (like selling goods in exchange of money). Therefore, beggars are not professionals because there is no exchange of value, rather it is one sided given by people. Hence call it a beggary and a person involved is a beggar.
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