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Phase 1: Organize Panhandlers Phase 2: ? Phase 3: Profit

By Alexander Hough in News on Aug 6, 2010 7:00PM

Photo by beiting
According to a CBS2 article, "someone is organizing some street beggars [in Chicago], giving them ready-made signs at the start of the day, then taking a cut of the take at the end." The advance in homeless person strategy appears to have been caused by a city ordinance against panhandlers using aggressive tactics. The crackdown on vocal solicitation led to an increase in the use, and, subsequently, the value, of signs.

While the article's repeated use of the word "organized" and a mention of a panhandler's sign that references Obama conjures up thoughts of unions, the fact is this new set-up bears a much closer resemblance to a business. A sign is just another vital piece of capital that can be more efficiently controlled by a wealthier party.

And what's wrong with that? It's the free market, baby! The Chicago Police Department hasn't protested yet and, in any case, doesn't even know whether or not it's illegal, but questions of legality are missing a great opportunity. With the city's massive budget deficit, why not figure out how to tax this new business, or at least start charging for permits? Or if we can't make a buck off of them, maybe there should at least be some oversight to protect panhandlers from being abused by that wealthier party.

Of course, before we get swept away by fantasies of a city ruled by rich homeless people, it's worth pointing out that the sentence we quoted at the top of the post actually begins "[homeless panhandler] Charles says he has not" - our emphasis - "heard the word on the street that..." Also, no one - including CBS 2 - knows who the organizer is or any additional details about him or her or them. Maybe it's a waste of effort to think about the implications of an article that's completely without direct evidence of this alleged practice and heavy on insinuation, but, hey, it's Friday! Viva la weekend!