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The Beggars in Spain – “Beggars in Spain” – Nancy Kress

December 25th, 2010 · No Comments · Economics, Humanism, Morality, Philosophy, Policy

“I believe in voluntary trade that is mutually beneficial. That spiritual dignity comes from supporting one’s life through one’s own efforts, and from trading the results of those efforts in mutual cooperation throughout the society. That the symbol of this is the contract. And that we need each other for the fullest, most beneficial trade.”

“Fine,” Tony bit off. “Now what about the beggars in Spain?”

“The what?” “You walk down a street in a poor country like Spain and you see a beggar. Do you give him a dollar?”

“Probably.”

“Why? He’s trading nothing with you. He has nothing to trade.”

“I know. Out of kindness. Compassion.”

“You see six beggars. Do you give them all a dollar?”

“Probably,” Leisha said.

“You would. You see a hundred beggars and you haven’t got Leisha Camden’s money. Do you give them each a dollar?”

“No.”

“Why not?” Leisha reached for patience. Few people could make her want to cut off a comlink; Tony was one of them.

“Too draining on my own resources. My life has first claim on the resources I earn.”

“What if you walk down that street in Spain and a hundred beggars each want a dollar and you say no and they have nothing to trade you but they’re so rotten with anger about what you have that they knock you down and grab it and then beat you out of sheer envy and despair?”

Leisha didn’t answer. “Are you going to say that’s not a human scenario, Leisha? That it never happens?”

“It happens,” Leisha said evenly. “But not all that often.”

“Bullshit. Read more history. Read more _newspapers_. But the point is: What do you owe the beggars then? What does a good Yagaiist who believes in mutually beneficial contracts do with people who have nothing to trade and can only take?”

“You’re not —”

“What, Leisha? In the most objective terms you can manage, what do we owe the grasping and nonproductive needy?”

“What I said originally. Kindness. Compassion.”
……
Yes, there are beggars in Spain who trade nothing, give nothing, do nothing. But there are more than beggars in Spain. Withdraw from the beggars, you withdraw from the whole damn country. And you withdraw from the possibility of the ecology of help.

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