What do you think of when I say “beggars”? Do you think of beggars on the streets of India? Do you think of New Zealand? Read on to learn about beggars in New Zealand.
I live in an area in which over 50% of the population is dependent on welfare, and the area could be politely described as “rough”. The local shopping area is very basic, but there are a couple of decent cafes: I’ve never eaten in them, but I often walk past and they’re clearly a cut above anything else in the area. Yesterday I saw two middle-aged ladies sitting outside one of them, eating and smoking.
I then saw one of the local yokels stroll up to them. He was in his twenties, with a poor quality tattoo on his neck and the obligatory hoodie and jeans, all in black. He was scruffy but by no means the scruffiest I’ve seen. He asked one of the ladies if she could spare a cigarette, whereupon she gave him her half-smoked one. The male then asked if she could spare another for him to have later, and the lady said that she only had one and she’d need it for herself, so the male slouched off with the aimless shuffle of the long-term unemployed. I can’t be sure that he thanked his benefactor.
Several things about this scenario struck me. First, that the male was happy to take a cigarette from a stranger and share whatever diseases she might have. I’m assuming that such considerations never entered his head.
The second thing that struck me was the bare-faced cheek required to ask a stranger for a cigarette.
The third thing that struck me was that this was begging, plain and simple. I’ve often been asked for money when walking about the area, but those people are clearly just trying it on to see if I’m a sucker (“Sure, I’ll give you some money the day after hell freezes over”). How do ten-year-old kids become so disrespectful that they will ask a stranger for money – whilst munching on McDonalds? Yes, that happened to me. That’s bad enough, but classic begging is in a different category.
Then I got to wondering where all this begging originated from, and I thought of a comment that the economist Gareth Morgan made during his trip through Africa. He said that wherever he went in Africa, people were begging for money and asking him for things by name. Yet other other countries he’d been to were equally poor and the people didn’t beg; instead they invited Gareth and his friends in for something yummy like tea containing salted, rancid yak butter. Gareth believed that Africa had received so much aid that the people had come to expect hand outs, and that this was manifested in begging.
New Zealand is a welfare state where it is easy to get benefits, and people are so used to receiving hand outs that they’ve come to expect them. When the government (actually, the taxpayers) doesn’t provide what people want they expect others to provide. Like Africa, selfishness is more evident than generosity. Like Africa, we have beggars and despots.