The Silicon Valley of Begging

Stephen Dubner's roundtable on the Economics of Street Charity got me thinking about a recent experience visiting Boulder, Colorado, an odd but lovely town in which I used to live.

Here in Phoenix, most of our panhandlers show little or no innovation.  They are still using the "will work for food" or "Vietnam vet" cardboard signs that were an innovation years ago, but now are tired and hard to believe.  All the signs were generic.  None of them seemed tailored to the local audience. 

So where is the innovation in begging occurring?  Someone must have first thought of the "will work for food" come-on which I presume was so initially successful, since everyone copied it, just as they copy any successful innovation in the marketplace?

My vote for the Silicon Valley of Begging is Boulder, Colorado, and specifically on the Pearl Street Mall.  I have recently visited homeless capital Santa Monica, and San Francisco, as well as New York and Boston, and none of their beggers hold a candle to those in Boulder.  Here is why:

  • Their come-ons were unique -- I never saw the same one twice
  • Their come-ons were well tailored to the local audience.  "Need Money for Pot" is not going to get one anywhere in Oklahoma, but it is very likely to elicit a chuckle and a buck from a UC college student or sixties-survivor Boulder resident.  Given that President Bush has about a 0.01% approval rating in Boulder, many of the come-ons led one to believe that giving the beggar a buck would show one's disdain for GWB.
  • nick moller

    fak gwb!

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