The Unintended Consequences of an Expense Management System

-John Grohovaz

Penny Inc is a Fintech company who saw an opportunity to assist small to medium sized businesses manage their expenses by using a prepaid debit card & app, supported by an intelligent back office system. The idea was to give business owners and managers unprecedented control over business & travel expenses to save them time, money and the frustration of dealing with things like petty cash, manual reimbursement claims and the commingling of personal and business expenditures.

Penny Inc went to market as just that, an expense management solution positioned to help SMB’s manage their business and travel expenses. Then something unexpected happened. Organizations began signing up Penny Inc who were not SMB’s and also not using Penny Inc to manage expenses.

One of the most striking departures from our target market is an organization called Hearing the Homeless. Hearing the Homeless (HTH) was founded in Austin, Texas by Kevin Price in order to tell the stories of homeless people in the community so more fortunate members could find ways to help them. Kevin saw Penny Inc as a way to bring transparency to his operation, ensuring donations were utilized for the purposes intended.

This transparency is made possible because Penny Inc’s intelligent back office system (Penny Central) is centered around the transaction. Every purchase on the Penny Card triggers the Penny App to get a photo of the receipt and precise categorization from the user. Additionally, each card can be fully controlled from Penny Central with spending limits, vendor restrictions and the ability to lock or cancel the card with just a couple of clicks. This level of transparency and control allows Hearing the Homeless to not only issue Penny Cards to HTH volunteers but to homeless people themselves, dramatically expanding HTH’s impact in the community.

Working with Kevin & HTH lead the Penny team to realize we could further enhance transparency by using the data collected around each transaction to connect back with donors in real-time. In addition to receipts and categories the Penny App can collect photos of the goods donated and experiences of the volunteers and beneficiaries involved. Feeding this knowledge back to the donor greatly encourages more giving. With just a bit more development we will soon be able to replace the homeless donation cup with an intelligent HTH app that lets people confidently donate to their homeless neighbors and actually know how those donations are helping.

Hearing the Homeless is just one example of how Penny Inc is being used for something other than expense management. Here are just a few others:

  • Delivery companies are using Penny Inc to manage their point of sale purchases and will soon be able to instantly pay their driver’s when a delivery is completed.
  • Missionary organizations are using Penny Inc to manage donations & the goods they purchase around the world.
  • Exchange student organizations are issuing Penny Cards & Apps to students and their host families to cover & control living expenses.Relief organizations can issue Penny Cards & Apps to disaster victims to support recovery efforts transparently.

I guess you can say that Penny the beneficiary of unintended expensequences. Penny Inc is evolving into a robust purchase, payments & expense platform that can be used for a wide variety of purposes. In recognition of this we are soon to release the Penny Inc API which will allow innovative developers to incorporate Penny Inc’s Fintech into their own solutions. It's going to be very interesting to see how Penny Inc gets used next.

Give Poor People Cash

 -Charles Kenny

Before he was a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, Ben Carson appeared on The View to talk welfare reform—an issue that continues to be debated in GOP circles on and off the campaign trail. He argued that the social safety net could breed dependency among America’s poor. “You rob someone of their incentive to go out there and improve themselves,” he said, and that’s “not doing them any favors.”

What would be more empowering, Carson suggested, “is to use our intellect and our resources to give those people a way up and out.” That’s surely correct. And the good news is that growing evidence around the world suggests there’s a simple design for a safety-net system that may not create dependency—and may help lift people up and out of poverty: Give poor people cash without conditions attached, and it turns out they use it to buy goods and services that improve their lives and increase their future earnings potential.

It’s a system that policymakers in many countries are loathe to try. They worry, in part, that recipients will waste the money—spending it on, say, flat-screen televisions, cigarettes, and alcohol rather than nutritious food or school supplies. For example, the United States has a very (very) small cash-transfer program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which provides a maximum of $497 per month to a family of four. Even though this cash assistance amounts to only about 8 percent of average household income in the United States, lawmakers frequently feel it necessary to limit how beneficiaries spend the money. Take the Kansas legislature, which in April passed a law specifying that the assistance could not be used to get a tattoo, go to a movie, get your nails done, buy lingerie, or purchase cruise tickets.

It isn’t just the United States. When former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva introduced a cash-transfer system called Bolsa Familia in 2003—a combination of unconditional cash transfers to Brazil’s poorest families and payments conditional on vaccinating kids and keeping them in school—opposition politicians and newspapers first suggested that the program would be mistargeted and open to fraud. But when evidence suggested the money was well-targeted, mostly reaching poor recipients, opposition moved on to focus on dependency, waste, and disincentives to work. One newspaper editorial bemoaned that “billions are distributed as alms without improving the social status of beneficiaries.”

That concern with handing out money has led to complex systems of in-kind welfare support—or, as Carson put it, “Let me give you housing subsidies, let me give you free health care because you can’t do that.” In the United States, programs range from SNAP (electronic food stamps) and free school meals to Medicaid and rental assistance. In India, the poorest can buy subsidized grains or kerosene. Especially in the developing world, these systems are often inefficient and expensive to run. The Indian government, for instance, has estimated that two-fifths of the kerosene involved in its subsidy scheme goes missing before it is distributed and only half of what is left flows to the poorest families.

But more to the point, the programs are almost certainly less effective at reducing poverty than simply giving poor people cash.

Bring food from elsewhere to an area, and the impact of that food stops with those who eat it. Give people cash and they spend it on goods provided by local farmers and traders.

When governments give people in-kind support like food, it frequently costs more to deliver that support than it would to distribute cash—and for the same or even a lesser impact. Jesse Cunha of the Naval Postgraduate School conducted a randomized trial of cash versus in-kind transfers in rural Mexico. In addition to finding that cash recipients didn’t spend more on tobacco or alcohol, Cunha learned that those who received cash experienced the same improvements in nutrition and child-health measures as those who received food. But the food program cost at least 20 percent more to administer, and the cash program led to significantly higher non-food consumption by recipients. In other words: At less cost to the government, cash programs led to the same health outcomes as food-based programs, but also provided additional resources for recipients to spend on schooling, medicine, and transport.

This is not a one-off finding. In many cases, cash programs are simply much more effective than in-kind transfers at turning dollars spent into positive nutritional outcomes. A 2013 survey by Sarah Bailey for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank—involving Zimbabwe, Ecuador, Malawi, and Yemen, among other countries—found that cash transfers usually led to far greater increases in a “food consumption score” of dietary diversity and food frequency than did similarly priced food delivery. In Malawi, the food consumption score increased by 50 percent for cash recipients compared to 20 percent for food recipients. This despite the fact that households in the countries surveyed only report spending between 45 and 90 percent of the cash they receive on food, with the rest going to expenses like debt repayment, household items, and school fees.

Cash also has a larger multiplier effect. Bring food from elsewhere to an area, and the impact of that food stops with those who eat it. Give people cash and they spend it on goods provided by local farmers and traders, who are often poor themselves and benefit as well. A 2010 study in Zimbabwe by Cormac Staunton of Concern Worldwide and Micheal Collins of Trinity College Dublin compared food transfers to cash transfers, and estimated that each dollar provided by cash transfers circulated 2.59 times around the local economy before being spent on goods and services from elsewhere. That compared to the 1.00 multiplier of food that was simply consumed.

Cash transfers aren’t just a safety net—they increase physical and human capital in poor households.

Perhaps most important, cash transfers often lead to productive investments. Consider the charity GiveDirectly, which transfers cash from rich people in the West directly to poor people in Africa using mobile-phone payments. A randomized evaluation in 2011, co-designed by a GiveDirectly co-founder, evaluated the organization’s activities in Kenya and focused on one-off, unconditional payments to families that ranged from $404 to $1,520. Four hundred dollars was more than twice the average local monthly household expenditure. In relative terms, it would be the equivalent of handing $12,000 to a household in the United States. As long as 14 months after the transfer, survey evidence suggested that households were still spending more on food, health, and education than non-recipients. One reason why is that they had invested in physical goods, particularly in metal roofs to replace thatched shelter and in livestock to provide milk and meat. That translated into rising incomes from farming and enterprises in the short term, and—thanks to higher spending on nutrition, health care, and education—the hope for greater earnings potential in the long term as well. As in the Mexican cash-transfer program, spending on alcohol and tobacco did not rise after the transfer. Perhaps that’s because recipients felt less need for a pick-me-up: They reported feeling happier after the transfer, and tests of cortisol in saliva revealed lower biomarkers for stress.*

In India, a pilot program between 2011 and 2012 transferred cash—roughly $4 to $6 for adults, and half that amount per child—once a month to every household in select villages in the state of Madhya Pradesh. According to evaluations in 2014 by India’s Self Employed Women’s Association, households in recipient villages proved more likely than those in non-recipient villages to have modern toilets and to use public taps or hand pumps for water rather than wells. They also used cooking fuels that produced less indoor air pollution, which is linked with poor respiratory health. Along with money spent on food, all this helps explain why children in transfer villages were healthier. Program villages saw twice the rate of progress in reducing the number of underweight girls as control villages. The proportion of 14- to 18-year-old girls in school was 65 percent in villages that received transfers, compared to 36 percent in villages not benefiting from the program. As in Kenya, the cash transfers were associated with people working longer hours and making more money thanks to investments in assets including livestock.

The Indian and Kenyan experiments suggest that cash transfers aren’t just a safety net—they increase physical and human capital in poor households. That conclusion is bolstered by work from Columbia University’s Chris Blattman and colleagues in Uganda, where a $150 cash grant to poor women in the northern part of the country doubled their earnings within a year, while one-off $382 transfers to 16- to 35-year-olds were associated with 40-percent higher earnings four years later.

If resources for indirect subsidies from housing through food were redirected toward cash payments to the poorest, more (and more sustainable) poverty reduction could be achieved at less cost.

The U.S. tried an unconditional cash-transfer program 40 years ago and found it worked, too.

To be clear, the most generous plausible cash-transfer program would do little to make a poor Kenyan or Indian as rich as the average American. The hundred-fold rise in average incomes that requires would take massive political and institutional reform alongside many billions invested in health, education, and infrastructure. But cash transfers can encourage the world’s poorest to play a larger role in the economic transformation of their countries, helping them evolve from recipients to participants.

The United States, for its part, tried an unconditional cash-transfer program 40 years ago and found it worked, too. The “negative income tax” provided cash to low-income recipients across five states in four different experiments between 1968 and 1980. As in the developing world, the payments were associated with reduced child malnutrition, improved school attendance, and growth in household assets. The transfers also had significant effects on children’s test scores. Unlike outcomes in Kenya and India, the results in the U.S. indicated a small decline in household working hours among beneficiaries. But this occurred primarily among second- and third-earners in a family rather than the primary (usually male) worker, and was concentrated among women who responded to the transfers by taking more time to return to the workforce after having a child.

These programs, alas, were never scaled up, forgotten in the welfare-reform battles of the 1980s and 90s. But is it time to revive the idea—not only in America, but around the world? As a tool to encourage consumption and investment, it should appeal to bleeding hearts and the up-by-the-bootstraps crowd alike.


See original research composed by Princeton for GiveDirectly here:  


Austin, Texas To Develop Blockchain-Based ID For Homeless With Bloomberg Grant

Austin, Texas has been granted up to 100,000 to develop and implement a blockchain-based ID system for homeless people.

On February 21, 2018, the city of Austin, Texas, was named among 35 "Champion Cities" that participated and won acknowledgment in the 2018 US Mayors Challenge, part of the Bloomberg American Cities Initiative sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Austin's project focuses on using blockchaintechnology to build a system that stores personal records and provides aunique identity to give homeless people without IDs a means to obtain vital services.

ETHNews reached out to the city of Austin to find out more about the project. The city's chief innovation officer, Kerry O'Connor, took the time to answer questions and describe the task at hand.

The city formed a partnership with Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin; it was in a conversation between O'Connor and the school's Director of Data Integration, Anjum Khurshid, MD, where the two discussed how the Ethereum blockchain had been applied to help Syrian refugees.

O'Connor figured if blockchain could work for refugees, it could work for the homeless who, she said, can be considered "economic refugees." Displacement is a serious problem in Austin. ECHO, a nonprofit data-driven organization working to end homelessness in Austin, reported in a 2017 census that the Austin/Travis county region sees more than 7000 people living on the street on an annual basis. Austin's blockchain-powered ID system might help diminish those numbers and make a difference in people's lives.

When the Mayoral Challenge came about, O'Connor and Dr. Khurshid worked together in partnership with the Austin mayor's office. The goal was to develop and test a system on the Ethereum blockchain that would manage the identities of homeless individuals in the city.

The project is still in its infant stages, and O'Connor related that its efforts were preliminary and "pre-pilot." She said, "What we've received the grant money for is testing and learning and prototyping." Bloomberg is maintaining an active role in this process, and is providing O'Connor's offices a coach to guide the development and testing phase.

O'Connor estimated that there are at least 60 organizations, divided between nonprofits and city departments, that work together to combat homelessness in the city of Austin. "We're really excited by the promise of blockchain being distributed in order to make a more seamless experience across these organizations." She expressed a necessity for those organizations to be on the same page insofar as implementing such a system, which means that education and training on the rudimentary aspects of the technology are at the forefront of this effort.

 "As part of our innovation work we have an advisory committee of people experiencing homelessness here in Austin, so we'll be designing this with them, not for them, making sure that this can fit their context," said O'Connor.

The first part of the of the project will be based on determining exactly what kind of data is necessary to build a profile for both providers of care and those who seek it. Often the needs of those living on the street vary from those of the facilities they interact with. "People who are experiencing homelessness have their own needs, they don't really care about our needs." O'Connor related that these things might encompass "access to a birth certificate, or a social security number, or a rental history."

The project's second phase will involve the testing of biometric systems that can be used to identify individuals without relying on a physical ID. O'Connor said that the city is open to exploring zero-knowledge proofs as a means to obfuscate private medical data from public-facing systems, in order to maintain HIPAA compliance.

Over its course, the Mayoral Challenge will see an investment of $17.5 million made in grants and other forms of assistance, awarded to initiatives focused on solving big problems faced nationwide. In the following six months, the 35 selected cities will undergo test phases for their projects and receive up to $100,000 in grant funding. In August, the progress of these projects will be checked, and four semi-finalist cities will receive an additional $1 million, while a single finalist will be granted $5 million.

O'Connor explains she is optimistic about the wider applications of a blockchain-backed ID system that allows those in need to easily obtain access to a suite of services designed to put them back on their feet. 


#Why don't you get a job?


# Why Don't You Get a Job?

By: J Benjamin

The simplest possible answer to this question has two parts: I can't, and even if I could most of the "opportunities" available to me today are completely unsustainable.

Let me elaborate.

## Part I

The logistics of getting a job - any job - for a person living on the streets are almost impossible. Forget about anything that someone might want to actually do with their life, let's talk about going to work at McDonald's or Walmart. Seeing as they've driven a ton of small employers out of business, they're pretty representative of the only game in town for a lot of people.

Bad employers, the main employers - giant restaurants and retailers (those who have not yet found a way to replace all of their employees with automation) - prefer to hire the demographics who are *already able* to afford to work for extremely low wages e.g. geriatrics, who want to supplement their meager government check, and high-schoolers, living at home. Both have some pre-existing support that will enable them to show up with clean clothes and not miss work when they get a flat tire (a fireable offense). The truth of that is plain to see. I'm in my thirties, with no family or social network to speak of, so that's a big strike one against me.

Now, if I was a good enough actor to muster enthusiasm for the kind of [soul-crushing job](https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/02/mac-mcclelland-free-online-shipping-warehouses-labor) these "job creators" have to offer, I would have already found work as a successful actor. So, strike two. But let's just take it as a given that I am, or that I've got a brand new attitude and am genuinely enthusiastic about running all day for six dollars an hour after taxes and travel time.

How am I going to physically manage the actions necessary to land one of these jobs? Nobody seems to get a job with a mega-retailer through personal connections. Everybody goes through the process.

That means I have to come up with the kind of resume they like to see. In my case, I have about two months of restaurant and retail experience spread over my entire life. I had a career which would be nothing but unhelpful for me in this context. But let's say I sidestep strike three and fabricate a more useful resume. I make friends with some other homeless people who have reliable phone service (hah!) and are willing to play the role of my former bosses at PetCo and Ace Hardware. That's a lot of effort. It's not a foolproof plan. But it's an idea. So let's just pretend that's dealt with and out of the way.

Next, I have to get appropriate interview attire, somehow. To get those clothes from a charity entails waking up at 4AM and traveling across town to stand in some extremely long line to pick over a bin of wrinkled clothes, hoping to luck out. From experience, I can expect to do that up to five seperate times before I find a decent set of slacks and a button shirt in my size. Forget about shoes; I'd just have to hope the interviewer didn't notice my rotting sneakers (also, my hair is ridiculous).

Now, to dry-clean the damn things, I've got to find money in my already-strained food budget, or I could stand by an off-ramp, selling my dignity for about three dollars per hour.

On the day of the interview, I have to line up the timing of the dry-clean pickup (business attire doesn't stay looking fresh for long when you crumple it into a backpack or leave it hanging on a tree in the woods).

I can only schedule interviews well into the afternoon, because first thing in the morning, I have to take a bus to the dry-cleaners to pick my stuff up, and then make it to a recreation center across town so I can take a shower and wash off the stink and grime I constantly and rapidly accumulate. Showering and getting dressed for an interview takes *you* about an hour. It takes *me* over half a day.

In the very best case, I have to somehow repeat the entire process two more times. Absolutely nobody is hiring after one interview. And every step in the process is another opportunity to strike out.

Was that tiring to consider? Because it is exhausting to live, and if a great many homeless people have one thing in common, it is that we are sleep deprived, worn down, and frustrated. We're bone-weary to begin with.

It is incredibly difficult for me to get one of these jobs in the first place, and I'm not even touching on the difficulty of *keeping* a job while homeless.

I would have to show up, on time, well rested, in decently clean clothes every single day. Hardly anybody is going to give me a security deposit, first and last month's rent, utilities and the budget for clothes and food on day one. With modern pay schedules, it could take up to four weeks before I got my first check, which means it could take months before I got a place to live. Two months, at the earliest, if I room with two or three random other people I don't know and have no reason to trust, none of whom are in a more stable financial situation than I am.

Realistically, as a single person in the sorts of densely populated regions where **any** jobs are available, you need a cash infusion *and* two of these low-level jobs to meet the base price for the worst place to live (image embed "McDonald's sample budget", linking to https://www.forbes.com/finance/#a04b4304840b ). So we're talking about repeating that entire process again, at least one more time, while sleeping outdoors and working a thirty-two hour week.

Obviously, getting a good job is even harder.

## Part II

> "I have found you can find happiness in slavery" - Trent Reznor

Let's say, due to some miracle of forebearance, I manage to get both jobs and keep them for a couple of months, long enough the get the resources I really needed to keep the job in the first place. That's circular, a real catch-22, but we're talking about a miracle here, so don't worry about it.

What did I fight so hard for, really? Why did I perform this miracle?

It's a lot easier to be poor if you're charming or good looking. I'll be the first to tell you that I'm neither. I'm not expecting to luck out with a sugar mama. Realistically, I'm not going to be raking in the promotions based on the force of my personality. Did I really expend all that effort for a *chance* to die alone in a crappy studio apartment, instead of on a pallet by the railroad tracks?


At this point, I have to pause and deliver an aside. I am not unaware of how this society thinks. I can hear all the standard objections building:

1. I'm a leech! Less than human. I owe it to society to work in these jobs, to give back.
2. I'm lazy and entitled! There are people who are happy to work for a dollar an hour, one hundred hours a week harvesting fucking brambles or whatever. Why can't I be more like them?
3. I'm pessimistic! I need to put in my time, so that I can realize the American dream of one day owning the company and having a bunch of underpayed employees of my own. If a person is lucky, and smart, and works hard, they can rise high.

Now, with minimal commentary on the humanity and political pursuasions of people who think this way, let me address these objections with another list:

### Objection \#1: I'm a leech

I'll admit, I have on occasion, made use of public goods and charity. A rare visit to the soup kitchen, a chair in the library, I've even flown a sign for a couple hours when things got really desperate.

There's this line of thinking that drives a lot of the hate and dehumanization that I see directed towards people like me. You could call it hyper-capitalisism. A lot of people seem to think that I owe a debt for my visits to the soup kitchen, for example, not the people willingly running it, but to *them*, somehow. Conciously or not, many people seem to believe that there *is*, and *should* be, a running tally somewhere, a real cost to living.

There are people who will argue, with great moral authority, that since every parcel of land on the continent, including the hard ground where I sleep by the railroad tracks, is owned by a person, or the government or some company - as if they *made* the dirt and manufactured the air - that I owe rent for that, that I should be jailed for needing to sleep while poor (and I should have to pay for that, too).

> "In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread." - Anatole France

I shouldn't be allowed to walk and sit freely, because I'm lowering the propery values. I should be charged for when people have to look at me on the steet, for the shame my situation makes them feel. I owe for emotional damages. They are the aggrieved party, and they deserve recompense.

Every breath, every moment of every day is getting me deeper into the red with these people, and they'll tell you I owe it to this society that hates me, I owe it to the Walton family and whoever the fuck owns McDonald's to work my life away, to sell every bit of joy I could ever feel, all just to break even.

These people owe me nothing, and somehow I owe them everything.

The fact is, the money I gave away and the taxes I paid in the first decade of my professional career more than cover whatever minimal costs I'm extracting now. I get zero help from the government, though I could use it productively (they would see exponential returns). I take very little of the minimal charity that is offered. I rarely beg (I haven't been that desperate in months, though I have had a few stretches with one meal a day), I never steal, and your police have driven me to hide away from your fancy houses. I suppose I should be paying for that too.

### Objection \#2: I'm lazy and entitled

I'm not lazy. I never have been. I worked twelve-day weeks during crunch times in my last job (assuming standard eight hour days). I worked my ass off, back when I felt like I was working for something.

For months before and after I lost my apartment, I scrambled to keep some version of my life intact. It took me a long time and a lot of disappoinment before I came to recognize that all my effort was leading nowhere. Hopelessness eventually manifests as [learned helplessness](https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness). To an uninformed observer, that may look a lot like laziness. It's not.

I'm using most of my energy and optimism on basic survival. I don't sleep well, I don't eat well, and you wouldn't be able to either. My life of "doing nothing" is more exhausting than I would have ever guessed it could be.

Now, let's talk about entitlement.

Implicit in the argument that I am entitled is the idea that I myself lack sympathy for people who work tiring, awful jobs. That I think that what they do, and by extension they as people are beneath me. That *I* am the one who is not affording them with dignity.

I'm aware that hard, unpleasant jobs may have to exist in this society. I would be perfectly willing to do one, even, if not for the fact that those very same jobs also pay very little, and offer people almost nothing in terms of stability. I already do, and am happy to, expend all kinds of time and effort for nothing, and I am willing to do unpleasant things that I find personally unfulfilling. I just won't do both at the same time.

In the past, I have been desperate enough to wake up several hours before dawn, well before the busses start running, to walk to a day labor center. After taxes, and counting time spent walking and waiting to go out, I ended up taking home about four dollars and eighty cents an hour for hard labor. If you count all the times I deprived myself of sleep to sit in the day labor center for half a day without going out to work at all, my effective average rate has been under one dollar per hour.

The last time I went, they told me I had three days to find a pair of work boots, or they wouldn't send me out again. I spent six months volunteering in a charity's clothes closet, and though we got plenty of requests for them, I never once saw a pair of work boots in any size. If I went back to day labor, my effective pay rate would be negative.

I won't do it. You can say I'm entitled. I say I'm tired of being exploited.

In many ways, I think of myself as being on a long-running strike against awful jobs in general. I'm fighting for the people working in depressed-wage jobs by refusing to participate in a race to the bottom. Desperate, intense competition for bad jobs is exactly what worsens working conditions and drives wages ever lower.

I would love to see more people losing their (understandable) fear of destitution and demanding meaningful improvements in conditions and wages, but I understand many have no choice. They have families who live in poorer regions or a spouse who is doing the same thing. It is a tough place to be. They are working to support those they love.

I don't have that problem. Low-end employers have disproportionate power over their employees, and I would be giving them even more if I joined in. Society has used every trick it has to coerce me into that market, and I'm still standing. I don't *have* to compete with working mothers and great-grandpas just trying to put food on the table or to rent a tiny room, so wouldn't it be wrong if I did?

> "...no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country" - Franklin D. Roosevelt

I hear a lot about "the dignity of work". It's an easy thing to talk about if your job is "successful politician", but I don't think that being strong-armed into putting on a paper hat to do something [you probably hate](http://news.gallup.com/opinion/chairman/212045/world-broken-workplace.aspx?g_source=position1&g_medium=related&g_campaign=tiles) for the majority of your waking hours is inherently more dignified than raising children, or pursuing an education, or traveling, or a million other random things that a third of this country never has the time or money to do.

Work - toil - in and of itself, is not an inherent good. Just ask a mother of two who has to work sixty-four hours a week, with the threat of destitution hanging over her head. Telling this woman that work is it's own reward (so she's luckier than average) is not helpful to her. The very real effect that attitude has on her life is what robs her of dignity.

> "The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Forget the human argument, a strong social safety net better is [better for]( https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2014/03/31/86693/the-safety-net-is-good-economic-policy/) [the economy] (https://www.usnews.com/opinion/economic-intelligence/2015/05/08/new-data-show-social-safety-net-significantly-reduces-poverty).

In my case, if I didn't have to spend almost every cent I had buying canned foods, if I didn't have to live with the stress of sleeping under a small tarp during torrential rainstorms, if I had a place to store things, I would own the equipment I needed to do my old job. I'd be building my career, not watching it fall to pieces.

Rather than bouncing off the safety net and right back into making money for other people, people are bouncing off the rocks. It's a criminal waste, and a better society wouldn't let it happen. A society that didn't let it happen would be better for it.

It took me a long time, but I am over my fear of destitution, and so I now feel that trading extreme poverty for a life of wage-slavery is a lateral move at best. I won't have the time, money or energy to pursue what I really want to do in either case.

I make the decisions that I believe will bring me the most happiness, or - better framed - the least misery. I do this because I am a rational actor, just like you. I don't want to give away all of my time and energy to some effort I don't care about for hardly anything in return, just like you. And like you, I want to be working for a *better* life. The only difference is that I'm still waiting for the opportunity.

### Objection \#3: I'm pessimistic

We've all heard this before: if I'm lucky and I'm smart and I work hard, I'll have a chance to have a good life.

I'm not lucky, clearly, and it's not a good chance. The American dream is [largely a myth](https://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2017/09/inequality-opportunity); social mobility is higher in [Europe](http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2013/dec/19/steven-rattner/it-easier-obtain-american-dream-europe/) than it is here. Our perception of fairness in this economy bears [little relation to the reality](https://www.citylab.com/life/2015/02/americans-think-upward-mobility-is-far-more-common-than-it-really-is/385086/). A great many people living in povery are facing a stark future, in which their potential to benefit society is squandered. Wishful thinking (and loud, patriotic yelling) is not how we are going to make things better.

In the realistic best case, in which I pursue "just any job", if I am (contrary to past trends) nothing but lucky moving forward, in ten or twenty years I could quit one of my jobs and be making a decent, middle class salary as a manager at a Walmart. I would probably have to work past standard retirement age, but maybe I could travel, and even get around to enjoying life for a few years (assuming I haven't forgotten how) before I died of some [chronic-stress/poverty related illness](http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db203.pdf).

Find me a handful of middle managers at Walmart that wouldn't no-call, no-show the day they won the lottery, and *then* tell me this is the dream I should aspire to.

Of course, there's a good chance that I'll get the flu, or a flat tire, or some roomate will skip out with the rent instead, and I'll end up unable to weather that emergency (http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/12/pf/americans-lack-of-savings/index.html). Maybe, after years of effort, I'll end up right back where I started. And I know from experience that losing everything is harder than waking up with nothing.

So that's why I don't just get "a job".

Of course, I do sometimes have some excess energy, so let me tell you what I am doing with it.

Obviously, I am spending time online arguing about the notions of justice and fairness and kindness in this society, even though the impact - if any - could never be precisely measured, I can reasonably expect a backlash, and most would tell me it's pointless to even try. I'm reading as I always have, voraciously. Non-fiction, at the moment; I'm teaching myself linear algebra so that I can get a better handle on machine learning and graphics programming (though losing my laptop to a rainstorm a year ago wasn't helpful). I'm using the best economic opportunity I currently have, selling plasma for a pittance twice a week, to completely avoid standing in charity lines or on street corners begging for help from unsympathetic people. I'm running into friends on occasion, and I'm helping them when I can.

That's my routine. Maybe, in ways, it's like yours. It hurts no-one. It's a lot of quietly waiting, and quietly working for something better, during the slivers of time not spent worrying about basic survival. It's a lot of hoping and doubting that a better opportunity will some day arrive. It's a lot of frustration. It's a lot of people trying to beat me into submission, to force me to accept one bad deal or another, and for my part it's a lot of patience, and a deepening conviction that I am on the right side of history.

So, to those of you who still want to tell me to get a job, the best I can do is give you yet another two-part answer:
I'll need a living wage. When can I start?

J. Benjamin


HTH a finalist at FUND Conference

Hearing the Homeless competed in FUND Conference’s annual pitch competition and finished in second place, amidst hundreds other incredible tech startups from around the world. Kevin Price delivered the pitch for Hearing the Homeless with a calm heartfelt passion that could be felt across the room. This was the first time he had ever competed in a competition such as this, but with his passion he was able to steal the show.



Hearing the Homeless Featured on KXAN News

AUSTIN (KXAN) - When Kevin Price moved to Austin a few years back, he was shocked by the number of people he saw sleeping on the streets.

Coming from a small town in New Mexico, he had never seen so many homeless people in one place before. "I knew instantly the first day that I got here I was going to do something to make a difference," he said.

This week, ahead of South By Southwest, he's poised to start doing that, launching an online platform called Hearing the Homeless that connects potential donors to individual homeless people with specific needs through storytelling.

"Kevin is very passionate about it, you know, so I think that’s the motor of the whole project," said Victor Vazquez, a local filmmaker working on the project. He met Price at the Terrazas Branch of the Austin Public Library on Monday, a common hangout for some of the city's homeless.

That's where the pair met up with Chris Gillam. Most nights he sleeps out behind or near the library, and his large rolling suitcase is always in tow. After getting laid off from his moving job in Florida a few years ago, Gillam relies a lot on what people give him.

"She must have seen me and realized that I am in fact a 3X person," he said, digging through a paper bag containing several nice shirts a woman walked up and gave him earlier in the day, "‘cause they’re all 3 and 4X shirts."

Vazquez and Price spent an hour or so talking to Gillam Monday morning, recording his story -- how he ended up homeless, what life is like now, who he is as a person. "That’s really kind of the message behind our program. It’s hearing the homeless one human at a time," Price said.

"Tell me a little bit about where you’ve been sleeping out here," Price prompted Gillam during the shoot. "Pretty much this whole area is my, like, sleeping grounds," he responded, looking around the parking lot and area around the library.

The edited video will be posted online in the coming days, along with several others to start. Price hopes to keep expanding the library of stories on his site, "and then you can donate individually to whatever person whose story moves you," he said.

"Kind of like a GoFundMe for the homeless."

Price plans to put the funds onto reloadable debit cards that allow him to control where the money is spent and for what purposes. "They can use it to go have this surgery," he said. "They can use it to go get this computer; they can use it to get this first month’s rent."

He's hoping to provide an alternative to the services the city already provides. Ann Howard, executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, or ECHO, in Austin -- one of those current service providers -- called Price's idea a "creative" way to address the problem for those who are still waiting for help.

She doesn't know him personally and appreciates his compassion, she said, but wants to make the videos don't come across as exploitative. Howard said she doesn't have any reason to be concerned, but "I hope he would be careful."

"I wish there was more people like him, you know, that could look past what some people just consider an eyesore," Gillam said.

The people whose stories Price tells, who he calls his "representatives," will also function as art vendors through another facet of Price's project.

He's passed out thousands of 5x7" art boards to several schools around central Texas, as well as professional artists in Austin. The recipients paint or draw whatever they'd like and then return the completed pieces to Price.

"They are really excited about it," Bernadine Nowell said of her art students at Lehman High School in Kyle. She jumped at the opportunity to take part in the program. "Anybody who’s been in Austin can see the need."

They've produced a few hundred of the small pieces and plan to keep doing it, Nowell said, because her students view it as a "real opportunity to help people."

The art created by the students and pros alike will then be packaged into envelopes that Price's representatives will pass out, starting Saturday at his first pop-up event. People then donate what they think the art is worth.

The first pop-up event to distribute the packaged art will happen Saturday during a SXSW conference at the Westin Hotel downtown. He recommended following their Facebook page for times and locations of future pop-ups.

Taken together, Price wants to change the way people view the homeless in Austin.

"I hope it bears fruit and it really works and it has some benefit for me," Gillam said, who added a donated bus pass would go a long way for him. "Or if not me, somebody in the homeless community."