Will Work for Beer?

This is an idea just crazy enough to work in a city like Amsterdam. According to The New York Times, the city is now paying unemployed alcoholics to clean the city–and the payment is in the form of beer. They get five or six cans of beer, interspersed throughout the day, as well as tobacco, lunch and about 10 euros a day.

I had to share this because it is totally zany, but if you think about it, it’s not that bad of an idea. Obviously paying people with a substance addiction in beer is not ideal, but neither is letting them waste away through a substance addiction. Reading the article, I was really struck by the pride that these men took in their work:

“I’m not proud of being an alcoholic, but I am proud to have a job again,” said Mr. Schiphorst, the grateful beneficiary of an unusual government-funded program to lure alcoholics off the streets by paying them in beer to pick up trash.

Another man said the program raised his self-esteem and helped him decrease his daily alcohol intake:

“It keeps me away from trouble, and I’m doing something useful,” he said. “I help myself, and I help my community.”

In a way, it’s sort of like a rehabilitation program, helping them find a place in society, which I fully support. (Just the other day I was thinking about how our society should have some kind of equivalent of a Brotherhood of the Night’s Watch, which would serve to simultaneously oblige prisoners to serve and give back to society, while also giving them a respectable, redemptive path that they can be proud of.  I admit that I have no idea how that would work in practice, but it’s nice in theory.)

I can certainly understand why people might be skeptical about using government funds to sponsor an alcoholic’s booze, but do those same skeptics support additional funding for addicts? And if not, what alternatives do they suggest on how to deal with these societal outcasts?


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