Thursday 21 November 2013

Paid in beer

Perhaps this isn't as crazy as Foreign Policy suggests.
An unusual Dutch initiative aims to put an end to one of Amsterdam's worst nuisances -- those bawdy, loitering alcoholics -- by employing them in a kind of street cleaning corps. The problem, though, is that the state-financed Rainbow Foundation behind the project pays the self-professed chronic alcoholics in beer for their labor.
"The aim is to keep them occupied, to get them doing something so they no longer cause trouble at the park," Gerrie Holterman, who heads the Rainbow Foundation, told AFP, referring to Amsterdam's Oosterpark, an apparent favorite haunt of the alcoholics. And at least some of the participants agree on the apparent benefits of the initiative. One man in the program named Frank told AFP, "Lots of us haven't had any structure in our lives for years, we just don't know what it is, and so this is good for us."
But by offering positive reinforcement to Amsterdam alocholics' worst tendencies, the weirdly commonsense solution to the problem of drunks causing a ruckus in public parks raises some serious ethical questions. The two groups of about ten people work three days a week cleaning city streets and are paid ten euros a day for their labor, along with a half-packet of rolling tobacco and five cans of beer. The men start the day off with two cans, have another two at lunch, and finish off with a last can in the afternoon. Did being an alcoholic ever pay so well?
I don't know, but would be willing to bet, that most of these workers were consuming rather more than the equivalent of five cans of beer per day before they started in. The delivery is paced throughout the day so there's no chance any of them get drunk.

By delivering the beer as beer rather than as the cash equivalent encourages pacing things rather than having the workers spend it all on lower cost per unit binge at the end of the day. The FP piece turns pretty snide about the initiative, saying it's enabling alcoholism. Looks a lot more like harm-minimisation to me.

1 comment:

  1. I'd say the tobacco is a big incentive here.. consider.. you are a drunk and a smoker and each day you have a bitter tradeoff between smoking or more beer.. beer wins of course but at a hell of a price to a nicotine addict.

    The Amsterdam way satisfies both addictions and if you are a non smoker you have a salable item worth quite a bit more beer.