Monday, October 24, 2011

Drug-testing before welfare

Is it OK to require people to pass a drug test before getting welfare benefits?

If you're a conservative, you probably think: "Sure! It is against the law to take drugs, and giving welfare to drug addicts just encourages their illegal, self-destructive behavior."

If you're a liberal, you probably think: "No! Drug users are some of the most disadvantaged members of our society, denying them benefits is just heartless and will make their problems worse, and testing innocent people is demeaning and violates their human rights."

Who is right? What should the government do?

I wish people would spend less time arguing about questions like this and realize that the real problem is we've got a winner-take-all system where "There Shall Be One Correct Answer."

It doesn't have to be that way.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Garbage Bikes

I like bicycles; our family of four owns eight (and a half, if you count my unicycle). My New Year's resolution for the last 8 or so years has been to ride my bike more (and like all good New Year's resolutions, I've failed miserably).

So I feel as if I should love the "Pedal People" who haul trash around Northampton.

What's not to like? They're working hard, getting exercise, keeping a dirty, polluting garbage truck off the road. And as our local newspaper said in a recent article, it takes 5 Pedal People to do the work of 1 person and a garbage truck, so they're great for the economy.

... except they're actually not so great for the economy. True, it takes 5 people to do the work of 1 person plus a truck. But by that logic, it would be better for the economy to hire 50 people to walk garbage to the dump. It isn't, because hiring 50 people is more expensive, and the extra 49 people could spend their time doing something more productive than hauling trash.

Is hauling trash by bike better for the environment? Well, it is a little more expensive, which means the people hiring the pedal people have less money in their pockets at the end of the month (comparing prices, looks likes about $1,000 $50 per year). If they were going to spend that money on a vacation in Tahiti gasoline for a trip to a Tea Party rally in Boston then the bikes are definitely a win for the environment. But if they were going to donate it to a charity dedicated to preserving the environment or lobbying for a carbon tax... then it isn't so clear-cut.

My practical, skeptical side thinks hauling trash by bike is probably a bad idea; I'd love to hear from some Pedal People 10 or 20 years from now to see if most of them are still riding strong or if they're recovering from knee replacement operations. But I do like bicycles, and if the people riding the bikes are happy and the people paying them to ride their bikes are happy maybe I should stop being such a curmudgeon. God knows I spend a fair bit of my money and time doing things that make me feel good for irrational reasons. (Go Patriots! 4 and 1!)

Edited: I confused the Weekly Pedal People pickup schedule with Monthly prices. Sorry!