Should you ever pay alcoholics in beer?

Via Eric Crampton and also John Chilton, here is the culture that is Dutch:

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.”

In an interesting twist on “Nudge,” Eric comments:

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.


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