Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cops, panhandlers, and income

I recently made a comment on a post at Steven Levitts Freakonomics blog.

He quotes some cop who wrote a book (a cop who went to Harvard, someting Levitt seems to think is signigicant).

I handed Tommy some money, he held up his hands and said, “C’mon, Eddie, you don’t have to, it’s okay.” I said, “It’s all right, you guys work, you take risks for us, you should get paid.” He took the money, but he shook his head.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I feel a little funny, since you guys pay out of your own pockets. Do you know how much we make out here, panhandling, during rush hour?’
“No, how much?”
“About a dollar a minute.”
“Oh.”
I didn’t take my money back, but I saw his point. Charlie and Tommy made more money than us. I should have realized that earlier, as the math was not complicated — we took home less than a hundred dollars a day, while their habits were at least that. I tried not to dwell on the fact that, economically, a New York City police officer was a notch down from a bum.

Most of the comments seem to translate "a dollar a minute during rush hour" into 1x60x8=$480 a day instead of 1x30=$30 a day (how long is rush hour? I don't think it usually lasts an actual hour).


My comment is

Depending on how long rush hour is $1 a minute might well be less than $100 a day.

If he thinks $1 a minute during rush hour means they make more money than him than I'm not sure I'd want to trust his judgement all that strongly.

It may well be true that panhandlers make more money than cops, but you don't demonstrate that by looking at their peak earning rate, you demonstrate that by looking at their mean rate.

Also, cops in NYC make a lot more than $100 a day.


When you ask a stripper, a waitress, a drug dealer, a poker player, a panhandler how much money they make they'll typically respond with an expected maximum, not an expected value. I don't expect some random cop, whether he went to Harvard or not, to understand that. I'd think Levitt would know that though.

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