Originally published in Marginal Revolution
We collect data on hundreds of panhandlers and the passersby they encounter at Metrorail stations in Washington, DC. Panhandlers solicit more actively when they have more human capital, when passersby are more responsive to solicitation, and when passersby are more numerous. Panhandlers solicit less actively when they compete. Panhandlers are attracted to Metrorail stations where passersby are more responsive to solicitation and to stations where passersby are more numerous. Across stations, potential-profit per panhandler is nearly equal. Most panhandlers use pay-what-you-want pricing. These behaviors are consistent with a simple model of rational, profit-maximizing panhandling.