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Today's NY Times has an op-ed titled, Ma’am, Your Burger Has Been Paid For commenting on the phenomenon of people, mostly at fast-food drive-throughs, "paying it forward" by paying for the meal of the person in back of them.

According to the article:

A string of 67 cars paid it forward in April at a Chick-fil-A in Houston. And then a Heav’nly Donuts location in Amesbury, Mass., had a good-will train of 55 cars last July.

Serial pay-it-forward incidents involving between 4 and 24 cars have been reported at Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Del Taco, Taco Bell, KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts locations in Maryland, Florida, California, Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, North Dakota, Michigan, North Carolina and Washington.

Catherine Hyde Ryan, the author of the novel, Pay It Forward, calls this "an example of goodness gone viral."

I beg to differ.

The people in the car in back of you at Taco Bell obviously can afford their meal, otherwise they would not be in line.  Moreover, if you are in one of those chains, the only real net "kindness" is to the last person, who doesn't pay it forward to the person behind him or her.

If people on line really want to help someone who needs help, they should pay the cost of the meal to the server in the window.  As we learned here last week, 52% of fast food workers rely on government assistance. That's largely because of the stagnating minimum wage.

Two years ago in this space, I proposed a "Tip Stimulus," to help the economy grow by getting millions of people simply to tip cab drivers, waiters and other service workers a few extra bucks each week.  I asked:

What if two million people started giving cab drivers, waiters, etc. tips of a dollar more than usual, adding up to say, $10 a week?  That's a billion injected into the economy in a year.
Then, I was suggesting it to stimulate the economy, which would still be a good result.  But today, I'm focusing on the wrong-headed idea that what is essentially a feel-good game of "paying it forward," really isn't even charity if the guy in back of you is just going to give it to the guy in back of him.

Most importantly, the people who are likely to need it the most -- the person in the window, don't reap any benefits of it.

So if you're tempted to "pay it forward" by paying for the next car's taco, give the money to the person in the drive-through window as a nice 100% tip.  It will be real, needed generosity, not a phony feel-good game.

Originally posted to Upper West on Sun Oct 20, 2013 at 08:32 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, Invisible People, and Community Spotlight.

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