What’s so degrading about a homeless person earning a little money as a roving wifi hotspot? Yes, they’re being exploited. They’re being paid for the same function that telephone poles perform, albeit with mobility. But at least they’re being paid to do something, which is better than lying around or bumming spare change or catching zees on a park bench…right?

South by Southwest attendees complained that this marketing scheme, an initiative by BBH Labs, was robbing Austin’s homeless of their dignity. This has led BBH chairman Emma Cookson to declare that her company has “pulled the plug and will not go forward with plans to continue the project in New York,” according to a 3.14 N.Y. Post interview with Kevin Fasick and Don Kaplan.

How else are the homeless going to earn a little coin? By going online and managing their investments? If I didn’t have a roof over my head I sure as hell wouldn’t turn down BBH’s offer. When the going gets tough the tough get going.

How different would this situation be if BBH Labs had offered to pay homeless guys to walk around with an advertising sandwich board in midtown Manhattan? Poor guys used to do this back in the 20th Century. Somebody should have taken them aside and said, “Hey, man…where’s your dignity?”

Remember when the homeless didn’t have a p.c. image as former math teachers, real estate agents, sports-equipment salespersons and stockbrokers who’ve temporarily fallen on hard times and are therefore without lodging, sustenance or credit cards? Remember when they used to be seen as bums and vagrants? As people who’d obviously experienced bad luck but also — can we be frank? — as likely victims of alcohol abuse or mental-health issues?

What would David Huddleston‘s Jeffrey Lebowski say about this? “Get a job, sir!”

But it’s a job that lowers my dignity, Mr. Lebowski. I may be homeless for the time being but I have a soul and I have rights and I have a dream that one day I’ll be back on my feet, earning my way with a steady gig and paying taxes and driving my own car and living in a nice apartment.

“And how do you think you’re going to get back on your feet?,” Lebowski would reply. “By complaining about your dignity to news reporters? Show some of the enterprising spirit that made this country great by doing whatever you can short of breaking the law to earn whatever you can, and by saving as much as you can until you can afford to start living in a decent place. Life isn’t easy, son. But I’ll tell you one thing for sure, and that’s that the bums will always lose! Condolences!”

Back in the late ’60s or early ’70s, Esquire magazine ran a photo-spread piece called “Bums.” They went down to the Lower East Side and found a few winos, and brought them uptown and fed them and cleaned them up and dressed them in the best elegant-smoothie clothes that money could buy, and took their picture in a studio. Some of the bums looked pretty good and pretty happy (at least while they were being photographed). They were definitely being exploited, these guys, but would they have been better off if Esquire hadn’t offer them money to take part in this little charade?

How come you never see any Asian homeless people?