Debased Hobos and Their Tea

Phil Libin reports, “The recent unpleasantness with Dean & Deluca has ended happily. I can now brew tea with a proper double-walled glass tea press, not the single-walled one I had been previously using, like some debased hobo.”

This naturally brings to mind a passage from Tim Harford‘s recent Slate piece on “How the world’s poorest really spend their money.”

Perhaps surprisingly, then, even the poorest find the resources to let their hair down. Duflo and Banerjee, looking at economic surveys of the very poor from 13 different countries, conclude that about one-third of household income is spent on stuff other than food. The alternatives to simply trying to consume more calories include shelter, of course, but even the poorest find some money to spend on things such as tobacco, alcohol, weddings, funerals, or religious festivals. Radios and televisions are also popular. Looking at food spending itself, although the very poor do focus on the cheapest grain—millet—they also spend on wheat, rice, and even sugar. This is expensive and offers little nutritional benefit, but it certainly makes lunch taste better.

As one moves up the economic ladder, one obviously has the luxury of pampering oneself with ever-more-expensive creature comforts. While I’d scoff at spending $70 on a tea press, I’ve spent more than that on coffee pots that are only incrementally better than the $20 ones that I used to buy. Doing so simultaneously brings the joy of better tasting coffee and the creeping snobbishness of finding previously acceptable coffee to be undrinkable swill.

Then again, I had heretofore known millet only as a major ingredient in the gigantic bags of “wild bird seed” my mother buys to fill her backyard feeders.

(And yes, I realize Phil was being ironic.)

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Economics and Business,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    Actually, millet’s pretty tasty, at least as nice as barley. I like it a lot better than the trendy quinoa.

  2. Phil Libin says:

    On the one hand, your post makes me feel somewhat ashamed at owning a $70 tea press. On the other hand, your post makes me happy by reminding me that I own a $70 tea press and that I should go brew tea in it right now.

    Don’t get me started on coffee pots.

  3. Tano says:

    Sugar offers no nutrional benefit? Is that a joke?

  4. James Joyner says:


    Absolutely! And your $70 investment not only provides you tea better than that available to the average hobo but, presumably, provides jobs so that a few people can afford some extra sugar for their millet.


    It says “little” nutritional benefit. It’s not exactly chock full of vitamins and minerals. It’s pure carbs. Certainly, you could get more nutritional bang for the buck elsewhere.