NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) -
Q. I live in a nice, but not fancy, retirement community. Every week one of our clubhouses provides a special lunch for low-income people that is subsidized by the government and costs only $1.50.
Many of my friends here routinely take advantage of this lunch, even though they are all financially secure. They say they're entitled to the meal because "income" means money earned from a job and they're too old to work, and because this country owes a lot to seniors for all that our generation has done. Can they be right?
Answer: We hear that the DAR chapter in your community says it's okay for their members to get in the chow line too, since their families founded this country. Just kidding.
The subsidized-lunch bunch is kidding too -- kidding themselves. Those meals are meant for the truly needy, not the self-appointed worthy. The respect that our country owes seniors (whether they're members of the "greatest generation" or the Ozzie and Harriet crowd that followed) doesn't allow them to rewrite the rules.
Yet that's precisely what your friends are doing when they decide that their income, whatever its source, shouldn't be counted in a means test.
Moreover, by pretending to be poor, they're poaching from a program that can afford to serve only so many meals -- meals that are clearly intended for people less fortunate than your friends.
Another Money dilemma: Honor the will or do the right thing?
Jeanne Fleming, Ph.D., and Leonard Schwarz are trial consultants who advise attorneys on people's ethical beliefs. E-mail your comments about this column or your queries seeking advice about money and ethics to the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org.