There is a dilemma in America at this time. The unemployment level exceeds 13 million. That is to say that there are (more than) 13 million people who are seeking work to feed their families and meet their minimum economic needs. I am a retired guy who is interested in volunteer work. That is, I will work for nothing to provide services for those who cannot afford a lawyer. The dilemma and the question that is presented is this; does the volunteer worker who provides services take opportunities away from those who would willingly provide the same services for a modest price? Am I, as a volunteer, literally taking food out of the mouths of families, by doing what I do? In good times, there is no question that volunteer work is the correct and ethical thing to do. In bad times such as the present, (this may be my liberal leanings taking hold of my thought processes) is it appropriate for me to do something that I don't need to be paid for when there are thousands of young lawyers right out of school clamoring for the right to earn a living wage? It gets a little more complicated when governments start reducing funds for those agencies that do provide services for the poor. The Public Defender's offices around the country are taking a hit right now in reduced funding. Organizations like the Guardian Ad Litem programs and Legal Aid of Manasota have had significant reductions in their fundings which compromises the ability to function. Paid workers at these agencies have reduced hours while volunteers step in and pick up the slack. Is this the right approach when the services are being provided for other needy persons? Should government pick up the slack? Should companies that can afford to do so be given tax incentives to place an extra employee or two on their payrolls to help offset the unemployment figures? On a grander scale, is it the role of government to assist citizens in rough times like the present in feeding families and providing a roof over their heads? One of the guys at my golf club in Florida sent an e-mail around recently. By way of background, the people in our club have their own notions about the economic problems of the country. Rather than eating at fancy restaurants six times a week, most of them have cut down to three or four times a week. One guy complained that he had to use the same golf balls for several rounds (or at least until he hit it in the water) rather than start with a fresh sleeve of three new balls every times he played (five days a week). It is in this context that I received the following e-mail:
I recently asked my friends' little girl what she wanted to be when she
grows up. She said she wanted to be President some day. Both of her
parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there, so I asked her, 'If you
were President what would be the first thing you would do? '
She replied, 'I'd give food and houses to all the homeless people.'
Her parents beamed with pride.
Wow...what a worthy goal.' I told her, 'But you don't have to wait
until you're President to do that. You can come over to my house and mow the
lawn, pull weeds, and sweep my yard, and I'll pay you $50. Then I'll take
you over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give
him the $50 to use toward food and a new house. '
She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the
eye and asked, ' Why doesn't the homeless guy come over and do the
work, and you can just pay him the $50? '
I said, 'Welcome to the Republican Party.'
Her parents still aren't speaking to me.
In my activities at Legal Aid of Manasota, I have met a lot of homeless people. They would jump at the chance of making $50 by mowing someone's lawn or picking weeds. Of course, they probably wouldn't be welcome in the gated community in which I live. Their cars would probably be making too much noise. A recent incident in my neighborhood had a woman who hopped into her car with her bathrobe on at four o'clock in the morning to track down the poor guy delivering newspapers to complain to him that his muffler was too loud. The thought that the man may be unable to afford to repair his auto never occurred to this person. Honestly, I'm not making this stuff up. While the points raised in this blog are local in nature, the thinking and the attitudes reflected tend to be national in scoope.