Problems with Volunteerism,
Minimum Wage, Charity, the Lottery

There is a basic ideal of most economic systems (even if not often stated or followed) which says that people should be compensated for their efforts in proportion to their contribution to society. Our dependence on volunteerism, and the rapidly increasing need for individual charity for the poor, seem like a contradiction of this principle, and a clear proclamation that our present day economic systems don't work in this aspect.

The economic system begins to expect and depend on volunteerism and charity. Both are ways of levying a tax on the generous (and sometimes on those who feel guilty of helping to cause the situation), but not on the greedy.

We have minimum wage laws, supposedly to keep employers from paying less than a family can live on. But this merely creates a gap in the potentially continuous wage scale. Many worthwhile organizations can't afford to pay even the minimum wage, so they get volunteers who work for nothing, or evade the principle of minimum wage by hiring part-time workers.

I am very much in favor of the spirit of willingness to make contributions for the good of the local or global community without expecting compensation, especially under emergency conditions. Also, there are other reasons than money for which volunteers work, mainly the opportunities for socializing, learning about a business, introducing oneself to a potential employer and the feeling of contributing to a struggling but meaningful organization (a feeling denied to many paid workers).

Of course there are many varying opinions about what activities are really contributions, and where the amounts of compensations should be altered. My opinion is that we are a very long ways from just assignations of wages, in this country and around the world, partly because we depend partly on unpaid work, which disrupts wage negotiations.

A more just economic system would supply the necessities of life, plus enhancements to consciousness, to everyone (but not in the form of money), while allowing them to work to buy luxuries, A Better Welfare System .

The lottery is a tax on the foolish, given to the greedy. The lottery's benefit to the schools is probably cancelled by decreased conventional taxes. Politically speaking, the lottery also transfers the kind of power that money can buy. The question remains of whether the foolish or the greedy will put it to "better" use. Unfortunately, it doesn't affect reduce the reproductive, voting or persuasive powers of these groups taken together. It's particularly incompatible with the present form of welfare system, which gives out money. Not too many years ago, people realized these facts and gambling was not considered an honorable industry.


Send me your thoughts.
Dan Robinson, danrob@efn.org, Eugene, Oregon
My home page: http://www.efn.org/~danrob/