Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Call to service?

Mover Mike has a great post about Obama's "call to service." It seems Obama would like to tell us that our aspirations aren't as good as those he has for us. He'll give us permission to pursue our dreams, but only if we're serving a higher purpose. Forgive me for being Randian (actually, don't forgive me--Ayn Rand was one of the greatest political philosophers of all time, in my opinion) for a moment, but if I want to attempt to be the world's richest man because I want the money for myself, I should be free to do it. Hell, I'd end up providing work for many others, as well as buying and selling goods or services that others obviously want.

I guess you could argue that the greediest person might well be a better influence on society than the most generous volunteer. After all, if I feed 100 homeless people a month, I influence far fewer lives than Microsoft, which employs many, buys goods and services from other companies, and sells products that make all sorts of things much more manageable for others who then, directly or indirectly, may do good in the world. (Also, I'm aware Microsoft has a charitable side, but that isn't relevant to this conversation.) If you spend a thousand dollars feeding the homeless, you may see the same faces coming back for handouts repeatedly. If you invest that thousand dollars in a company that can hire some of those faces, maybe they'll be able to grow and hire more employees.

I'm not saying there's no place for charity or service--Obama has a good point when he honors the military, teachers, cops, and firefighters. Compelling people to serve and to perform community service, though, is not the answer. Imagine a teacher draft. Would you want your child taught by someone compelled into the career field and probably unqualified? No. You would much prefer that person who has a passion for teaching. Telling people they "must" serve a "higher purpose" doesn't help anything. I happen to think janitors and sanitation workers serve one of the highest purposes--they keep things clean. It's a dirty, thankless job, and no one ever tells people to serve a higher purpose by becoming a garbage man or janitor. But imagine the world without them.

What I'm saying is that there's a place for every job, from CEO to infantryman, President to janitor, and stockbroker to nanny. People will do whatever works for them, and it will, in turn, work for others. Mutually beneficial arrangements end a lot better than government-compelled interactions, perhaps especially when the government means well.

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