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JacobGalt

Voluntary work hurts the poor

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My theory:

Suppose someone's goal is to benefit the poor and needy. For example, he wants to solve the problem of poor old people that don't have nurses and/or babysitters. There are 2 things he can do:

1. Voluntary work. Become a nurse and work for free for a granny.

2. Continue producing in his current work. Hire a nurse to work for free for the granny.

Assuming that in his current work he is more productive and creates more than wealth than he would do if he were a voluntary nurse, he's hurting the poor by doing voluntary work.

The only way that voluntary work would be helpful would be in the case that the person doing it is more productive in doing that work than he would be anywhere else.

Does my theory have any flaws or is it true like I think it is? I have tried to explain it to non-Objectivists friends (who don't think in concepts, etc.) and they don't seem to get it, but haven't come up with any good counter-arguments.

I appreciate your comments.

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You might be right, at most, about skilled, specialized jobs such as nursing, but most of the volunteer work people do is low-skill and wouldn't pay as much (i.e. wouldn't create as much wealth) as the volunteers' regular jobs. You'd have to assume that if people weren't volunteering they'd use the time doing wealth-creating work for pay. Most volunteer time, in my observation, comes out of people's off-hours, when they'd otherwise be relaxing or seeking entertainment. In these cases their efforts don't decrease the world's stock of wealth.

If somebody spends his time working instead of volunteering, he increases GNP, as you point out, but that doesn't mean that the poor are better off. Conversely, in those rare cases where somebody turns down paid work in order to volunteer, the poor aren't necessarily worse off. You don't know where that wealth increase would have gone, but chances are that it wouldn't have gone to the beneficiaries of this particular charity. He probably volunteered precisely in order to direct benefits to particular charity recipents and not to the economy at large - i.e. to a beneficiary he can't choose. A familiar example of the same economic principle is the woman who cuts back on paid employment, or quits altogether, in order to raise her children. The GNP is indeed smaller for her decision, but her children are (presumably) better off; that's why she did it.

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Well yes, assuming someone could be more productive than they are at the drop of a hat, by not being more productive they are doing a disservice to themselves and others.

This applies to everyone, not just volunteers. And it's a big assumption to make, for everyone, but especially in this case. If someone is being unproductive and not making any money, it's usually safe to assume this is not happening out of the goodness of their heart, but rather out of impotence. Most people, if they could just snap their fingers and be productive for heaps of cash, they would.

It's very rare to see someone refusing to do something they are fully able to do. It's usually people who either have the potential for greatness, or think they have that potential, but are nowhere near achieving it and in fact well on their way to wasting it, who claim to be "choosing" a menial task instead.

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The only part of #3 that I even think I understood is

If someone is being unproductive and not making any money, it's usually safe to assume this is not happening out of the goodness of [the unproductive person's] heart, but rather out of impotence.

I spend a fair amount of time following OO instead of working for pay, but I don't see what this has to do with impotence. (Maybe it would if I were a gigolo in my day job, but I'm not.)

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I agree with Reidy who said that volunteer work is usually done on people's off-time, like over the weekend. In this sense, it's a supplement to a real job, and it gives the volunteer some value because they know they're helping someone. Many volunteers are even elderly people who want to stay active after they've reitred from their job.

Also, there's many types of volunteer positions: shelving books at a public library, working at a local school, cleaning up after animals at an animal shelter, distributing clothes at a shelter, etc. I also know a few pre-med students who are volunteering at a hospital to get to know the staff there, put some real-world hospital experience to on their resume, and have expeirences to talk about in their med-school applications. So not all volunteer positions are meant to aid the 'poor' or 'needy.'

Edited by Michele Degges

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And I agree with you. Almost any volunteering or donating for higher education or art and culture benefits the well-off overwhelmingly.

When I lived in LA I used to listen to KUSC, the NPR station affiliated with USC, which hit its listeners up chronically for donations and asked for volunteers to book those donations during pledge drives. I never contributed, but I noticed who their advertisers (yes, I know they don't call them that) were: a Mercedes-Benz dealer, an international law firm in Newport Beach, a high-end menswear store in Century City, and so on. The target audience for those ads were the beneficiaries of "charitable" donations to the station.

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Voluntary work hurts the poor and the rich and the middle class, children and adults men and women by encouraging the culture of entitlement. People in the desperate situation temporary may rely on donations and on any other form of voluntary help. But such a help cannot become the main pillar of morality. If anything, it is an exact opposite of it. It is immoral and destructive for any self-respecting man to live as a charity case.

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Over the last thirty years I've spent considerable time, energy and money as a volunteer building guide. In fact the photo at left (as I write) comes from one such tour (and at a church at that). How do I encourage the culture of entitlement by doing this? What exactly do I make the main pillar of morality? What do I do during these tours that is immoral or destructive?

Most people can get back on their feet after short-term help. Others, such as the brain-damaged, never will. What's immoral or destructive about helping them?

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Voluntary work hurts the poor and the rich and the middle class, children and adults men and women by encouraging the culture of entitlement. People in the desperate situation temporary may rely on donations and on any other form of voluntary help. But such a help cannot become the main pillar of morality. If anything, it is an exact opposite of it. It is immoral and destructive for any self-respecting man to live as a charity case.

This is not an argument against volunteer work, it's an argument for directing such work towards those genuinely trying to become self-supporting, or towards those few who literally cannot be.

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1) I think individual actions are being judged on the basis of aggregates. This isn't a correct way to analyze things. Most individual actions can't be judged as ethical or unethical based on GNP.

I have no responsibility to increase GNP as much as I possibly can.

Giving a man a sandwich he didn't earn isn't the harm that is being done. The circumstances that create that dependency in the first place is the problem.

2) I did a lot of charity work in my teenage years. It was awful. I "volunteered" at a nursing home that focused on dimentia patients, several soup kitchens, and even an impoverished minority neigborhood. I don't understand how anyone can work in a nursing home, maybe I was just sensitive at the time, but its depressing.

I have found that most of the really endangered people who recieve charity have mental illnesses that go beyond the helpfulness of ethical instruction. We aren't really talking about an unofrtunate vs immoral dichotomy, because we have to consider that many of those men and women's minds have been permantely damaged by a variety of life experiences that could have come from misfortune, flaws in our polticial economy, or just average immorality. Until psychotherapy becomes a meaninful science meant to help actually dysfunctional people, these people can only just be supported out of a good will.

3) Another issue that needs to be considered is the fact that poverty is extremely relative. Some of the people that are considered poor are at worse living a lifestyle that would have been considered futuristic in the 1970s and 1980s. I know people who are much wealthier than I am (I am a student and work at golf course, so I meet a lot of different people). Those people have afforded themselves lifestyles that allow them to do things that would neve be in my power to do, but in the future may be possible for any average citizen to do so.

I suppose it is some strange facet of human psychology that allows people to experience arbitrary rage and envy when they see someone with more wealthy than them. I have always questioned why people need to be equal. I don't care if there are people with floating palaces, it doesn't affect me at all if someone has more wealth or less wealt than I do if I have the same ammount of wealth I already did. Yet somehow people let it get into their head that the wealth of another is somehow realted to their own by default.

And hey, if you do envy something of someone elses, thats fine, just emulate what their virtues and get it yourself.

5) So my point is that the are usually bordering on insane or aren't really that unfortunate.

Unfortunate people should and will always be helped because rational people hate random tragedies.

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1) I think individual actions are being judged on the basis of aggregates. This isn't a correct way to analyze things. Most individual actions can't be judged as ethical or unethical based on GNP.

If I'm wrong in assuming that by GNP you mean gross national product, disregard this:

Productivity is a virtue. GNP measures at least a significant part of the aggregate productivity of individuals over the course of a year. Adding to GNP means you are more productive.

It would be wrong to judge individual actions solely on this one aspect of virtue. It isn't wrong to use it, though.

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Productivity is an individual virtue - only. It doesn't speak of quantity, profitability,

or GNP - which would become a utilitarian position.

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Reidy: "Most people can get back on their feet after short-term help. Others, such as the brain-damaged, never will. What's immoral or destructive about helping them? "

Nothing, as long as such a help doesn't require self-sacrifice and based on the reciprocal values exchange-for example help to the loved once, friend, relative etc...A help to Stephen Hawking which keeps him alive in spite his severe handicap benefits millions of people.

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This is not an argument against volunteer work, it's an argument for directing such work towards those genuinely trying to become self-supporting, or towards those few who literally cannot be.

This is an argument against the culture of entitlement. Since in the altruist society help to others is a duty, recipients of such a help think that they are entitled to it. Whatever such a help could be, it is completely opposite to the benevolence toward others. It corrupts both givers and takers.

Edited by Leonid

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Voluntary work hurts the poor and the rich and the middle class, children and adults men and women by encouraging the culture of entitlement.

I'm sorry but I just can't agree with this.

If anything work that is called voluntary but is actually coerced (like the way children are forced to do "volunteer" work to graduate school in many systems now has that effect.

But someone who in their off time chooses to do something with, about or for something that they care about that isn't their main career is certainly not causing harm.

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This is an argument against the culture of entitlement. Since in the altruist society help to others is a duty, recipients of such a help think that they are entitled to it.

That is rationalistic. In actuality, some recipients feel that way, and some don't. If you're merely arguing that one should strive to only help those that don't feel entitled to it, then I'd agree, but if you're trying to argue against volunteer work entirely then you're off base.

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Certainly I don't think Leonid has stated anything against

voluntarism - if anything he has reinforced it.

As some wise Objectivist said here once, it is far better to be for

something, than against anything. Rand indicated similar.

Except...when the ideology is so anti-life, that it must be rejected

at very turn.

Such is entitlement. A *culture* of entitlement is so insidious that it gradually

subsumes an entire nation. Nothing can be done benevolently and voluntarily -

in this case, any more. When it is demanded - worse, presumed upon, it is no longer by compassionate choice, but by coercion, or guilt. (And guilt is coercive.)

That's the state of society I see here in my country. You in the USA have had a taste,

it appears, but not enough to quench your natural and rational goodwill, or from individual voluntary action.

THIS is the logical outcome of altruism-collectivism: contempt for the suffering - and their hatred for you - and may you good Americans never know it.

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It's ridiculous and stupid to say that volunteer work is harmful or immoral. Volunteer work can be highly profitable, especially when the benefits stay close to home. There are some things that are highly desirable but are never likely to become paid work, like cleaning up local parks. If you benefit from clean local parks, it is totally logical to perhaps, I dunno, clean them up! I do agree that forced volunteerism (at which point it's kind of stupid to call it volunteering anymore) is harmful, especially when directed at young people. I don't really like rhetoric about "giving back" - I admit that it's sort of grating. Volunteering, when done right, is about achieving a value for yourself. For example, I would love to someday spend my extra time teaching or coaching kids. Showing children the value of education and athletic activity is extremely beneficial, even or perhaps especially in the case where their parents can't really pay me.

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In agreement with TheMadCat that the term "giving back" is a despicable perversion of one choosing to help someone else as a matter of their own rational self interest.

I've done a lot of volunteer work and it has always been something that I felt was of value to me.

Examples:

Volunteering at animal shelters socialising strays so they become adoptable pets. -I love animals so this is a value.

Fostering animals in my home deemed "unadoptable" by shelters. -Same as above.

Rape crisis center volunteer. -Rape is a horrible reality of our society and frequently victims are poorly treated by law enforcement. I want to live in a society where that isn't the norm.

Tutoring developmentally disabled kids. -These kids exist. Some with help, may be able to live productive lives despite their disability.It is in my best interest to live in a society that it is not automatically assumed that kids that face challenges should just exist as parasites.

I've never done any volunteer work that I felt guilted into so I just don't understand the line of thought. If anyone ever expressed a feeling of entitlement towards me while I was doing this I would take myself elsewhere.

Edited by SapereAude

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Volunteering, when done right, is about achieving a value for yourself. For example, I would love to someday spend my extra time teaching or coaching kids.
Yes, and as you indicate by this example, the value to the volunteer is often in the doing. In other words: the act of creating value can be a great source of happiness. For instance, if I spend time teaching a poor kid, my primary payoff would be the fact that I am helping create this value: this better educated kid.

The OP's question seems to suggest looking for a different type of value to oneself. I suppose a better-educated kid might end up producing more wealth and that could increase some other value in my life, somewhere, sometime. There may be times when one is motivated to help by some such direct concern. However, I think the OP is thus considering only obviously-materialistic values and ignoring the value that comes from the act of creating value, even if one does not consume that value.

Another reason to volunteer may be that one gets something from the overall experience: whether it is some knowledge one gets from working with Habitat for Humanity, or an exposure to interesting cultures by being part of the Peace Corp. Obviously there are downside to these options: this is not a recommendation.

Volunteer work can also be a way to getting into some area. The idea is this: sometimes, people are willing to tolerate your inexperience if you work for free. I know a software company that did a lot of volunteer work -- typically for non-profits -- using mostly people looking to get some experience in programming. The company used this in two ways: most importantly, it got all sorts of contacts in the community, which could lead to paying business; secondly, after a volunteer project, they could usually contract-out the volunteer on a paid project. In theory, the employee could move on, but people will often repay you much more than you deserve for having helped them!

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That is rationalistic. In actuality, some recipients feel that way, and some don't. If you're merely arguing that one should strive to only help those that don't feel entitled to it, then I'd agree, but if you're trying to argue against volunteer work entirely then you're off base.

I think I stated clearly before that there is nothing wrong in the voluntary work per se, as long as it's not divorced from the one's hierarchy of values and doesn't involve self-sacrifice. The problem is that in the current situation this is often a case. People do voluntary work not as exchange of values ( and be it even only simple satisfaction of helping others), not even as an act of benevolence but as an act of moral duty. Such voluntarism can only create a feeling of resentment of these who give and entitlement of these who receive. It corrupts both, not to mention the frequent practice of coercive ", voluntarism".

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The bad drives out the good, again. The good, existing as a conscious,

compassionate, self-directing and rational person - a complete human being;

whereas, the bad, prohibiting from the person all those qualities, to be replaced by

the advocacy of duty and sacrifice - a resentful slave.

As the recipient, a proud individual requiring assistance, who would you prefer?

(dumb question.)

Edited by whYNOT

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Only one who loves his life can value the lives of others. That's applies both to givers and to takers. A taker who accepts the help as his birth right has no appreciation of the help, nor self-esteem, doesn't value the life of the giver and in fact not even his own-since he is not prepared to exert any effort in order to sustain or to better it.

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(This part of the post is mostly anecdotal, so feel free to pass it up if you're not interested.)

This is actually very relevant to my life right now. As part of a psychology 101 course I'm taking right now, I'm required to perform 10 hours of "volunteer" work (obviously it's not voluntary if it's being required of me). While I'm strongly against the entire premise, the paper that is to be based off of this work is very important to my grade in the class. So, I have taken advantage of what freedom they have given me with this project: the choice of where to put my time. I'm going to be volunteering at a local organization of which I am a frequent member (I have never volunteered there before, but I often take part in the activities they organize and the community that has formed around the organization). Thus, I will be directly creating value for myself by actively working to improve that environment.

I'm much to busy, really, to even be thinking about putting in volunteer hours right now (for one thing, I have SATs this Saturday), but I need them by the end of next week. If I didn't need them, I probably never would have taken the initiative to do any volunteer work at all, even though the location I chose does create value for me. If left to my own devices, I would place a higher value on my time used for studying for the SATs or completing my online Latin class that I would on volunteering at this organization, but because I need to volunteer, I feel I've made the best of a bad situation.

(End anecdote.)

My question is this:

If I'm voluntarily taking this Psychology course, which I chose to sign up for (it wasn't required) and which I could drop at any time (I could have dropped it immediately upon seeing the service requirement on the syllabus, on the first day of class; I didn't because I placed a very high value on completing this psychology course), am I technically being forced into volunteering? I would say no, since I knew the class would involve a service project, but I may be missing some important point.

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(This part of the post is mostly anecdotal, so feel free to pass it up if you're not interested.)
The best -- real, non-abstract. Thanks for the anecdote.

If I'm voluntarily taking this Psychology course,... am I technically being forced into volunteering?
It could be a wrong and immoral requirement, even if it is voluntary.

Consider a different, pretty clear-cut example. Suppose you're learning about automobiles, and one course-requirement was that you work N hours at an actual garage. Suppose also that the motivation behind this was so that you can see your learning applied to real-life situations, and also to give you a flavor of what work is like in a garage. Clearly, such a requirement would be no different from a requirement that you read certain books, do certain home-work, take certain tests and so on. Now, imagine that the work in the garage had to be voluntary: i.e. you could not be paid for it. Practically speaking, it may be near impossible to get a garage to pay for a short-term intern who may be more of a bother than a help. So, the mandating it be unpaid may be moot. Still, if such a mandate did not arise from the actual, objective requirements of the course, it would be wrong.

Similarly, for your course on Psychology, the main question is whether the volunteer work requirement is actually tied to the course objectives. If it is partly so, but if some aspects are not, then the requirement is partly wrong/immoral.

If this is a private school, you really cannot say you're being forced in a legal sense. If it is a government school, then an element of indirect force is always in play.

Even if the work would not have been your choice, the best response is to make the most of the experience (when in doubt, extract maximum value from the lemon). It appears that you've done just that. So, congrats!

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