Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The erosion of American volunteerism

I had an interesting conversation with some co-workers the other day regarding volunteerism. One colleague came from Germany, another from China. Both explained how in their countries there were not opportunities to volunteer for a day, like soup kitchens. They elaborated that there was no cultural understanding of volunteerism because the mentality was that if you devote time to something you should be financially compensated in some manner.

These simple anecdotes made me reflect on how American volunteerism, or individually motivated social charity, is our nation's most commendable asset. Therefore, this trait should be nurtured and instilled in each new generation because it defines everything that is good about America. Knowing this, I think we must rethink the popular political philosophy that it is the government's job to take care of all our social woes.

Let's be honest about the consequences of big government by revisiting the issue of existing insolvent entitlement programs like social security, medicare and medicaid. Politicians have galvanized support for these pieces of legislation with palatable slogans that they are moral and charitable policies. True, the government has identified real problems. But these governmental solutions are fiscally unsustainable.

Also, I think there is a hidden cost to entitlement programs. As the federal government slowly monopolizes the social charity industry, the constituency will be stripped slowly of their personal compassion and kindness. To paraphrase Glenn Beck, "Do you feel more charitable when you personally help someone or volunteer, or when you pay taxes?"

For those that don't understand the opposition from the Tea Party and Republican party toward government expansion, this unintended consequence of entitlement programs which I have just articulated is one justification for the current cultural strife. People, including myself, are deeply concerned that if we do not divert from our current trajectory, future generations will no longer inherit the values that have defined the American spirit of giving. Sadly, this will mean the end of American exceptionalism.

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