Tuesday, June 08, 2010

How to be of service, if you dare 

Sometimes, there is nobody better than Thomas Sowell:

Every year about this time, big-government liberals stand up in front of college-commencement crowds across the country and urge the graduates to do the noblest thing possible — become big-government liberals.

That isn’t how they phrase it, of course. Commencement speakers express great reverence for “public service,” as distinguished from narrow private “greed.” There is usually not the slightest sign of embarrassment at this self-serving celebration of the kinds of careers they have chosen — over and above the careers of others who merely provide us with the food we eat, the homes we live in, the clothes we wear, and the medical care that saves our health and our lives.

What I would like to see is someone with the guts to tell those students: Do you want to be of some use and service to your fellow human beings? Then let your fellow human beings tell you what they want — not with words, but by putting their money where their mouth is.

You want to see more people have better housing? Build it! Become a builder or developer — if you can stand the sneers and disdain of your classmates and professors who regard the very words as repulsive.

Would you like to see more things become more affordable to more people? Then figure out more efficient ways of producing things or more efficient ways of getting those things from the producers to the consumers at a lower cost.

That’s what a man named Sam Walton did when he created Wal-Mart, a boon to people with modest incomes and a bane to the elite intelligentsia....

Of course, serving customers with only your wits and freedom of contract is a lot riskier than going to work at a job from which you highly unlikely to be fired.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jun 08, 09:48:00 PM:

I have made a version of this point to my brother. Which is to say that money is not bad, but the love of money is. Money is a store of hard work.

I can remember the notion in the late 70s and 80s that Japan had eclipsed us in some sense. But our nation's innovation (Cisco, Apple, Microsoft) has created huge value and economic benefits for all Americans. There are some distributional issues, but by and large, we are much better off because of that, and the government is ultimately only a cushion.

Your post about volunteer activities and college admissions struck me in a similar vein - as very "bougie" as we used to say in college. Kids from middle and lower income brackets work because their families need the money, or because their parents want to give them some sense of values. Whether or not I agree with that approach to parenting [sometimes there is no choice - both my mother and aunt had to postpone college a year to help pay off bills when my grandfather died at a ludicrously young age], I really don't see the difference between most outside of school activities. Most admission officers are not in a position to know enough details about a person's life to give things like that weight - unless it is truly above and beyond.

I do think, on the other hand, that a communitarian notion (going to church on Sunday, visiting the elderly in a nursing home) as an adjunct to a life in the private sector is far too undervalued in our society in many places. I think those kinds of activities benefit both the people undertaking them (more rounded human beings, and happier human beings, who can enjoy their own lives) and those who benefit - the lonely shut-in, the kid without a good family network to provide guidance, and the like.

These are really not liberal values. They are human values.  

By Anonymous Mr. Ed, at Tue Jun 08, 11:05:00 PM:

My faith and confidence in anonymous posters has been restored.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jun 09, 12:45:00 AM:

Mr. Ed:

I'm the same person who has upset you in other posts, because you read a lot into what was said, it seemed, beyond what was actually said.

Something to consider when communicating in this very limited medium.

Hard to Categorize.  

By Anonymous Mr. Ed, at Wed Jun 09, 11:00:00 PM:


I'm a pretty good reader and listener, but far from perfect. I work at trying to communicate effectively and appreciate your insight.

All mediums have their boundaries. A canvas would seem constrained to some and a window into a vast unexplored world to others. But as you say, we do have to try and understand the nature of the medium we are working with.

This particular medium, which is notable for being meeting ground of anonymous, and uniquely named anonymous travelers, is mainly a battle ground for thoughts and ideas. A place where they are presented, challenged, refuted, accepted, formed, buried and transformed.

That is the beauty of it in a way. The ideas are at risk, not the participants. The ideas in a way are communal: we can go away and use the ones each of us has found useful.

It can be unruly here at times when the hounds are cut loose. It seem normal that one might agree on one occasion and disagree on another.


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