Finally, I can't help but think these plans also feed off the perniciousness of the same anti-profit sentiments discussed by Roberts and Munger on this week's EconTalk. There's a common disposition in a large swaths of society that making a profit on something is greedy, conducting commerce is crass and that if you're making money then someone, somewhere, must be loosing money. This Bobo, zero-sum, anti-Protestant-work-ethic is the second pillar of this drive for national servitude, along with the aforementioned ageism. Put politely, this view is fallacious. Put more directly, I have seen more cogent points of view encapsulated in the Tupperware containers that have been pushed to the back of my fridge and left to fester for weeks.This brings up a salient point. While there truly are non-profits out there doing valuable, wonderful and often unlauded work, there are some entities out there who take an entrepenurial attitude to their work and maybe they make a few bucks off of their efforts to improve the community. I find nothing wrong with that.
I tutored a lot in a my senior year of high school. I worked one-on-one with a kid with some learning disabilities on some remedial math, basic study skills, what have you. Tried to help with some socialization problems he was having. That's pretty fine service to the community, you might say. Truly, I was helping the less fortunate, right?
Not so fast. I was making $20 an hour doing all this. (In cash, too! No taxes!) Is that still "community service?" Almost everyone would say no, of course not you capitalist lout, you got paid. Okay, let me put it another way. Was that work making the community a better place? I argue it was. A member of said community was willing to part with some of their wealth in order to see it happen, so to them, I was improving the community.
Tutoring, baby-sitting, teenage lawn care services, delivery services for the infirm or homebound are time honored businesses for young people, providing a "service" to the community and, oh my goodness, generating work and economic beneift as well. When I was a younger man (beginning around age 9 or so) I began officiating at soccer games for my league. I got my center referee's license at age 10 and from that age until 15 or so, I refereed three or four games each Saturday for between $10 and $20 a game (not bad pay for a Saturday). What I was doing was "community service" in that I helped a buch of 5,6, and 7 year old kids play soccer. Sure I got paid and my parents actually let me keep a percentage of those earnings to spend myself (there was a forced savings plan which at that time I thought was mean, but wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been). So I got paid for my service. Is it capitalistic? Sure, but I didn't see it that way, I thought it was fun and it let me stay at the soccer fields all day long, which was better than letting me roam the mall. There is nothing wrong with payment for "community service" both sides get something they want/need and everyone is happier for it, including the community that is served.
So community service can be entrepeneurial and capitalistic in nature, but you have to let the kid find it for themselves. The easiest way parents can do that is by cutting back on the allowance as kids get older. For example, occaisionally I had to ask my parents for gas money, but never for trips to the beach for myself or my friends, I got gas money for my car if I had to taxi my sister around. Trips for me had to be paid by me.