Paid volunteerism is still an oxymoron

James Bovard blasts the idea that nothing says America like government-run, paid “volunteerism” at IBD Editorials.  He specifically targets AmeriCorps as a prime example of the kind of government-incentivized political action that should be antithetical to the American mindset, a kind of Big Brother approach to community organizing:

Obama declared that the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act is about “connecting deeds to needs.” Ironically, the signing ceremony and a $5 billion multiyear outlay for AmeriCorps came one day after Obama called on his cabinet members to trim $100 million in wasteful government spending.

Paying people on false pretenses to do unnecessary things is the soul of AmeriCorps. Since President Clinton created this program in 1993, politicians have endlessly touted its recruits as volunteers toiling selflessly for the common good.

But the average AmeriCorps members receives more than $15,000 on an annual basis in pay and other benefits. And most AmeriCorps members go on to work for government agencies or nonprofit groups. Their AmeriCorps gig is more of a career stepping stone than an act of financial hari-kari.

Bovard then lists some of the programs which AmeriCorps pays its “volunteers” to deliver, with these two especially remarkable:

  • Paying children to surrender their toy guns
  • Convincing middle-class families to accept federally-subsidized insurance for their kids

If you see a political agenda in these kinds of programs, you wouldn’t be alone.  Putting more people in a position of dependency on the federal government certainly fits an agenda, but it’s not the spirit that built America.

Bovard has other complaints, but the main issue is that this isn’t a volunteer program, and it puts the federal government’s fingers in a lot of programs where they have no jurisdiction.  It also undermines actual volunteerism, because it outprices non-profits for available labor – although with unemployment going past 8.5%, it won’t be that much of a problem.  Instead of bolstering community involvement, the new GIVE Act amounts to a takeover of it by the government, which has turned volunteers into government employees.