Mandatory Volunteerism
Jude Wanniski
April 28, 1997


Memo To: General Colin Powell
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: 'Mandatory Volunteerism'

Congratulations on your President's Day 'Summit on Volunteerism' over the weekend in Philadelphia. If Americans have time left over after 1) working two jobs to make ends meet and 2) spending time with their spouses and children and 3) tending to problems that arise in the extended family of grandparents, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews, they should by all means find a way to volunteer that surplus time and energy to their communities.

I'm afraid I can't agree with you, though, that the government should make it mandatory that high school students "volunteer" several hundred hours of their time in order to receive a diploma. My preference would be that the government make it mandatory that high school students know how to read and write and do long division before they receive their diplomas. Any surplus time students have after dealing with their studies should be left available to them to earn some money to get a head start toward college or toward life. Now that the government has made it mandatory that employers pay a higher minimum wage for work in the private sector, it makes little sense for government to make it mandatory that young adults work for free, for work considered desirable by government.

As you contemplate the contributions you will be able to make to your country in the years ahead, General Powell, I suggest you not jump into activities that have small or negative returns on your investment of time and energy. Remember always that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Most of the recent social pathologies we find in the black community can easily be traced to the good intentions of Presidents Ford, Carter, Bush and Clinton. We would not need "mentoring" of single-parent children if they had two parents. The destruction of the American family, black and white, during the past 30 years, was obviously the result of our do-good welfare programs that offered free clothing, shelter, food, health care and beer to a single-parent family. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted all this 30 years ago, but his teary-eyed, compassionate colleagues in Congress paid no attention. At the same time the tax increases of Presidents Ford, Carter, Bush and Clinton, enacted with the help of Senator Moynihan, were making it impossible for after-tax wages to keep pace with the prices faced by a two-parent family.

When you scratch your head in wonderment that so many conservatives were critical of your Summit, bear in mind their frustration in seeing you coming out of retirement to ask us all to pick up a pooper-scooper in following the parade of these four Presidents. Senator Moynihan, by the way, was on "Fox Sunday Morning "with Tony Snow yesterday. When asked what he thought about boosting volunteerism, he answered wryly that since the Government has run out of revenues for its do-good programs, it might as well ask for free volunteers.