Posted by Mycroft Holmes | Filed under Idiot Legislation
Right now, there’s a big kerfuffle on the right side of the internet about Obama’s plan to require or strongly encourage volunteerism among the citizenry in exchange for a $4,000 tax break. It goes something like this: you work up to 100 hours a year in some non-salaried capacity, and the federal government gives you $4,000 dollars off your taxes. You get the money even if you didn’t pay $4,000 in taxes in the first place.
I’ve got several problems with that, personally, but there’s one I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere else yet, which is this:
People, generally speaking, will expend the least effort to produce the greatest rewards possible under a given set of circumstances.
Call it rules-lawyering. Call it playing the system. Call it exploitation. Whatever you call it, it’s basic human nature. We want the most stuff for the least work. Which, in this case, means that people who otherwise would never set foot in the direction of a charitable organization will instead show up and do a half-assed job of it. Maybe even quarter-assed.
They won’t care about whatever cause they are working for. All they’ll want is the tax refund, so they’ll do as little as humanly possible to qualify for it. The country will be awash in unmotivated clockwatchers, who will probably wind up doing more harm than good, and getting in the way of those who actually want to serve their communities.
I know there are those who think that once people get involved, they will find reason to do their best to aid their fellow man. Those people are wrong. You can barely get some people to do jobs they actually applied and interviewed for in their chosen career fields. People will wander the sides of roads instead of picking up the trash they were sent there after. People will work on their novels instead of answering the suicide hotline. Do you want to live in a house built by people effectively forced to be there? If so, how far behind schedule are you willing to let the project fall?
The government can’t use results-based qualifiers to determine if the volunteerism was sincere, because there will be people who are properly motivated, who want to put in the time, but who, due to circumstances, physical or mental limitations, and/or the glut of their fellow citizens, simply cannot get the job done. They’d be asking for lawsuits.
You cannot make people be nice. All you can do is annoy them, and make them resent your attempt. “Mandatory volunteerism” of any stripe is doomed to failure from the outset.