Friday, October 02, 2009

On Volunteerism: A Response to Luis

Ideological blinders lead one to strange conclusions. If we were the rational automatons my ol' pal Luis would have us be, then we would find sense in his call for developers such as himself devoting time instead to doing their work and making more money than volunteering.
Instead of under-utilizing himself at the cost of US$125 per session, the developer should just donate that US$125 to the relief effort. This money can be converted into goods, thus maximizing its benefits. In fact, if the developer is serious about helping, the best thing he can do is to work longer hours at his job every day so he can earn more money to donate to the cause.
In Luis' view, value can only be expressed in monetary terms and all human activity has one such value. From this ideological assumption, he notes that actual volunteering is a waste of value expressed in the income of developers. If we take this assumption and apply to all other things we do, then a whole array of activities will seem value-less if they do not generate monetary income. Individually, what is the use of reading for leisure? Listening to music? Looking at paintings and works of art? Relating to other individuals, what is the use of comforting a friend? A parent? A neighbor?

If he assumes that all human activity must be motivated by some sort of gain, then, that may be true. But "gain" cannot always express itself in monetary value. Sometimes, as he writes, in this follow-up, making human connections, assuaging the feeling of guilt and feeling useful - can be reward enough. For all these - there is no equivalent value expressed in money.

Luis, my friend, I suggest you diversify and stop exclusively reading the disciples of Hayek and Friedman. Start with Keynesians and Neo-Keynesians. I swear, they'll make you feel more human.

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