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My stimulation idea - paid volunteerism.

by rdf Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 09:59:04 AM EST

The never-ending debates over how to best get the economy going again swing between tax policies, interest rate adjustments and public spending. All of these require a huge bureaucratic system to be put into motion. My plan is much simpler and can be put in effect immediately.


Here's how it works, those who are unemployed or underemployed get income support through existing insurance programs. Then instead of sitting around or pretending to look for work they use their time to volunteer.

There are many areas where extra hands could help. For example, teaching reading or helping kids with their homework in public libraries in the afternoons and weekends.

Or monitoring after school activities that give kids a place to go while their parents are working. The gym, library and auditorium is there, it just needs some adults to supervise or create activities.

How about driving people to doctors appointments or job interviews or the like. Even visiting the home-bound just for companionship is a good idea.

If you want to get more ambitious, those with the appropriate skills could volunteer to help people fix up their homes with improved insulation and the like. The issue of who pays for the building supplies would need to be worked out, but many localities already offer grants for this type of thing.

I'm sure there are dozens of other areas which could benefit from some volunteer labor. Since these volunteers are being paid they are not sacrificing financially by being good Samaritans.

Unlike the job corps or the peace corps or the WPA these efforts would be from the bottom up and responsive to local needs. One could use a mechanism like Craig's List to coordinate things. All of these projects are "shovel ready" right now.

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It all makes sense.

But unfortunately the odds are that what we would get is "you-don't-get-paid-if-you-don't-Volunteer-ism".

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 10:14:52 AM EST
Unemployment insurance has requirements about seeking work or doing certain other things (like schooling) so volunteering could be added to the list of approved activities.

People want to help, getting "credit" (even if only psychological) for this is enough in many cases.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 10:22:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you're gonna pay people for doing a government job, then pay them a government salary.

There is a very substantial risk that what you're proposing is effectively a mill for cheap labour - lay off a teacher, and violá, the teacher gets to "volunteer" to do the same job he does already, but for half his current salary (or less).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 12:56:50 PM EST
Not even close to my idea. Running an after school sports or music program doesn't take any jobs away from teachers. Neither does helping kids with their homework.

This is not a way to cheapen existing jobs, it is a way to get things which aren't being done at all done.

The only area where one could have a valid claim is with using unemployed buildings trade workers to fix up sub-standard homes. Regular workers could claim that work is being taken away from them, but this where the charity aspect comes in.

A simple vetting procedure would identify those projects which would never get done because the homeowners can't afford it at all.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 01:44:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But from a stimulus perspective, I can see no advantage to not just create regular (but temporary) jobs performing the same functions at regular wages rather than unemployment benefits.

Formalising volunteer work creates a new kind of work that's "important enough to pay for, but not important enough to pay decently for." I see no advantage in doing so, and a very real risk of creating an underclass' underclass of "volunteer" workers which are only volunteers in the most nominal sense of the term.

And that's leaving aside a much longer discussion of the role and nature of volunteer work in general (which is frighteningly often to use charity to patch up deficient state services).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 02:12:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have to agree.  In the states, almost any proper service institution is horribly understaffed.  Providing a raft of subsidized volunteers to take up the slack would just further enable the horrible understaffing, which should be dealt with by hiring more people in the first place.

On previously mentioned examples, why is it that music and art programs should be left to volunteers, when there are perfectly qualified people out there who would be willing and able to teach these subjects for real?  Why shouldn't properly credentialed and paid people supervise kids after school hours?  Move their schedule around a bit, so they're afternoon and evening, rather than morning and afternoon, or have a 4-on 3-off schedule or something.

by Zwackus on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 04:34:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you know anything about what has happened to US public education over the past decade? Music and art programs have been eliminated in many places due to a lack of funds.

You may think it appropriate for government to provide these services (along with some of the others that I mentioned), but they aren't. With the current downturn there are going to be even bigger cuts in services as local tax funds decline.

Where do you propose to get the money from? You can't just juggle things around. I'm not suggesting that government offices be manned by volunteers.

I'm also not suggesting that this become a permanent part of the landscape, although that might be an interesting topic for discussion, but simply another approach to providing "stimulus" during the recession.


Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 04:46:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But "temporary" and "emergency" and "experimental" solutions have a way of becoming modus operandi unless something very active is done to prevent this... particularly when they are so useful to - ah - certain parties.

The money comes, of course, from printing money, as it always does when a government is engaged in counter-cyclical deficit spending (of course, usually the money is printed in the form of Treasuries, for various mostly excellent reasons, but it's the same thing when you come right down to it). And then, when the economy recovers towards full employment, the excess money is harvested through taxes and thus destroyed, thus providing counter-cyclical surplus budgets.

As long as there is a gap between what the economy could (sustainably) produce and what it does produce during a downturn, this strategy works.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 05:12:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... has, in my view, some very clear design parameters ... though I must add, after thinking about it off and on for some time while at Newcastle, where CoFFEE is located.

When someone is on a Job Guarantee job, they have to be paid a living wage. In a fiat money reserve banking system, of course, a Job Guarantee at a living wage serves as an inflation anchor, reducing the need to rely on high interest rates to keep inflation under control.

Organizations other than the Job Guarantee agency itself should be able to proposes Job Guarantee employment.

However, not only should that be vetted for not simply replacing previous employment, but it also should be a defined project of fixed duration, and those organizations that have had a project staffed going to the back of the queue for more JG workers.

And of course, external project sponsors should be responsible for on-costs.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 11:14:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the problem with volunteers is that, however many good people you get, you will will end up with a large number of co-erced "volunteers" who end up being resentful and counter-productive.  They can not only undermine the volunteer effort, but set back progress considerably if they're bloody minded enough.

So volunteering ends up being difficult. You can't pay more than basic cos you end up with people who just take the money and skive. Neither can you make it coercion for the reason above. So, you end up with asking what the motivation would be, because those people with the get up and go to volunteer for no extra money are actually those hwo'll probvably get themselves a job quickly anyway.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 02:44:37 PM EST
... over there in the UK, cause here in Ohio it simply is not the case at the moment that:
those people with the get up and go to volunteer for no extra money are actually those who'll probvably get themselves a job quickly anyway.

Not unless your definition of "quickly" stretches into multiple quarters.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 11:19:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We seem to have a lot of cynics in the world. This is not supposed to be a government program. People volunteer because they want to and they have the time since their income comes from unemployment insurance.

This is supposed to be part of the "stimulus" package being discussed, not a permanent new way to create an underclass.

Tax breaks will only phase in over time, they won't help those with no income, or no income from employment. Federal works projects, even "shovel ready" ones will take months to years before their economic impact will be felt.

All I want government to do is make sure that liability laws can handle this type of volunteerism and provide some sort of coordination so the need jobs are advertised. This can happen at the local level.

Awhile back a TV show used to offer people $10 on the street and secretly video their responses. The number who refused, thinking there was a catch, was high enough that it provided enough material for the stunt.

Apparently no good deed goes unpunished...

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 02:53:33 PM EST
... it can't be a not-government action. The government is also the institution with the capability to fund "paid voluntarism" that does not fade as the need for the volunteers rises and there is an expanding pool of those normally able to find work but temporarily unable to find work.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 11:17:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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