November 09, 2008


I'm at the part in Atlas Shrugged when Mrs. Reardon comes to Hank and asks him to give Philip a job. Hank refuses, and his mother says:

That's your cruelty, that's what's mean and selfish about you. If you loved your brother, you'd give him a job he didn't deserve, precisely because he didn't deserve it -- that would be true love and kindness and brotherhood. Else what's love for? If a man deserves a job, there's no virtue in giving it to him. Virtue is the giving of the undeserved.

Interesting that I read that last night, and then read this Newsbusters article this morning (via Amritas):

Require 100 Hours of Service in College: Obama and Biden will establish a new American Opportunity Tax Credit that is worth $4000 a year in exchange for 100 of public service a year.

$4,000 in value for 100 hours is $40 an hour, tax-free. For most students, because they pay no federal income tax, this will amount to an annual handout of $4,000 less the value of the service they provide (bravely assuming that it's productive), which would be at most the private-sector equivalent of about $12 an hour with benefits, or $1,200.

Personally, I think that $12 figure is pretty high. But maybe that's because I am in charge of an entire program at my job and I only make $7.70. I should quit my job and start doing community service under Obama! Does my knitting count?

Newsbusters goes on:

Let's estimate that this puts 8 million kids in college at any one time (I think the number is higher, but I can't prove it right now). If they are required to put in the service (that's what the site still says), the program would cost Uncle Sam $32 billion a year (8 million x $4,000).
In the last fiscal year, the entire Department of Education spent $66 billion. This one program would expand the Department's budget by almost 50%, before adding a dime for administration.

There is no job these high schoolers could work at that will give them $40 per hour. Will high schoolers then cease to work, concentrating instead on doing all those community service hours so they can get their undeserved windfall? Why work at a minimum wage job when you can get $40 an hour for volunteering?

Hank Reardon responds to his mother with a classic line:

Mother, you don't know what you're saying. I'm not able ever to despise you enough to believe that you mean it.

I have a feeling that line will be running through my head every time President Obama suggests a new plan.

Posted by Sarah at November 9, 2008 08:49 AM | TrackBack

Do you think that "Atlas Shrugged" is a book you have to be ready to read? My husband suggested I read it over 9 years ago and I just could not get into it. But now that I am more in tune with politics and economy, I wonder if I would like it or at least be able to read it without my eyelids drooping.

Posted by: Amy at November 9, 2008 10:50 AM


You're more ready now for Atlas than when I first read it almost twenty years ago. At the time, I knew almost nothing about economics beyond the basics of Marxism and half-forgotten fragments of capitalism. Nonetheless, I read the whole book over the course of about three days. It was just a mystery-adventure story to me then. I wanted to know who John Galt was. I didn't really know until I reread Atlas only a few months later. Moving to Berkeley gave me a whole new perspective on politics and economics. I saw Rand's writing through clearer eyes.

Posted by: Amritas at November 9, 2008 02:35 PM


We actually agree for once with your beloved nonpersyn A:

Virtue is the giving of the undeserved.

Our employer, Sovereign Kingdom University, is the most virtuous institution of higher education on this burning planet. We do not believe in the Europpressive concept of "standards." SAT score of 600? No high school diploma? No English proficiency? No pulse? No problem. Conventional criteria cannot determine whether a yOuth is qualified to join the Red Guards. Age is no object. We have a full adult reeducation program. If you cannot wait for an increase in the minimum wage to "$9.50 an hour by 2011," apply for the spring semester today! Yes you can!

Posted by: kevin at November 9, 2008 03:03 PM

Here's a problem I have with this (one among many) - we are shaped more by the bad times and things we have to do but don't want to do in our life than we are by the good times.

So, even without "volunteering" being worth more money, who on EARTH would choose to do a job they need and yet hate for a while when they can choose some fulfilling volunteer work?

Yes, it sounds far more pleasant, but what life lesson is being missed and what will be missing in that person later on? Were I in a position where my life depended on someone, I would be FAR more comfortable depending on a person who had overcome bad things in their life than someone who lived the emotional equivalent of a twenty five year Quaalude trip.

I HATED working midnight shift at Denny's to get through college. HATED it. But college was that important to me. Perhaps I'm a hard ass, but I don't think that we should be trying to figure out how to make things easier for people. More accessible is one thing, but easier? No, an easy life makes a stunted person. Our society has completely lost sight of that, and we're a silly, sad, vapid, complaining lot as it is.

Pres. Elect Obama likes to quote Lincoln - but I can guarantee that Lincoln would not have been the great man he was if he had an easy life. And also, Lincoln didn't have a volunteer hours program to pay for his law degree.

There are times in life when we need help. There are times in life when we want help, but we don't need it. There are times in life when other people want to help us to feel good about themselves, but we don't need the help. We need to stop telling society what we are "owed" and get up and earn it. If a college degree is that important to us, we will find a way to afford it and be better people for the struggle.

Posted by: airforcewife at November 9, 2008 05:22 PM

AFW: [clapping]

Posted by: Sarah at November 9, 2008 05:30 PM

Um, as someone whose parents put themselves through school and are still paying for it, who put myself through school with loans and will be paying off the $120,00+ for, well, forever, and who will never be able to pay for my children to go to school (and I worked two jobs in school both to keep a scholarship and a roof over my head), I can say I am not at all upset at the possibilities inherent in this plan to pay college kids to volunteer.

Children without college debt end up voluneering or taking low-paying after college jobs in sectors that need them in a higher proportion than those who have debt and must immediately consider those $600/month loan payments. Small school, large school, everyone needs help coming up with the dough. If we don't help them and say, just go someone where inexpensive, then we guarantee a power structure where the wealthy rule because they can pay for the schools that jobs hire from, and the poor stay poor. This is unacceptable in a country where we want to say that anything is possible.

We need to consider plans like this especially now, as schools like Amherst begin considering abolishing need blind admissions so they can cover costs in a plunging economy. A future where no one helps students pay off debt before graduation (in a country where the average graduate has over $50,000 in debt) is a country that wants to fall further behind the rest of the world.

Just offering another side to the box.

Posted by: Betty at November 10, 2008 05:14 AM