The Moral Case for Increasing Funding for National Service Programs
Posted by benganzfried on December 21, 2009
“But if they injure you and could have helped it?” said Gwendolen.
Deronda wondered at her choice of subjects. A painful impression arrested his answer a moment, but at last he said, with a graver, deeper intonation, ‘Why then, after all, I prefer my place to theirs.’”
-George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda
A few days ago I had a conversation concerning the question: Is it better to be Barry Bonds and make it as a baseball player or be someone who does not take steroids but never makes it out of the minor leagues?
My fellow conversationalists pointed out that Bonds may be shamed, but he still has a lot of money that he does not have to give back. The thousands of would-be major league ballplayers do not have that luxury—many of them are without other skill-sets since they have focused exclusively on baseball. As a result, while Bonds may be shamed in certain communities, he can still live a certain life whereas the other ballplayers that never made it have to constantly struggle just to make their daily ration.
With this information in mind, the question becomes: On what grounds is it better to be Barry Bonds or to be an honest minor-league player?
The cop-out answer is that steroids pose health risks and therefore that is reason enough not to do it. This reasoning fails to address the fundamental moral question that arises. Namely, is it ever OK to gain an unfair advantage over one’s competitors?
To me the answer is simple: No. It is rotten to gain an unfair advantage. As the conversation wore on, however, I noticed that I was unique in this view. For the others in the discussion, health and wealth were their main arguments.
This led me to wonder why this might be. I immediately realized that they did not grow up with an honor code at their middle and high school. To be sure not everyone who grows up with an honor code abides by it, and not everyone who lacks one growing up does not abide by something similar—but in general, the teaching of these values leads to their being acted upon.
In a similar vein, community engagement, active citizenship, and social responsibility must be learned if we wish to promote these values in our community. It is morally right for the private sector, public sector and government to increase funding for national service programs. I have made previous blog posts arguments about whether increasing funding for national service is economically feasible (which it is), but now I am not sure how persuasive the economics argument really is. Put simply, by investing in our greatest asset—human capital—we will reap larger benefits than we can even imagine.
Of course, the moral argument for increasing funding for national service programs becomes problematic when faced with the fact that moral arguments can be made for every cause that needs government funding. And undoubtedly there are many causes more worthy of our sympathy than the promotion of national service. The reason the moral argument for increasing national service programs outweighs many other causes, however, is that civic engagement, loyalty, and social responsibility are virtues upon which everything else depends. Without the trust of the community and the belief in American ideals—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all—how can our Great Experiment continue?