TED Conversations

Letitia Falk

Lab Technician/Recent MSc graduate, University of British Columbia

TEDCRED 10+

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Would society benefit or suffer from volunteering replacing employment?

I heard a statistic last year that really struck a chord with me: that "the upcoming generation to enter into the workforce is less hard working, but more willing to volunteer" (source unknown). I found this so interesting because it seems paradoxical. Aren't there just hard workers and lazy people? What's with these lazy volunteers? And can't you volunteer and get paid to do the same activities? One explanation is that there are preferred activities that people would rather be doing, and that, finding it impossible to get paid to do them, people volunteer. Another explanation is that the actual form of payment for an activity (monetary reward versus gratitude and personal satisfaction) determines its enjoyment.

For some reason people FEEL better about having done something they volunteered their time to, than doing something they consider a duty. People like to have a sense of personal freedom.

There have been a number of talks in the field of business and education lately that have described research showing that creative thinking is done best without restrictions or rewards. In other words, people are surprisingly intrinsically motivated and will work better and more creatively without being forced to by the need for a job, but rather by the desire to contribute to society. These ideas run smack up against many of our preconceived ideas about human motivation. People worry that without rewards, there is no incentive for people to contribute to society.

Now, there ARE less desirable jobs (like manufacturing, cleaning, service) that are less enjoyable than others, and which people need to be "persuaded" into taking. But as more and more of those jobs are replaced by technology, will it become possible for society to function through voluntary contribution? Without the threat of poverty by unemployment what would you do with your day?

Also not a TED talk but relevant:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xstnYViFMRQ&feature=player_embedded

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    Dec 6 2011: I will sell you my answer for 29.95 plus shipping and handling. (thank you for the debate!)
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      Nov 19 2011: Thanks for the quote griffin! I believe there are a number of studies pointing to this idea: that rewards and punishments both cause us to feel like we're being manipulated and actually decrease incentive. Your post in particular makes me wonder if greed is not a natural human trait, but might be caused by our social structure.
  • Nov 18 2011: Interesting question. I think those interested only in volunteering must have their basic needs met by someone who is working for money, thus affording them the option for a parasitic lifestyle. Maybe a spouse works and shares income, maybe they are wealthy, maybe they are getting charity, maybe they worked enough to retire, but those that can work and chose not to are opting for a parasitic lifestyle. If you have the money and choose to only do volunteer work, that is outstanding. Volunteer jobs are absolutely work, it is just that society has not determined that the work is worthy of payment-for whatever reason. The fact that many of the positions have to be volunteer (such as meals on wheels, red cross, elderly care, scouting, etc.) and are VERY necessary does not speak well for the compassion of society.

    I believe that there is a well propagated delusion that going to some school makes you too good for some jobs. There is a reluctance for graduates to accept low paying jobs because the difference between the salary you start off with, and the salary you think you deserve as a result of your training, represents a perceived loss in income and additional work required to get where you think you should be in life. However, it involves other things like the value the market has on your skills, the economy, your personal assessment of your skills, and competition for the job.

    In these days of a 200K education cost, some real thinking needs to be done to see if there is enough potential return on investment for a particular person as a student to go to school. Hard work and common sense have a tendency to be rewarded in almost all fields, with or without a degree.

    If a person has earned their choice to be a volunteer instead of a paid worker-Bravo! They want ot contribute to society and help fill the gaps in social service. If they have not, it may be time for the foot inspiration to meet the seat of understanding so that job seeking becomes a priority.
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      Nov 19 2011: What I don't understand about society is this: In the partnership you describe where for example, one partner is working to provide the money for necessities and the other partner is volunteering, why is the second person's lifestyle considered parasitic? If both people are working the same number of hours and both are contributing to society, what does money have to do with it? I guess I am slightly appalled by our society's obsession with money as the most important measure of value. A good example of this is families where one parent acts as caregiver for their children. I personally don't believe that the caregiver is less valuable or is living parasitically off of the working parent, and I don't think that caregiving is the only example of unpaid but valuable contribution.

      If volunteering replaced employment perhaps graduates could focus more on using their new skills and less on comparing their value as measured by salary?

      Your suggestion that society's values are reflected in what jobs are paid and what are voluntary is very interesting! Do you think those values can change? Do you think that it is important that work IS represented by pay to reflect its variable worth?
      • Nov 19 2011: A partnership, where one person is a care giver and one person is a worker is not an example of a parasitic relationship. It is a partnership where both partners decide that the shared responsibility of care giving and working for survival needs of the partnership, is to be distributed in some way between partners. If one partner provides for the survival needs of the partnership, and the other volunteers instead of care giving, that too is excellent as it represents sort of a distributed partnership effort to both take care of survival responsibilities and give society the gift of volunteer service. My issue is with someone that volunteers and relies of society or an unwilling host to provide for their basic needs, particularly when the choice is made because of distaste for the work required for survival. I view this as parasitic, particularly if emotional leverage is used to secure the situation. My issue is not really about money after you have earned enough to survive. The lifestyle you choose to live with relative to the amount you want to work is a personal choice. A partnership could have both partners working and lead a lifestyle determined by two incomes, or a lifestyle that was based on one income and defer the gratification of the extra income by performing volunteer service or caregiver service. Both are quite honorable and the latter quite self-less on the part of the care giver.

        I think society does value paying jobs higher than volunteer service. Perhaps because there is a sense of money, and the power to earn it,as reflecting power. Those that have raised children or cared for the elderly realize there is more to life than this perceived value.

        Work, a sense of value, personal sense of worth, job satisfaction and society's perception of worth are all elements in the true value of a job. Pay is sort of society's metric for this worth. The most important job parents have is raising their children. Career satisfaction is just gravy!
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    Nov 26 2011: Letitia,

    A provocative idea. I'd quibble on the term voluntary, however.

    Voluntarism has a place. But when it's about volunteers feeling like they are only solving someone else's problems, it can be condescending.

    I prefer engagement for citizen-developed construction of community, where all sectors are engaged. All citizens contribute to determining their community visions and delivering them together. Eleanor Ostrom's common pool resources work has good models.

    The effects can be powerful when citizens understand their gifts, and those of all others, are critical for community, regardless who they are.

    Thus, heretofore "needy" or undervalued citizens are engaged in meaningful and relevant ways to improve their community. Experts see themselves as learners as much as leaders. Non-experts begin to see themselves as experts and leaders, too. All see their individual energies engaged with diverse collective energies can create "big things."

    A small example from my Y, a microcosm of my community and state. Which are innovating effective constructivist practices at levels ranging from city hall to school halls. This Y story is an indicator of what is becoming a norm here. Many more "formal" efforts and outcomes lead to effects like this:

    Three small kids approached me to play basketball Tuesday night. As we debated how to make "even" teams, two huge teen boys and a teen girl approached and helped organize. Within seconds every kid in the place, 30 or so boys and girls, all ages and colors swarmed around. They'd barely noticed each other prior. It was pandemonium!

    A man my age, an European immigrant, joined. We served as hybrid refs/players/coaches. A game "broke out," with rules made "on the fly." Basically just: let all play and don't trample the toddlers.

    As the herd of diverse kids ran up & down yelling & laughing adults gathered to watch. One pulled me aside and noted how she learned pro-social problem solving by watching.

    Andrea
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      Nov 27 2011: Nice one. So basically we get everybody to get involved... How did ya do it?
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        Nov 27 2011: Goldmark,

        Gather people and dialogue about self-interests and abilities. What matters to them? What could be done about it?

        Be prepared for two reactions: apathy and inertia. Best to provide examples that counter, not debate these. Better yet, model them.

        The BB game gives examples:

        By doing and witnessing, adults and kids realized possibilities and lessons all the lectures in the world can't teach.

        The trick is helping people see them. Best to ask them to, ie: "What just happened?" Then its easier to move to how/where can we do more/again and improve it.

        For example, the teen girls' mother approached me after, saying "Her teachers are nice, but they tend to plug her into things that aren't really "her." How can she do more of what happened in the game?" We dialogued about possibilities.

        Separately, one of the teen boys' attitude toward me changed dramatically after. Until then I was likely just an odd mom who gets in his way on the courts. In fact, another mom and I discussed this just recently. I suspect this mom, whose sons play on his team, broached the topic with him. Now he sees me (and her) sympathetic to his self-interests as much as my own.

        I'll engage he and teen girl, "recognize" their leadership to them. And seek their advice.

        I'll ask them the same Qs: "What happened? How can it happen more?" They'll likely have views I hadn't or wouldn't have thought.

        A different mom separately noted ideas to me. She thinks a better balance of adults on the courts would help deepen relationships between children and adults engaging in healthy, inclusive activities together. Others spoke to the magical quality of diverse people working and playing together.

        I'll introduce all to Y leaders who are looking for such assets, methods and attitudes in their civic efforts. The focus will likely be: "How can they take this magical activity forward?"

        I'll also introduce them/this an initiative I'm involved with called: Play it Forward

        Andrea
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    Nov 22 2011: It is true, the best things done in the world so far were free from the pressure from a boss or greed/pressure of money.
    However, at some point we also need professionally responsible workers to get the smaller parts of a bigger thing done. Where we need stamina, painstaking devotion and energy along with the happiness of working.

    A big part of the most amazing big ideas are absolutely boring manual labor while getting it done in reality. In those cases, when a supporter/ a worker feels like crying out of boredom and stress, when they get tired of the long waiting of the dreamy big result, when the enthusiasm tends to evaporate in the pressure of responsibilities, then at least the money/wage/salary and the professional commitment help to heal the pain. And in most cases a volunteer quits at this point, they lose patience.
    Responsible and ethical employment is thus necessary.
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    Nov 22 2011: VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTION IS WITHOUT DOUBT WHAT MOVES HUMANITY FORWARD (Doing something NOT because someone is paying you to do it but out of intrinsic motivation and satisfaction).

    PUTTING YOUR HEART AND YOUR CREATIVITY INTO A TASK IS SOMETHING THAT CAN'T BE BOUGHT, some companies are asking their employees to volunteer their hearts/minds into tasks that serve the interest of the employer, the employee and society. So VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTIONS CAN BE DONE WITH IN AN EMPLOYER-EMPLOYEE RELATIONSHIP. This kind of dynamic definitely benefits society a lot as it unleash the best in people..

    -"As more … jobs are replaced by technology, will it become possible for society to function through voluntary contribution?" -I would say, not necessarily. Technology only replace jobs when it is cheaper than hiring a person, in countries with a big unskilled population the process is slow, moreover, after people lose their jobs they only go to another industry were technology is more expensive than people, they don’t start volunteering more.

    VOLUNTEERING CAN ONLY COME AFTER I MET SOME BASIC NEEDS FIRST, different people have different ideas of what a "basic need" is, that line becomes a psychological barrier to volunteering. It is not the threat of poverty by unemployment what limits us but our desire standard of living. Once we obtained it (by either decreasing our desires or increasing our income), we start volunteering in the way that best fits us. Although WE SHOULD GET BETTER AT GETTING FEEDBACK ON WHAT SOCIETY REALLY NEEDS OTHERWISE WE ARE JUST BUSY WITHOUT ACHIEVING MUCH.

    VOLUNTEERING SHOULD NOT REPLACE EMPLOYMENT BUT BUILT ON TOP OF IT, replacing it would be bad for the economy, it would put another person out of work and destroyed the incentive to study or practice that activity.
    “VOLUNTEERING” (IN THE TRADITIONAL MEANING OF THE WORD) SHOULD BE USE TO HELP SOLVE MARKET FAILURES, place resources (goods and services) in the hand of those that need them the most.
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    Nov 18 2011: At this stage of my life, I have a different take on things. I think it is time for the Boomers to give back in a really generative fashion. By this I mean that there should be employment in every circumstance where the person will be held legally responsible for the outcome of the work. However, I think that millions of Baby Boomers and other retirees should be able to make meaningful contributions in the areas of their greatest skill sets on a volunteer basis. If a person is able to retire they still have need of challenging and meaningful work in many cases. Working at Walmart just doesn't do it unless it is a matter of keeping the roof over one's head.

    Why not form clubs where retired police officiers and detectives and other interested parties could solve crimes? They have the skills. I think someone should just set up a clubhouse, supply the coffee and snacks and they could have at it - working on cases no one else wants. It would be better for them and society than putting those skills out to pasture and expecting them to use such skills on jigsaw puzzles. They could liaise with groups in other jurisdictions and be like a Rotary club. Of course, active duty police personnel would them take over when any advances were realized or field work was needed. The added benefit is reduction of isolation, better health and more integrated seniors.

    Why not take retired medical people from many fields and let them choose directions for needed research as a panel for universities. The could meet in rooms in the University libraries and be treated with respect and appreciation. They could read the data and make suggestions for student thesis that might be promising.

    Many Boomers are better with Boomers than with younger folk (and it is too bad) but they might have been too busy to volunteer when they were at other stages of their lives and wish they could do so now but feel really foolish in some candy striper's uniform. In addition, their skills merit some respect.
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      Nov 19 2011: I think this is a really great suggestion Debra! And one that will become more and more feasible as people's overall heath in retirement is increasingly improving.
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    Dec 10 2011: Volunteering is great, but personally I believe everyone should be compensated for work they do, even if it is just volunteering their time (which, let's face it, is the most valuable thing there is.) Society could function, but all of these volunteers would need to be subsidized in one way or another -- not necessarily monetarily, but paid in goods or services, given food or shelter, etc. Not to sound selfish or greedy, but I'll volunteer my time to a food pantry if it means bringing home a bag of groceries -- I can feel good about donating my time to the pantry and helping others, but at the same time I have an obligation to myself and my family, and I can feel good that I had something to show for the work I did that day -- no time was "wasted" and everyone wins. Volunteering works if everyone wins. For some, winning is a feeling, for others it's college credit, putting food on the table, winning an award, etc. But for society to function on volunteering I think we need to be able to survive on it, too. That's my $0.02USD anyway, but what the hell do I know, I just build websites.

    To address the second question, whether we're rich or poor, employed, self-employed, whatever, I think we're all in danger of poverty (whether by unemployment or disaster) that's why it's important to know what you want to do and do it -- and if you "don't know what you want to do" yet, decide on something and see where it takes you -- you have no time to waste in this life.
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    Dec 6 2011: In our current framework of normality, we will suffer - certainly during the transition period between a society that depends heavily on money, to a more enlightened one that has little or no need for it.

    We will suffer because the basic needs of food, drink, heat and shelter will have to become free of charge, or be heavily subsidised, which in a Westernised Society will not happen anytime soon.

    Volunteering is incompatible in today's affluent society because it drives wages down and seems disrespectful of hard-won skills and natural talent. But that is only because we put monetary value on them - which is actually a false value. The real value is what skill and talent can do for self and others. That is priceless.

    This is a great question!
  • Dec 6 2011: Some science fiction I read many years ago was based on food, housing, clothing and medical care being available and what people did with their time then, mostly utopian mush. Dan Pink's presentation on incentive and motivation suggests a scenario that has a lot more results being produced when people are autonomous in their jobs: "a population personally invested in the ends". The ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) model redirects the goal of business from profit making to doing the work, getting the job done, which is what volunteering is all about doing a job that needs to be done so that people are better taken care of. It's certainly a paradigm shift: from job for someone else to take care of one's own needs to volunteer doing things that need to be done for the benefit of others. I seem to see that happening in the job choices of people who have been able to get the education they wanted. The problem becomes how to make education more available. Given computer/internet technology, that problem may not be such a problem. So, maybe we are approaching volunteering as societal working norm already. Now if business and education structure can just catch up. Which, in some few businesses and schools, it already is. It's a start.
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    Dec 2 2011: I read the question more in the vein of whether society's aggregate needs and productivity could be met if everyone worked as they pleased. In the near term, I suggest it would be catastrophic owing to the radical adjustment to where productivity goes, regardless of the final mix. The process of adjustment would be, by conventional measures, ruinous.

    In the longer term, with a more gradual adjustment (by whatever mechanisms), the question would be much more a matter of education and culture. I imagine society could raise the general education level, to a degree that a majority of the population can address a majority of tasks, while still providing enough persons with the interest and skills to attend to extremely specialized areas. Further, in-depth communication and access to information would need to be sufficiently widespread and swift that the public at large could indeed realize what these needs are, and recognize - correctly - what problems are arising.

    As Richard points out, the idea that people 'ought to volunteer' is doomed to failure; success would turn on how well each individual internalizes the concept that they must contribute. The question of employment v. volunteering is one essentially of means, and for the latter to occur it would require, I suggest, a population personally invested in the ends. Volunteer work, after all, isn't done on the premise of needing to volunteer because being paid is unsatisfactory, but rather because people want to help with something specific, and are willing to contribute their time.

    If you can get past the labeling to address the idea, hacker culture and anarchist philosophy have done considerable doing and thinking on the subject, respectively.
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    Nov 29 2011: This strikes a chord that is starting to resonate more and more every day as people are challenged to do what they love. One question I think that needs to be answered is what will it take to sustain your food, clothing, and shelter requirements? If you need six figures to sustain yourself, then you may need to focus more on a job but if you are comfortable with a very modest income, then you may be able to focus more quickly on what you love. It amazes me how the jobs people love pay so little. Also, what sort of "payment" are you seeking? As you mention, some people are motivated by a labor of love and if that is the case, there will always be a "federal reserve" with plenty of money to go around.
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      Dec 1 2011: Thanks Kevin, I like your concept of a "federal reserve of love" haha
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    Nov 28 2011: Latitia,

    One of the best explanations of constructivist civic agency I've seen, provided by Cormac Russell regarding Asset-based Community Development (ABCD):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6EkaMpAgdE&feature=share

    A critical point he makes: "Assets are associational, they are about people coming together to do what they can't do themselves." (....) "And at that local level building, how these are used with physical capital that exists in community." (...) Gov't shouldn't do what community can do, but where community needs coproduction gov't should get out there and help them."

    Andrea
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    Nov 26 2011: Hi Letitia, great topic

    My own opinion is that in the long run, society will benefit form volunteering replacing employment.

    As seen in Dan Pink's talk, in a social environment, monetary reward is not always the best motivator. I would argue too that in the academic field, which is responsible for the majority of our technological advances and progress, monetary reward usually takes second place to the desire to learn, share and get recognition from peers.

    It is a misconception to assume that paid work is more valuable than voluntary work. But not surprisingly, any monetary system will try to reinforce this misconception. Some people will say that volunteer work is great, but that at some point somebody has to pay the bills. But alas!, our dependency on money may not be as strong as some would want us believe.

    So let me imagine an utopic situation: If i had a solar powered house, a patch of land to grow some vegetables and access to water, my dependency on money would be greatly diminished. Maybe I would still have to work to buy a car, or pay for internet or other things that I cannot build myself. But i could work, say, 20 hours a week to cover those expenses. And i could use the other 20 hours of my week as a volunteer helping my neighbors to build their solar panel houses and teaching them how to grow their vegetables and treat their water. Ok, maybe not all of them like solar or vegetables; maybe some of them would like to raise chickens. I could volunteer a bit of my time researching chicken-raising for them.

    Suddenly, they could also free up a part of their time, and I'd like to guess that, having received help before, it wouldn't be outrageous to think that some of them would volunteer too. And so the chain starts.

    So back to the real world. How do we jump start it? It may sound counter-intuitive, but volunteering not only in places with desperate need, but in places where the result can free up the time of more people who can volunteer too

    cheers
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      Nov 27 2011: I think I would make the argument that volunteering your time right now... insures you won't be able to afford a solar panel, an electric motorcycle, or a plot of land. So I would just suggest that it would be better to start getting paid by those industries, or buying their products by getting a job... If we keep letting the standard of living devolve into a a volunteers pitance, no one will be able to afford anything good.
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        Nov 27 2011: Hi David,

        Even in my hypothetical scenario I did not advocate for leaving my current job and volunteering 100% of my time. I suggested achieving partial money independence first, and then investing the resulting extra time in volunteering, and by the way, volunteer in such a way that I can help others can achieve this partial money independence too.

        Now, buying products is not the only way to get them. If you have access to fabrication tools and raw materials, there are lots of products that you don't need to buy. Either because the designs for them are free or because the patents for them have expired.

        Yes you cannot build yourself an ipod today for free, but in 20 years it's patents will become public domain and you could use them (provided you have access to components and raw materials) to build a similar machine without paying any royalties. And if you can build one for yourself, why not build a few more for your friends?

        So the core of my reply is that not only there are many things that money cannot buy, but there are also many things that money could buy but can also be fabricated for free

        cheers
  • Nov 26 2011: The idea is impractical. Employment provides a basis for exchange and sustenance. Volunteering can provide satisfaction and meet the shortfalls of society but not sustenance.

    Volunteers should be appreciated but are open to abuse. The debate implicitly incorporates the idea that volunteering ought to replace employment, which is an oxymoron. It will also open volunteer work to more abuse, in being taken for granted. Society ought to fairly incorporate employed work to meet its needs. For example, private enterprise pays taxes for the government to provide fairly remunerated employment to meet the needs of the society that private enterprise is unable or unwilling to do.
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      Nov 26 2011: Hi Richard.

      Is employed work the only way to meet basic needs? If I am not mistaking, humans solved the problem of meeting these basic needs thousands of years before employment was invented, and even today many people survive without a paid job (and i am not talking about people collecting unemployment checks, but the many native communities as well as people off the grid around the world)

      I do not see the oxymoron. Basic needs can be provided for either through a paid job or through help from volunteers/volunteering helping others
      • Nov 27 2011: "Is employed work the only way to meet basic needs?" Yes, unless you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth or do not mind begging or taking unreasonable advantage of others.

        For the purposes of the debate employment is about an exchange of labour, in part or whole, for goods or services or IOU tokens, including cash. However, it does not have to be just for money. It also includes bartering or simple families sharing duties while living off the land although that is virtually impossible today.

        I suspect disillusionment with the current structure and fairness of employment is being confused with what employment actually is.

        Volunteering does not involve a quid pro quo. The acts of volunteers serving a need not otherwise meet is a very good thing. However, when volunteering is considered a duty then you bring in the idea of a quid pro quo and you have the oxymoron.
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          Nov 27 2011: Hi again Richard,

          Throughout my life I have met many people who meet their basic needs without paid jobs, who were not born with a silver spoon, and who do not beg or take unreasonable (is there a reasonable amount?) advantage of others. So my own answer to the question is still no, it is not the only way.

          I did not mean obligatory volunteering (clearly an oxymoron). But I have done volunteer work before and I can tell you that it is contagious. Does everybody volunteer? not at all. but you only need a fraction of the people to come back for it to work.
      • Nov 27 2011: Andres,

        I am very dubious. Please enlighten me by way of an example.
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          Nov 27 2011: Hi Richard, thousands of people in rural communities in the mexican states of veracruz, chiapas and merida (to mention only a few) live off what they grow and the animals they raise. If you are ever interested i will be more than happy to take you with me in a guided tour.

          But I think you are missing my point. Seems like for you is an "either/or" either you get a job and pay for everything you need or you quit your job and become 100% self sufficient. My point is that you can do both. You can reduce your dependency on a paid job if you can find another way to get your basic needs covered
      • Nov 28 2011: Hi Andre,

        Sorry but it is not a question of self sufficiency. It is a question of volunteer work as opposed remunerated work. Even knowing very little about them I am confident the members of those rural communities each have their own responsibilities that are either imposed or negotiated and so not done on a voluntary basis, which does not mean voluntary work does not exist there.

        Of course you can reduce your dependency on a paid job if you can find another way to get your basic needs covered. That does not necessarily have anything to do with volunteer work.

        It is "either/or". You can do both volunteer work and remunerated work or a combination but work is either done altruistically, which is volunteer work, or for remuneration.
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          Nov 28 2011: Hi Richard. Thanks for your answer. Members of any community in the world have responsibilities towards each other. So your statement about those rural communities is quite generic, it applies to anybody who lives in a group. But as you noted, volunteer work does not go away when people assume responsibilities.

          Let me give two examples and see if that clarifies the confusion:

          Scenario one: On a saturday morning there is a pile of garbage in the middle of zuccotti park and 10 people are sitting in front of it. They start talking about it and the question comes of who could clean it. One of the ten says "ok, i'll do it", and a second follows. they discuss some more to decide how where to transport it. two people have volunteered and they have negotiated the restrictions on how to do the task.

          Scenario two: somebody is in need of some repair in their roof. I happen to run repair shop and to be friends with the person in need. I bring my equipment and volunteer my work to fix his roof without being paid. Instead of having to spend money on his roof, he can either use the extra money on something else or work a few less hours. He may even use those extra hours helping someone else.

          When i did volunteer work in mexico i got satisfaction out of the fact that people in those communities benefited from my work, i got recognition from them and from other volunteers, and i got a lot of knowledge about how they live. It was volunteer work. The remuneration was different from money

          Most paid jobs are full time. I am not advocating that you do volunteer work if you don't want to. For those of us who like to volunteer and give our time in exchange for things other than money, freeing up partially from a full time job by getting part of our basic necessities covered is an awesome opportunity.

          I just wanted to go one more step in proposing that part of this volunteer work can be applied to help free up part of the time of others who would like to volunteer too
      • Nov 28 2011: That is fine Andre, as far as it goes.

        Sure my statement was quite generic, by necessity. That is part of my point. I appreciate that volunteers can do valuable work. I am not anti volunteering.

        But "Would society benefit or suffer from volunteering replacing employment?" That entails an inference that people ought to volunteer. That anyone might like to see more people volunteering is not the point. That people ought to volunteer is misrepresenting what is means to volunteer and there lies the confusion. It is removing the distinction between the very things being differentiated. It is vague.

        It is not the case here but my interest comes about because sometimes people use the idea that others "ought to volunteer" in situations where they are basically abrogating their own responsibilities to get free labour.
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          Nov 29 2011: Hi Richard, now i get your point clearly, thank you for the patience and explanation.

          The reason why we were in two separate channels is because I didn't see in the question the inference that "everybody ought to volunteer".

          In that particular scenario, I am with you: volunteer is, well, something that is done by those who want to do it, can't be forced upon someone. and certainly societies do not benefit form anybody forcing others to do something, even as noble as volunteering.

          But now, please walk with me in the different path that i was going. Volunteer coexisting with paid jobs.

          Imagine I inherit a house. That would make my life so much easier, not having to pay rent or a mortgage! I could easily slash the hours I work because i don't have to spend as much now

          Imagine now that what i decide to do with my free time is to learn how to build houses. I have a group of friends that can cheaply buy an empty lot and are thinking about getting a mortgage and hiring a contractor to build a house for them. If I use my new knowledge and my free time (i still work short hours), would that be of benefit to my group of friends?, And now, not having to get or pay a mortgage for 30 years, all of them could take part time jobs as opposed to full time jobs (for the next 30 years!), and hopefully at least time of that time could extend the volunteer chain a step further. No obligation. It is only my hope that volunteering can be contagious

          Do you see a benefit to society in that scenario? or do you see it going in detriment of society?
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          Dec 1 2011: Thanks Andres for all of the enlightening examples of how volunteering and paid employment can work together!

          @Richard: I in no way meant to imply that people "ought to volunteer" by my question any more than that they "ought to work". Both are different and equally valuable ways of motivating people to perform tasks that need to be done, through different incentives. Both are effective, as we can see from examples of people working regularly at both paid and unpaid jobs in society currently.

          I am interested in whether volunteering could ever provide enough incentive to actually replace employment , but I'm not necessarily saying that it should. As paid employment is the norm I phrased volunteering as an alternative in my question but did not mean to introduce unnecessary bias towards that outcome. In my opinion there are many benefits that come from volunteering that are being missed out on by people who don't have the luxury of volunteering because their jobs take up too much time. Perhaps this is something that we could change for the better?

          Thank you both for the many examples of how the two already co-exist.
      • Dec 1 2011: @Letitia

        Although you did not mean to imply that people "ought to volunteer" I think it is an unavoidable inference. The idea is confused and should be clarified in different terms.

        In my opinion people really "ought to work" in as much as they ought to contribute to society. Volunteering is another thing and cannot replace 'employment'.

        Questioning the social structure in terms of distribution of wealth and fair remuneration for 'employment' is probably more relevant.
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    Nov 22 2011: I tend to think the problem is that you can't get rich, doing anything noble anymore. So I'd say that culture and society have mis alligned their incentive programs... but incentives as a whole are still the right way to motivate human behavior. I'd like to say that part of our problem today is that truly great people, aren't demanding more for their time, but stupid people are... So stupid people are becoming rich famous celebrities... while kind and smart people practically volunteer their time tocorrupt corporations... which isn't helping us.
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    Nov 22 2011: Ideally, yes, society would function better through a volunteer system. Capitalism (the current dominating system) and the personal accumulation of wealth lead to competitiveness which means that while some people climb up the ladder, others get left behind. In a system where people feel most rewarded by contributing to society, we'd need to live in a world where rather than competing to get ahead, everyone is running toward the same goal, and there are symbiotic relationships between everyone. Naturally these goals should be social justice, education, prosperity (for the community), etc.

    So the first step to move toward the kind of society where there is a strong sense of community is to alter the education system, or rather, educate people about the value of contributing to society as opposed to the importance of self-satisfaction. Essentially society needs to be weaned off the Capitalist mentality, slowly. Debra's idea about elderly people volunteering is another good way of making this transition.

    When becoming community centered as opposed to individually centered, however, one must ask: do the benefits of constructing a better society outweigh the freedom of choice that comes from an individualistic society? When bound to contribute to society one of two things can happen: a person is a functional member of the community, is self gratified knowing she is working toward the aforementioned noble common goals and society runs smoothly; on the other hand, there may be a sense that the obligation toward a bunch of strangers is not satisfying enough, and a person will lose drive to contribute. Again, it all goes back to mentality and ideology. The volunteer system is definitely better in theory, but I don't know how much it would work in practice.
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      Nov 23 2011: It is not clear that the "volunteer system is DEFINITELY better in theory" than the "Capitalism system in theory". And DEFINITELY it is not better in practice.

      All the downsides of Capitalism (as we know it now) that you mentioned are just a chance to improve on top of it.

      Jacqueline Novogratz proposes a middle way she calls patient capital, with promising examples of entrepreneurial innovation driving social change.

      (http://www.ted.com/talks/jacqueline_novogratz_a_third_way_to_think_about_aid.html)
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      Nov 24 2011: I'll be a bit evil, and stir up some controversy... but I would say, as a general rule. Most brilliant men would absolutely hate this system... Most brilliant women, would love it... Most men would hate this, most women would love it...

      Brilliant men, don't want to carry society for free. Brilliant women do... because they'll be able to get laid without money... If a man isn't particularly attractive... he won't. Capitalism, is secretly a system designed to get nerds laid, back when men ran the world. It created an incentive program for women sleeping with intelligent, hard working, and creative men, rather than attractive, exciting, and dramatic men.

      The jig is up, those days are long gone... By letting the estate tax, and obscene wealth taxes lapse, we've created an aristocracy, and we've re incentivized pretty celebrity, over intellect, and creativity... So now there is very little connection between hard work, creativity, or intellect, and wealth in america anymore. Was the con of capitalism, a bad idea though? Are we moving in the right direction?... Honestly... I don't think so... but it's tough to argue.
  • Nov 19 2011: It is exploitation but then again, no one wants a job that only offers min. wage even if they don't have the skills for the higher wage jobs. Folks seem to forget that any job, that offers a paycheck, is better then no job at all. I know a fella (26 yrs. old) who applied for a landscaping position at local attraction, he didn't get it & was furious & I do mean furious. He was offered a lower position (min. wage) to just rake up trash etc. but wouldn't take it. It didn't matter that he didn't know anything about landscaping. He felt any fool could landscape. Americans are spoiled when it comes to wages & the types of work they will do. Volunteer work has become big business here-college credits offered etc., while the businesses & gov. save big time & still tax the heck out of us. That's a whole nother story.
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    Nov 18 2011: Great question Letitia and quite frankly this is something I've been thinking about when I read about how anarchist communities function.

    Now before I continue I do not want to come off as if I am advocating anarchism. What I want to show is real life, historical examples of communities working together through mutual aid and cooperation.

    I believe that their is a fundamental aspect of human nature that is in need of creative work and creative inquiry and free creation without the arbitrary force of authoritative institutions. I think societies should be established in a way maximize such possibilities to allow this sort of human characteristic to be realized. It should also focus on overcoming repression, coercion, imperialism, power trips etc.

    For some apparent reason people think that if they receive a profit from their work that they will be "more fulfilled". I do not believe this to be true because the money we usually makes is gone before we know it. By being born in world that values profit, everything we do is about trying to put more money in the piggy bank. What profit does is create a very individualistic world in which people are looking out for their own, so by doing something for the sake of society and from our own good will does not seem conceivable.

    It really is a matter of ones environment and the influences the environment creates. During the Spanish civil war, many regions of Spain was taken over by anarchist and socialist. Many anarchist communities functioned without any form of currency. They simply volunteered and used their different skills that only served to benefit society. They were not concerned about what they were getting from their labor.

    In Freeton Christinia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freetown_Christiania) which is an anarchist community
    there was bombing or riot in 2005 i think. They society came together the next day and fixed up what was damaged without worrying about what they were getting out of it.

    Check it out.
  • Nov 18 2011: As a Baby Boomer speaking only for myself, I assure you many of us are not sitting on our laurels. Most of us can't-we have to have an income of some sort but being that no one wants to really hire us, volunteer work is all we can get. Some of us have craft skills that we put to use to gain a bit more cash flow while others are stuck in a rut.
    I know quite a few younger folks who are of the "parasitic variety" and just refuse to get or even look for work, but they'll volunteer in a heart beat.
    In my opinion, businesses/government offer volunteer positions just to save money and to pay volunteers (like with the Red Cross) for these positions just wouldn't happen. The Red Cross does give out about $650. to it's volunteers who go out on disasters. That money is for personal items for a period of 3 wks. I used to be a Red Cross volunteer.
    In times like we are having now, I agree that paying volunteers would be a great help but the money just isn't there.
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      Nov 19 2011: Your descriptions of retirees turning to volunteering in the absence of work reminds me a bit of my youth when lots of teenagers would volunteer for the exact same reason. In my province, legislature was passed while employment was low that temporarily legalized paying untrained youth (less than 500 hours work experience) less than minimum wage ($6/hr instead of $8/hr) to boost employment and businesses. I tried to get volunteer hours (of which I had 500+) counted towards this requirement and was refused. Volunteers certainly seem to be exploited as a way to save money. In addition, It seems like volunteering specifically exploits the young and the old demographics.
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    Nov 18 2011: The problem with voluntary contribution is that one gets to a point where one asks "what am i getting out of this?" and "why shouldn't I be able to expect as much from others as I provide them with?"
    Soon enough, you'll start evaluating what your contribution is worth. And this is the begining of currency and payrolls.

    I mean, voluntary contribution works among families or small tribes, since bad reputation has severe consequences. Our society is large and full of strangers, and you need something to account for your contribution since people wouldn't know for sure that you're not a fat parasite.
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      Nov 18 2011: Well there is always the sense of community one receives from volunteering. We are after all a very social species and money only has value to a large extent because its partly based on a social currency. I don't think you can get someone to dedicate 40 + hours of their week and not compensate them other than through giving them a sense of belonging, but many people volunteer a good chunk of time each week and accomplish much without thinking of what its worth in monetary value.
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    Nov 18 2011: Wow, it is a brilliant subject!

    I will post here my initial thoughts; they may be diferent in the afternoon when I have more time to think it over:

    So my first impressions are like this: I love the idea, but seriously, I think it has already been tried and failed flat on its face. The systems proposed in the youtube video can only work within a family. The problem with the society is that there are strangers. There have been many attempts at eliminating this obstacle through implementiation of social security for example (pictured best in the Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck) and expanding thus the family relations over the whole of society, but after almost a century of those programs we can clearly say that they haven't made us one great family.

    Volunteering is great but I think that it can only work as a contrast to regular employment. If there was only volunteerism I think it could spoil many people, and there would be free-riding on an immense scale. Perhaps as a species we haven't evolved yet to live in a system like that.

    This isn't the last word from me :)
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      Nov 19 2011: Do you think that globalization has increased our sense of accountability now that we are more able to connect with people in developing countries which are being exploited? Has easier travel and communication expanded our sense of family such that this idea might become more plausible? Do you think we can evolve to live in such a system?