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Letitia Falk

Lab Technician/Recent MSc graduate, University of British Columbia


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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:


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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.

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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.

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