Giving Back

In the latter years of my tenure at a tax-funded think-tank, our CEO established a “community service” program so that our professional staff of well-paid, mostly white, economists, mathematicians, and scientists could “give back to the community.” The “community” to which the aforementioned professionals gave “service” did not, of course, comprise well-paid, white professionals.

I am confident that the targets of our CEO’s “social consciousness” paid only a minuscule fraction of the taxes that funded the nicely appointed offices, high salaries, and generous benefits enjoyed by our professionals. “Giving back” to the “community” that actually supported them would have involved mowing lawns, tutoring, and babysitting for mostly white, middle- and upper-income professionals in other parts of the D.C. area than the one selected by our CEO as the “community” to which to “give back.”

If the services provided by our professional staff in exchange for their splendid offices, salaries, and benefits had been worth their weight in taxes, there would have been no need for those professionals to “give back” to any community. Taxpayers would have received their money’s worth, and that would have been that.

Our CEO either felt guilty about his huge office, princely salary, and obscene benefits or he thought that the think-tank wasn’t giving taxpayers fair value for their money. As he would have been the last person in the United States to admit that the think-tank wasn’t delivering fair value, I can only conclude that his yearning to “give back” arose from feelings of guilt, which he projected onto his employees — many of whom undoubtedly had similar feelings. For, even as the CEO pressed his employees to “give back,” he sought to justify the spending of more tax dollars on better quarters and higher compensation for the think-tank and its employees (himself included, of course).

Feelings of guilt aren’t confined to those who feed at the public trough, of course. CEOs and senior executives of large corporations have a good thing going for themselves — which they owe to their chummy relations with boards of directors — and they know it. Thus the impetus for private-sector “giving back.”

In summary, “giving back to the community” is either an unnecessary act — because “the community” already has received fair value for its money — or it is emblematic of guilt. In the first instance, “giving back” is really an act of charity, which comes at the expense of those who pay for a company’s products (i.e., taxpayers or consumers). In the second instance, “giving back” is really a false act of contrition and an inadequate, misdirected form of atonement for executive avarice.

Having said all of that, I must add this: In the era of bailouts that is now upon us, there is much to be said for “giving back” by bankers, U.S. auto makers, members of the UAW, and defaulting mortgagors — to name a few of the recent and prospective additions to the already vast roster of government clients. That these new clients, like their predecesssors, will not “give back” is, of course, a foregone conclusion.

Moreover, if the present regime has its way there will be some kind of “national service” program which (through tax incentives if not downright conscription) will divert resources from useful (i.e., marketable) ends to “socially conscious” (i.e., government-dictated) ones. “National service,” in other words, is assuredly not a means of “giving back.” It is, rather, a means of taking away — of stealing time and opportunities from those who are conscripted into it, of stealing money from those whose incomes are conscripted (taxed) to support it.