Thursday, June 09, 2005

"Giving Back to the Community"...

...rankles every time I read or hear it. Generally, a person whose income isn't derived from tax dollars already has "given back" by providing goods and services that are valued by the persons who receive and pay for those goods and services.

It's another story if a person works for a tax-supported institution, as did I for 30 years...

In the latter years of my employment at a defense think-tank, our CEO established a "community service" program so that we well-paid, mostly white, professionals could "give back to the community." The "community" to which we gave "service" was not well-paid, mostly white, or professional, of course.

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

If the services we provided in exchange for our splendid offices, salaries, and benefits had been worth what taxpayers were paying for them, there would have been no need for us 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, high salary, and princely benefits or he thought that our 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 we weren't delivering fair value, I can only conclude that his yearning to "give back" to the community arose from feelings of guilt, which he projected onto his employees. For, even as he was pressing us to "give back," he constantly sought to justify the spending of more tax dollars on better accommodations and higher compensation for himself and the rest of us.

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. In the second instance, "giving back" is really a false act of contrition and an inadequate, misdirected form of compensation for executive avarice.