The Great Panda Debate

Recent posts from our readers forum.
Dec. 9 1999 3:30 AM

The Great Panda Debate

(Continued from Page 3)

To Doug, I'd say that most of the largest non-profits have long since signed on to the Federal gravy train. About a third of their revenues (on average) now come from the US Treasury (or its state equivalents), along with lots of strings that significantly compromise their independence. And I have not run across any of them that would prefer an end to these arrangements. One now even finds conservatives and libertarians proposing to expand them under the headings of "charitable choice" and "school vouchers."

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So, the real issue is not whether AmeriCorps somehow violates the integrity of the nation's voluntary associations, but whether it offers any advantages over our current ways of doing so. I think it does. On balance, I'd rather offer to the nation's charities people to do their bidding than grants to do government's bidding. That's probably cheaper too.

To Harris, I would say that large numbers of AmeriCorps participants do not a successful program make. Nor do the records of their "accomplishments," which the Corporation scrupulously collects, since such studies do not usually reveal if these results might have occurred anyway (i.e., through other sources of volunteers) or how valuable or long-lasting they are. And while Harris is undoubtedly sincere in saying the Corporation tries to be the "junior partner" in its relationship with its grantees, long experience watching non-profits pursue government support makes me more than a little skeptical.

I think AmeriCorps is valuable because it offers people--especially our nation's young people--an opportunity to devote an intensive period of their lives to giving something back to their society and learning the civic skills upon which our voluntary tradition relies. Even with volunteering at record levels (56 percent of Americans say they are so engaged, according to the latest Gallup survey), I think we have to take steps to ensure that the spirit upon which it (and much else that's worthwhile) depends is transmitted from generation to generation. AmeriCorps is one way of doing this (and by no means the only one) and can be redesigned so that both Doug and Harris would feel more comfortable that charities, not government, are really calling the shots.

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Subject: Aussies Ain't Gents

Date: Mon Dec 6

As the Robert Thomson mentioned in your McLaughlin tidbit, I would like to make clear that I am not a "courtly Brit" but an uncouth Australian. Under normal circumstances, being referred to as an "honorable gentleman" would be considered flattery but, where I come from, it's an insult.

(To reply, click here.)

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