Jewish World Review May 27, 1999 /11 Sivan 5759
The real public service
(JWR) ---- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com)
EVERY YEAR ABOUT THIS TIME, big-government liberals stand up in front of
college commencement crowds across the country and urge the graduates to do
the noblest thing possible -- become big-government liberals.
That isn't how they phrase it, of course. Commencement speakers express
great reverence for "public service," as distinguished from narrow private
"greed." There is usually not the slightest sign of embarrassment at this
self-serving celebration of the kinds of careers they have chosen -- over
and above the careers of others who merely provide us with the food we eat,
the homes we live in, the clothes we wear and the medical care that saves
our health and our lives.
What I would like to see is someone with the guts to tell those students:
Do you want to be of some use and service to your fellow human beings? Then
let your fellow human beings tell you what they want -- not with words, but
by putting their money where their mouth is.
You want to see more people have better housing? Build it! Become a builder
or developer-- if you can stand the sneers and disdain of your classmates
and professors who regard the very words as repulsive.
Would you like to see more things become more affordable to more people?
Then figure out more efficient ways of getting thousands of things from the
producers to the consumers at a lower cost. That's what a man named Richard
Sears did a century ago. In the process he rose from near poverty to become
one of the richest men around.
Was that the "greed" that you have heard your classmates and professors
denounce so smugly? If so, it has been "greed" that has repeatedly brought
prices down and thereby brought the American standard of living up.
Back at the beginning of this century, only 15 percent of American families
had a flush toilet. Not quite one-fourth had running water. Only three
percent had electricity and one percent had central heating. Only one
American family in a hundred owned an automobile.
By 1970, the vast majority of those American families who were living in
poverty had flush toilets, running water and electricity. More than 40
percent of those in poverty had automobiles, more than half had central
heating and virtually all had refrigerators, which not even the affluent had
By the end of the twentieth century, more Americans were connected to the
Internet than were connected to a water pipe or a sewage line at the
beginning of the century. More families have air-conditioning today than had
This didn't come about because of the politicians, bureaucrats, activists
or others in "public service" that you are supposed to admire. No nation
ever protested its way from poverty to prosperity or got there through
rhetoric or bureaucracies.
It was Thomas Edison who brought us electricity, not the Sierra Club. It
was the Wright brothers who got us off the ground, not the Federal Aviation
Administration. It was Henry Ford who ended the isolation of millions of
Americans by making the automobile affordable, not Ralph Nader.
Those who have helped the poor the most have not been those who have gone
around loudly expressing "compassion" for the poor, but those who found ways
to make industry more productive and distribution more efficient, so that
the poor of today can afford things that the affluent of yesterday could
only dream about.
The wonderful places where you are supposed to go to do "public service"
are as sheltered from the brutal test of reality as you have been on this
campus for the last four -- or is it six? -- years. In these little cocoons,
all that matters is how well you talk the talk. People who go into the
marketplace have to walk the walk.
Multicultural cultists may talk about building bridges between cultures,
but if you want a real bridge that will get you across real water without
getting wet, you had better turn to engineers who have been trained in that
nasty Western, linear way of thinking and acting that you have been told to
look down on.
Colleges can teach many valuable skills, but they can also nourish many
dangerous illusions. If you really want to be of service to others, then let
them decide what is a service by whether they choose to spend their
hard-earned money for
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©1999, Creators Syndicate