The Roads of Voluntarism
Beware of fashionable slogans, for example, "Full employment is over; Long live full activity!" or the notion that volunteer work (which some say is another word for moonlighting) supplies deficiencies or cracks in the market and the State:
- by assuring activity to the unemployed,
- by filling social needs not covered by marketed or unmarketed services.
Lionel Prouteau warns us against the easy inference that these volunteer activities should be encouraged by concessions, subsidies and tax breaks.
First point: Volunteers are not primarily those who have time on their hands, such as retired persons and the unemployed. They come mainly from the "upwardly mobile" who already enjoy not only social status but even a substantial competence. This raises the question of their motivation.
Prouteau acknowledges that a concern to satisfy some needs (including those felt by the volunteers themselves) is in first place, followed by the desire to forge closer social links and to feel some satisfaction in the recognition of their skills. This is obvious since most volunteers are university graduates, socially well-integrated. In brief, they are recruited mainly from among those who run the system rather than those who have been excluded from it.
This is not to deny the social utility of voluntarism. Prouteau's intent is quite to the contrary. We must nevertheless understand that the primary motivation of the volunteer is self-promotion. The gift elicits a counter-gift, he writes, but we should not mistake its nature: the reward is recognition in lieu of remuneration. This means that any underwriting of the costs of managing and developing the volunteer sector must be done with dexterity and subtlety, for "any drift toward monetary compensation, direct or indirect, would risk weakening the basis of commitment".
In other words, let us applaud voluntarism. But we should not expect these activities to reduce unemployment or be regarded merely as jobs.