Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Voluntary Commitment

It takes a great deal of chutzpah to launch-with great fanfare and an Uncle Sam replica of the old WW11 poster-a campaign to increase volunteerism during the country's biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. But Mike Bloomberg certainly knows from chutzpah, and has done just that. As City Room reported yesterday: "From now on, it will be easier for New Yorkers to offer a helping hand. Heeding President Obama’s call for boosting Americans’ engagement in civic service, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced a series of programs and partnerships on Monday to encourage volunteerism among city residents."

What's that old saying about imitation being the sincerest form of fakery? Whatever! The economic timing may not be the best, but the political coatailing is exquisite. As City Room points out: "The announcement came on the eve of Mr. Obama’s signing of the Serve America Act, which will expand AmeriCorps, the nation’s civilian service force, from 75,000 to 250,000 members per years over five years. The legislation essentially mobilizes what former President George W. Bush used to call “armies of compassion” to undertake some of the country’s most urgent social challenges, like shoring up communities hard hit by the recession."

But, as the NY Post underscores, the army of volunteers may be an unwanted diversion from the harsh reality of simply trying to make a living in NYC: "More than a quarter of New Yorkers are spending half their money on rent, Rep. Anthony Weiner said yesterday. He said data shows there are now more than 572,000 people in the city who have to shell out half their income on rental housing. That's up more than 82,000 in six years. "It is a startling proof point . . . that New York is more and more a difficult place to live," said Weiner.

What folks can be doing to make this a better place to live-as millions of enterprising people have done in the past to make America's free enterprise system the greatest economic engine in history-is to start businesses and employ New Yorkers; a point that is made with bite by many of the commenters to the City Room story: "Maybe Bloomberg can volunteer himself to find people what they need right now: JOBS."

And the way to do this is not by employing hundreds, and spending millions on re-election self promotion; or a "five borough economic plan" that elides the fact that NYC is one of the most expensive place to start a business-even more so since Mike Bloomberg came in on his tax raising broom eight years ago. What we need is a mayor who understands that lowering the costs of government is the first step towards economic recovery; and who knows that creating an army of volunteers in the current economic climate is at best cosmetic, but at worst a Machiavellian diversion from the current mayor's failure to have prepared the city for this crisis,