When my wife and I took our evening stroll last night, the town was littered with trash. Crisp bags, soda bottles, empty cans, fast food wrappers, soft drink cups lined the pedestrian areas and covered the Carfax like drifting leaves.
I’m growing used to such sights, so we were halfway through our walk before I remarked that there seemed to be more garbage lying in the streets than usual, to which my wife responded, “The kids are off from school for spring break.”
This isn’t going to turn into one of those cranky rants about litter and/or “these kids today,” so hear me out: this morning, as I walked the same route to the bus stop, it was spotless. All the trash was gone, the bins emptied (as if they needed it) and all I saw were a few council employees with their sweepers, scrubbers and leaf blowers packing up and moving on to their next job.
Now, I get up pretty early and I catch the first bus of the day, so these guys (and gals) are up even before I am, scrubbing, sweeping, cleaning and making the town presentable. As always, I gave them a silent nod of thanks as I walked by; without them, the picturesque market square would look like a Guatemalan shanty town.
We owe these people—and others like them, those who staff our libraries, work in our leisure centers, maintain our countryside and see to your son’s broken arm—a huge debt of gratitude. And a salary, which is where the government and I part company. They think a great way to save money is to fire all these people—and others like them—and rely on volunteers to do the work. They are calling it, “The Big Society” and, while they dress it up as a “let’s all pull together” initiative, what it amounts to is attempting to rebuild Britain with slave labor.
Volunteerism has its place, but you can’t run a country as a hobby. I am not espousing any particular political belief, just stating a fact: If you want services, you have to pay for them (as we used to say, “Ass, grass or gas, nobody rides for free.”); volunteers, as the name suggests, don’t actually have to show up for work and the proponents of this scheme may find enthusiasm waning once the “workers” discover that “satisfaction of a job well done” is not, in fact, regarded as legal tender.
So as I wandered toward the bus stop, through the pristine town bathed in the glorious dawn of a new tax year, I was at once grateful for the lack of litter and those who made it possible, and a bit fearful that, in the future, I will be making this trek knee-high in garbage.