A former Chilean student of mine was preparing her presentations for a week-long seminar in Palestine working with kids who have cancer. I was helping her, and nonchalantly asked if they were paying her for her time. She looked at me and said (kindly), “You Americans, you think everything is about money.” She sort of chuckled and smiled at me. I thought about what she said quite a bit, and am still thinking about it years later. She is so right. Don’t get me wrong, I have always enjoyed volunteering and money has never been a strong motivator for me. But we as a nation are raised to believe that anything worth doing is worth profiting from. The up side I suppose is being able to see opportunities when they show themselves, but it seems we take it too far and look for cash around every corner.
Take for example the parking situation in Chicago. When I left there six years ago they were busy implementing a new concession for the meters. A private company paid a way too small sum to the city and were granted years of control over the system. They extended the evening parking meter hours to much later, included Sundays – which had never been acceptable before – jacked up prices, installed complicated credit card machines that force people to stand in line on the sidewalk as well as hand out their personal information, (which also handily prevents good Samaritans from dropping a quarter in a nearly expired old-fashioned meter), and installed meters in neighborhoods that are either experiencing high levels of poverty or are on the brink – some of which get spray-painted in black paint by the locals, rendering them useless. The city is also forced to pay the company if and when they have to shut down a street for road construction due to LOST POTENTIAL INCOME! What exactly is the benefit to citizens? There is none. Soon enough they’re going to start to tax bike riders and force you get a license to ride and insist that you pay for insurance.
That was just the first example I thought of. I’m sure you’ve got plenty more you could name if you come from that country. Hand out food to the homeless? The horror! Public internet? What is wrong with you! Affordable higher education? You must be a commie.
I recall writing a song when I was eight about corporations or government plans in the future to cover up the sky with a giant, metal dome and we’d have to pay to open up segments of it to get a glimpse of the sky. Pretty sad thought for an eight year old kid, but doesn’t seem too far off to me these days. You may soon find me constructing a recycled bottle raft island complete with a garden and mini solar-powered desalination processors setting myself adrift at sea.