The First Lady is now asking businesses to allow their employees to work with young people -- during the work day
. The program would be administered by the federal office that oversees volunteerism.
Make no mistake: I think it's important for young people to have mentors, and -- like many others -- I have volunteered my time in order to do so.
But the First Lady's request smacks either of ignorance or arrogance. Does she not understand that asking companies simply to let their employees off work costs businesses money? Or does she just not care, believing that the "good works" she envisions are more important than the economic activity productive businesses generate?
Whatever the reason, it strikes me that it's not the First Lady's place to pressure businesses to engage in activities that are tangential to their reason for being. It's a little like asking them to submit to a "voluntary" tax increase, as her program does nothing for the companies besides cost them money. And note that many, many companies already do a lot for their communities without input from the Obama White House.
If she wants to encourage individual Americans to volunteer on their own time, then all the better. Volunteerism is part of the American way -- but not when it's subsidized by businesses as the result of a government pressure campaign. After all, companies are ultimately in business to provide goods and services, so that they may make money, which is what allows them to hire new employees and (this is no doubt the part that will appeal most to the Obamas) pay more in taxes.
Sometimes I think the Obamas have no real belief in or respect for the importance of the private sector and what it does. Half-baked ideas like this one only reinforce that perception.