In Don Merritt's recent letter defending the Peace Corps ("Peace Corps Not About Morality or Money," Reader Feedback, Vol. 8 No. 25, July 1-7), Mr. Merritt claims that Peace Corps members are not motivated by financial gain. They are "not in it for the money".
Reading Mr. Merritt's letter I was reminded of the time when I met a group of Peace Corps volunteers in a local bar. They complained bitterly about the high price of beer in local (Bratislava) pubs. They explained that they received a local wage and that the prices outside Bratislava were considerably cheaper.
I remember thinking at the time that they were being rather demonstrative about their freely-chosen poverty. Much as if a monk were to complain about the wearing of his hair shirt. Virtue is much less virtuous when it is paraded about as if it were a medal.
At any rate, if being a Peace Corps volunteer is so great a financial hardship as Mr. Merritt and others make out, we can draw a few conclusions about the individuals who choose to join.
As children from lower middle class or working class families cannot afford to lose income, those who belong to the Peace Corps will tend to come from more prosperous families.
That would mean, for example, that Peace Corps members would be, on average, more likely to members of the Republican Party than a randomly chosen American. A good sociologist could make many other predictions on the basis of the financial loss which volunteers suffer.
Suffice it to say that, given the increasing gap between rich and poor in America, Peace Corps members must be increasingly unrepresentative of the population as a whole.
I am reminded of a Slovak proverb recently featured in the Spectator - trafena hus zagága (the struck goose squawks).
15. Jul 2002 at 0:00