Will you give or will they take it from you?
I can offer my skills to those whom I believe are in need of them for free, or at subsidised prices, the subsidy being paid by a wealthy benefactor. When I do offer pro bono services, the end might be publicity for my practice, more clients against who the full freight will be levied. That is the market economy we are encouraged to enter by one and all, from parents to teachers, politicians to godmen. So where do we get off calling hungry market-oriented buccaneers selfish and cold when all they did is follow the advice of their parents, teachers, political leaders and preachers?
It is instilled in us that there are no free lunches; someone always pays the tab. This is true whether I am a billionaire private developer or a pauper on his last legs. A service or good has to be paid for by someone. It is also instilled in us that "the less fortunate" are in need of our charity. The challenge has always been finding the balance, to paraphrase an adage, between feeding someone some fish or teaching them to fish so that they can feed themselves for life. That balance is defined by the rhetoric of market forces and religious faith.
In the Twenty-first Century, when many institutions are in shambles, the individualisation of ambition and moral values seems to be tipping the balance away from charity and more towards egotistical greed. "The less fortunate" are increasingly bombarded with messages of how their less fortunate statuses are their fault for not being ambitious enough or educated enough or willing to sacrifice enough. It does not occur to those who would abjure charity that matters are not as simple as that, not as black-and-white as that. There are situations and circumstances over which individual will, strength of character, ambition or opportunity offer no advantage, when the overwhelming forces of both and nature stand against you. In these cases, and in millions more lesser ones, charity...alms...make for a vital part of the capitalist, market-driven model.
Yes, the Law Society is right to demand a portion of the hours I labour for which it will not compensate me. Even if it insists that I pay my own way while offering pro bono legal advice, I shall not mumble under my breath about the inconvenience of it all. It is the price I pay for being the success that I am in a society in which opportunity is not available in equal measure to all and all too frequently my successes come at the expense of the opportunities for others. It is the reminder that humility is not a handicap, and that hubris is the road to utter ruination. Market-driven models risk Icarus-like disaster when they ignore Daedalus's wise words of caution. If the Great Recession did not do anything to temper our greed, nothing ever will.