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This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by James LaRue. (Some columns are missing; some I have not posted because I don't have a clue what the dates were.)

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, provided attribution is provided. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, May 10, 2000

May 10, 2000 - Boy Scouts and the Public Sector

I was, briefly, a Cub Scout. I quit after about a year, mostly because we never got around to doing all the things I though Scouts were supposed to do -- go camping, for instance.

Instead, we made necklaces out of pennies, and spent hours practicing military drills in the basement of the Methodist church. I even won a neckerchief clasp for winning a "drill off " -- correctly doing right, left, and about faces longer than anyone else in the den. I'm still not sure just why we were doing that.

Over the years, I've met a number of Eagle Scouts -- the ones who have made it all the way through the badges. I respect them. I hire them whenever I can, because I know that what they start, they finish.

I've been thinking about these things after hearing a presentation about the Scouts at a recent Rotary meeting. Scoutmaster Mike Kruger passed around several scout manuals.

The oldest, featuring a striking cover of a transparent Indian chief rising from a campfire, was the fifth printing of the Handbook, published in 1948. I turned to the section on citizenship, and found this:

"What Others Have Done for You

"Your heritage has not been won in battles alone. The electric light, the telephone, the many advantages you enjoy are possible because of someone's hard work and sacrifice -- for you.

"The school you attend was built and is maintained so that you may have a better chance....

"Libraries, museums, and other institutions are maintained for your benefit. Scouting experiences are available to you because of the unselfish service of many people eager to help boys."

By the 11th edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, published in 1998, a somewhat different message was in evidence:

"Every time you run across a playground, visit a museum or a zoo, or read a book in a library, you are using community resources... Of course, a library without readers has no purpose. A zoo without visitors won't stay open long. A concert hall lacking an audience is doomed to close. You can help keep community resources full of life by using them."

Between these two passages I see profound shift in the value of the public sector. In the first, post-World War II version, the idea is that adults care so much about the opportunities afforded their young, that they were willing to sacrifice to build important institutions.

By just before the year 2000, the message about the public sector is this: Use it, or lose it.

I detect other differences as well. Earlier versions of the Boy Scout Handbook focus on responsibilities: your obligations as a citizen, an emphasis on honor, a respect for the labor of your elders. Later versions focus instead on your rights and freedoms.

To put the matter financially, it's the difference between advising people to work hard to build up a solid savings account, or urging them to go on a shopping spree.

This is not to say that those were the good old days, and these are the bad. The post-War years were also a time of political machines, McCarthyism, and worse.

Nor is it my intent to denigrate the private sector. The American standard of living is unparalleled on the planet -- the innovations and productivity of the private sector is the primary reason.

But I think our society is heading for trouble in the rising sentiment that all public institutions are inherently flawed, coercive, dirty, doomed, or irrelevant. Public service, like private industry, depends upon a pool of talent. As I listen to people chatting in restaurants and coffee shops, it's surprising how often I hear people speak ill of government. All government.

If we parents consistently send this message to our children, we not only unravel some important elements of community, we also turn away the best and brightest of the next generation from a possible career in the public sector.

If we succeed, I can guarantee that the next folks who pick up the reins of power will not be good scouts.

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