The
Washington Post on November 17th ran a commentary, “Why
I traded a gala gown for cold concrete
,” by
Michelle D. Freeman. She is president and chief
executive of the Carl M. Freeman Cos.,
heads two family foundations, and is also a minority owner of Monumental Sports
& Entertainment, which owns Verizon Center, Washington Wizards, Capitals
and Mystics.
It was a plea for corporate
executives to “rough it” by experiencing what the young and homeless (mainly
teenagers) experience, and to commit an altruistic act by “giving
back” by assuming the responsibility for homeless youth. What follows is a
paragraph-by-paragraph retort, with Freedman’s statements in Italics.
_______________________________________________________________________
Last November, I decided it was time
to rethink the experience of giving. As a chief executive and single working
mother of three, I work hard to be a guidepost for personal values.
When I was a teenager I decided to
become a novelist. I am unmarried, have no children that I know of, and have worked
hard all my adult life to become a publishable novelist. I achieved that goal,
and more, despite a liberal/left culture determined to guarantee my failure. I
never thought it my duty to become anyone’s “guidepost.” I just
wanted to be left alone by the government and by society to pursue my values
and my goals.
But last year I decided to put away
the ball gown for a night and test a new model of corporate giving.
Given the horrific statistics cited
by Miss Freeman, you would think that, because she’s a successful executive, it
would occur to her to get the government out of the economy, and out of the
education of today’s teenagers, and out of colleges, universities, middle
schools, and kindergartens. But Miss Freeman’s own education has trained her to
not look past the observable
suffering to see or formulate more practical and effective solutions, solutions
which would give the objects of her concern freedom and independence from
government dependence and corporate charity. I’m betting that Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Ludwig von Mises Omnipotent Government, and Frédéric Bastiat’s Economic Sophisms and Economic
Harmonies
are not on her recommended reading list, nor on her children’s.
This time last year, I spent a night
sleeping on a bitterly cold concrete street in Southeast Washington. The goal
was to raise money for homeless teens, many of whom were the same age as my
oldest son.
I’ll never forget the way the cold
pierced through all of my layers straight to my bones. I felt awful. I never
fell asleep completely. The noise, the voices of strangers, the thought of rats
and all the activity of the night became frightening and I felt exposed.
Miss Freeman’s concept of acquiring
a dubious virtue and a motive to help the homeless is to spend a
one-night-stand as a kind of third century desert ascetic, or to revel in the
raw realities of Dark Age standards of living, to experience poverty
and austerity first-hand
. Far be it from her to stop and think: Is this
really necessary? Aside from a broken home, what is the root cause of all these
kids living like aimless hobos and cast-offs? Could it have something to do
with government economic and regulatory policies that have made it virtually
impossible for them to find jobs, or their politically correct education which
does not prepare them to live like rational, responsible, productive adults? She
should wonder.
In a few weeks, I’ll do it again.
Apparently, she won’t wonder, and such
a notion will never occur to her.
Here in our nation’s capital, we
have one of the highest rates of youth homelessness in the country. According
to Covenant House Washington, there are more than 1,600 homeless youth in the
District over the course of a given year, far exceeding the 77 beds
specifically reserved for them. Child abuse and neglect are the highest in the
nation, at almost 30 percent, and nearly two out of three teenagers will not
graduate from high school in Wards 7 and 8.
The
National Runaway Switchboard estimates that on any given night there are
approximately 1.3 million homeless youth living unsupervised on the streets, in
abandoned buildings, with friends or with strangers. Homeless youth are at a
higher risk for physical abuse, sexual exploitation, mental health
disabilities, substance abuse, and death. It is estimated that 5,000
unaccompanied youth die each year as a result of assault, illness, or suicide.
No government program is going to
fix that, nor any private charity. The solution to Miss Freeman’s concerns is
not bombarding people with brutal statistics and inculcating in them a sense of
guilt and responsibility, but to take actions that would ensure that children
and teenagers are given the best rational assistance possible so that they may
live fruitful, productive lives – as free individuals. The Washington D.C.
school system, by the way, regardless of the particular Ward, is one of the
worst in the country.
Many of these young people in crisis
turn to shelters such as Covenant House Washington, which gives them a safe
place to sleep, a hot meal, counseling during a time of crisis, workforce and
education training, and above all—the opportunity for a restart.
More than a hot meal, crisis
counseling, and other kinds of training, these young people need to be given a
reason for living, a means of formulating rational values, and, perhaps above
all, taught that society does not owe them a living, that to survive as
individuals and not as dependent clones or creatures of the state, they must be
taught the virtue of selfishness.
Until I participated with other
business leaders in Covenant House’s Executive Sleep Out, it was hard for me to
fully grasp the issue. Perhaps I took for granted the basic needs that I
provide for my own children: a safe home, warm beds, healthy meals, and clean clothes
for school. So many kids in our city won’t receive those things today.
This is a reflection of Miss
Freeman’s cognitive stunting. Safe homes, warm beds, and healthy meals and the
like are the limit of her conceptual awareness of what is needed to raise a
child to become a fully rational, self-sufficient adult. Or is it fully
rational, self-sufficient adults that she wishes to help foster? I suspect not.
I think she is a kind of Mother Teresa ensconced by her inherited wealth on the
other end of the economic scale, a person whose self-worth is tied to, as Ayn
Rand might have put it, how many fingers she has in so many festering sores.
It’s said that Mother Teresa resented and disliked individuals who no longer
needed her help.
It’s
easy to think of homelessness as a faceless issue.
It certainly is. Why should anyone
wish to be faced with youth homelessness every day? Is caring for the homeless
some kind of necessary virtue? A moral imperative? Or perhaps it isn’t supposed
to have anything to do with rational living, it’s just out there, ready to be
embraced by the politically correct and socially conscious, an intrinsic “in-your-face”
social condition which everyone should deal with.
We in the corporate community can
change that.
American businesses can certainly
reduce the amount of homelessness in the country (keeping in mind that many of
the homeless choose that state of existence) by advocating laissez-faire capitalism, by upholding of individual rights,
working for the sanctity of private property, and for the separation of the
state from the economic realm.
Join me on Nov. 21 on the streets of
Southeast to experience for one night the cold reality of the many homeless
young people in the District. Take a stand with me for an issue that is growing
in urgency right here at home. Be a model in giving—for your colleagues, for
your children, and for your community.
Yes, grovel in the filth for your
own good, rub shoulders with the homeless, the hapless, and the helpless,
become a model in giving – and then, thank capitalism, after you’ve experienced
your ration of humility and have rewarded yourself with a gold star of selfless
slumming, that you can rush back to your clean homes and offices and healthy
families. You only need to do it once a year.
While one night of sleeping out
hardly compares to what homeless kids go through every day, I know from
experience that this one night has far-reaching benefits for our young people,
and our community at large.
There’s your woozy wisdom. I would
like to know what those “far-reaching benefits” are, and if our young
people and the community at large (whose community?) really appreciate your
temporary, guilt-ridden, dutiful sacrifice.
If you can’t sleep out, find your
own way to help. Be a mentor. Write a check. Tell a colleague. Just don’t turn
the page without doing something.
If you were not oblivious to the
living conditions of Occupy Wall Street in New York City, and if risking
robbery, rape, murder, or contracting a communicable disease is just too much
to ask while mulling over a stint of slumming with the
“disadvantaged,” then become a “mentor,” or whip out your
checkbook, or let everyone else know just how virtuous they, too, could be if
they joined you on the cold concrete in Southeast Washington D.C.
As leaders of this business
community, we can all point to a person that set us on our own path to success.
Now is the time to be that person for someone else.
I can point to several individuals
who inspired me to follow my own path to success, but not one of them is an
altruist or guilt-ridden success like Bill Gates. Or Michelle Freeman.
________________________________________________________________________
So,
Michelle Freeman spent “a night in the box.”* From this visceral
experience
she claims the right to piously lecture other business
executives on the “uplifting” worthiness of experiencing the
conditions of their objects of charity. Freeman is unfortunately typical of the
beneficiary of inherited wealth. The Carl M. Freeman Companies are a sizable
real estate development organization specializing in apartment buildings,
townhouses, and single family homes, begun in the late 1940’s by Freeman’s
father-in-law. As so often happens with successful private enterprises, the heirs of the
founders turn altruist and support government policies that make it difficult
if not impossible for other ambitious individuals to succeed.
Michelle
Freeman’s call to the “cold concrete” fits into the Left’s establishment
mantra of focusing on victimhood and not on success or achievement, as
columnist Thomas Sowell so ably discusses in his article, “The War Against
Achievement
.”  
But to celebrate him [the
achiever] in the mainstream media today would undermine a whole ideological
vision of the world — and of the vast government bureaucracies built on that
vision. It might even cause people to think twice about giving money to
able-bodied men who are standing on street corners, begging. The last thing the
political left needs, or can even afford, are self-reliant individuals. If such
people became the norm, that would destroy not only the agenda and the careers
of those on the left, but even their flattering image of themselves as saviors
of the less fortunate.
I
could not learn if Michelle Freeman or any of her colleagues donated to either of
Barack Obama’s presidential election campaigns, however her philosophy of “giving”
until it literally hurts fits into his agenda of transforming the country into
minimum security prison makes it too likely. I would not be surprised to hear Obama
proposing to draft all those homeless teenagers into a 21st century
version of the Civilian Conservation Corps, FDR’s answer to unemployment and
homelessness (also caused and aggravated by government economic and regulatory policies).
America
business “leaders” should stop looking for ways of doing penance for
their success, and start advocating a political philosophy of freedom and individual
self-reliance. Experiencing a taste of hard-scrabble existence benefits no one
but the person who feels guilty about his success.
*A
repeated line in the floorwalker’s
monologue
from Stuart Rosenberg’s Cool
Hand Luke
(1967), set in a Southern prison/ chain gang camp. The
“box” was a narrow, vertical, suffocating shack in which a prisoner
was put as punishment for the slightest infractions of camp rules.