Social Question

harple's avatar

If services/facilities are available as a result of your being a member of an organisation, but you choose not to use them, do you therefore have a good argument for paying a reduced membership fee?

Asked by harple (10441points) October 5th, 2012

Let’s assume that the services/facilities are within reasonable distance for you to attend, and at reasonable hours.

Taking it further, do you have a right to ask for your subs to go towards areas other than those services/facilities as you don’t use them?

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26 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

It is unreasonable for an organization to have to fine tune its membership fees, unless there is a large minority with the same issues.

What’s “subs to go towards areas other than those…” mean?

emilianate's avatar

It’s a great argument but it will fall on deaf ears unless you find/negotiate a flexible membership or find a specific service instead of a package deal.

The same problem comes up when you don’t make use of government services (public services) yet are required to pay for all of it against your will. If you go to a private school, use private transportation, private garbage pickup, and so on, you’re still required to pay for the public option even though you don’t make use of it.

harple's avatar

@gailcalled “What’s “subs to go towards areas other than those…” mean?”

It means can you ask for your particular membership fee amount to not be spent on the services/facilities you don’t use, but to be used elsewhere within the organisation.

Seek's avatar

No. The membership is intended to furnish all of the benefits of said membership for all members, not just the members that choose to use them. I’m sure there are portions of any organisation (I’m thinking of the YMCA in particular, but just because I’m familiar with it) that not everyone uses. For example, you might not have kids to drop off on Movie Night, but then I might not be interested in the basketball court.

We all pay the same membership rate. That rate pays both the children’s activity facilitator and the guy that maintains the basketball court.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Unless the organization is set up to manage the services and facilities by an a la carte method, most likely not. That type of organization requires a high maintenance system in order to track who is privy to what.

wonderingwhy's avatar

I guess it depends on how it’s set up. Ideally yes. If you’re a member but don’t use a particular service that portion should be refunded to you. But most aren’t, or can’t be, built that way. I have to buy food for the number of guests who bought tickets, the money is already spent. The fact that you didn’t eat doesn’t change that the money you paid for your ticket is gone. However you might be able to negotiate before hand on specific services (I’ve done so with HOA’s before – not for “improvements” there isn’t much to be done there, but for “services”) and some organizations allow you to “direct” your contributions. The one’s I’ve dealt with who allow that are usually up front about it, but you can always ask.

DrBill's avatar

You have the right to ask, but the organization is not obligated to approve your request.

harple's avatar

Thank you all – just to clarify, (though I’m pleased that I haven’t shown a bias in my question) I am asking on behalf of the organisation in this instance.

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t think so. Membership privileges are offered in good faith, and a dues-paying member can avail himself of them but has no obligation to do so. Anyone who doesn’t want to pay dues need not join the organization.

I would not expect to find that the benefits of membership could be itemized line by line, with a dollar value attached to each; rather, I would expect that some memberships turned out to be priced relatively low because nobody actually uses everything the facility offers, and others have a built-in contribution that is simply a donation to the organization. My member subscription to the opera results in a bargain rate for tickets. My membership in a museum mostly amounts to a donation because I am not actually reducing the supply of anything and causing an expenditure when I visit the exhibits. All I can really decide is what they’re worth to me, and pay them or not, but I can’t demand that the organization justify a dollar-by-dollar fee and prorate my use of its privileges accordingly. That would be a ridiculous burden to place on any organization.

Some groups offer memberships at different levels for different rates. Those ought to be alternatives enough for anyone who requires them.

marinelife's avatar

No. The organization and its facilities are all of a piece. You become a member of the whole thing. There is no cafeteria membership.

SavoirFaire's avatar

No, this would not provide a good argument for paying a reduced membership fee. The membership fee is what it is in part because it is understood that not all members will avail themselves of all services. Moreover, it does not seem to be in any particular member’s interest to complain about the services that they do not use. Any organization that took such arguments seriously might wind up severely limiting the services they offer. This could lead to greater competition among members for access to the remaining services, the removal of services that cater to one’s own niche interests, and/or an increase in membership fees as members leave due to the loss of their favorite services (thus undermining the original motivation of reducing one’s own payment).

@emilianate Not only is it not a great argument, your comparison with governmental services merely highlights what’s wrong with it. The mistaken assumption is that nothing of which you do not personally avail yourself could possibly provide you a benefit. This is false. Public education is still beneficial to those who pursue private education. It is also beneficial to those without children.

Would you prefer to have swarms of school-aged children roaming the streets during the day because their parents cannot afford private education? Would you prefer to increase the likelihood that those children will become delinquents by removing one of the most effective means of deterring that outcome? Would you prefer that a child born into poverty who nevertheless has the potential to cure cancer if only provided with an education be prevented from bettering the world?

The private transportation example doesn’t make much sense given that most forms of public transportation are actually private businesses that may or may not be subsidized (the term “public transport” comes from the fact that people are transported along with strangers). But the private garbage pickup example suffers from the same problem as the private education one. We all benefit from public trash pickup being affordable enough that we don’t live in places where trash gets strewn about everywhere.

We benefit from all sorts of things that we do not directly use. I benefit from the fact that my university provides free flu shots to the undergraduates, for instance, because it reduces my chances of catching something from them. It is only the shortsighted who fail to realize that the good of others is their own good as well.

Trillian's avatar

No. Hell no. I was totally going to rip into t his but @Jeruba and @SavoirFaire articulated my sentiments much more nicely and without the sarcasm that I feel about to spill over.

Sunny2's avatar

It would not be practical to bill each member only for the benefits that person used. Someone would have to compile what was used and how much to bill. And another someone to produce the individualized bills. Of course you could simply pay on the spot for what you used, but I don’t think many club or organization members would agree to that. Perhaps you’re not the kind of person who should be in that kind of group.

Jeruba's avatar

@Trillian, don’t deprive us of your sarcasm. I nearly always find it entertaining because I’m nearly always in agreement with it. (Not so sure I’d enjoy feeling the tip of your unblunted foil.)

Trillian's avatar

@Jeruba I’ll link you the next time I feel provoked. It’s a few hours later now, and my rickety old ass is too tired to dredge up the sincerity.
Thanks for the verbal thumbs up though. That really helps.

harple's avatar

Thank you – Just to reiterate something I wrote halfway up ^ ^:

“to clarify, (though I’m pleased that I haven’t shown a bias in my question) I am asking on behalf of the organisation in this instance.”

So @Trillian please do rip in to this if you see fit, just don’t direct it thinking I’m the fussy member. And @Sunny2 – again, not me.

This is something I need help with as Chair of a charity, but I couldn’t put my bias across in the initial question as I wanted to get people’s genuine feelings to find out if my own thoughts have any foundation or not.

augustlan's avatar

Absolutely not. It’s like an all you can eat buffet. Just because you don’t eat every type of food available, no one is going to cut you a break on the price. As @SavoirFaire correctly points out, a part of determining the price is based on knowing that not everyone will eat every food.

As to directing that your money be spent only on items you will directly benefit from, let’s take the buffet analogy a step further. Allowing buffet restaurant goers to pick and choose what their money is spent on could eventually result in a very limited and nonsensical menu. Who wants to go to an all you can eat buffet consisting of only, say, pickled beets, beef tongue, scrambled eggs and orange jello? That restaurant will quickly find itself out of business, I suspect. It’s just not a sustainable model.

Trillian's avatar

@harple You’re lovely. And I’m very pleased that this is not you. My irritation is directed towards those who have that attitude. They sign up for whatever, knowing the terms and conditions going in, then they want special compensation because they don’t use/consume x, y, and z and therefore consider themselves entitled to partial refunds or considerations.
There are far too many people who have such ridiculous, insupportable entitlement issues. If I allow myself to get caught up in thinking about it, I’ll start to have fantasies of cartoon-ish violence involving pies, anvils and giant sling shots.

emilianate's avatar


We (me for sure) would benefit from public schools, public trash pickup, public cars, public clothing, public food, and just about anything else that is public. Heck, who wouldn’t want to have everything and not have to pay for it? I hope you see the irony.

emilianate's avatar


Making an argument that society will be better off when everyone is educated is a) similar to saying that society would be better off if everyone would be a healthy millionaire, b) is naive; if everyone has a Ph.D degree, then people with Ph.D diplomas will be taking out the trash, simply because that function won’t go away regardless of how many educated people there are.

Another point, a much more important one, is that forcing someone to pay for a service they don’t make use of is immoral. It’s like forcing you to practice a religion against your will or forcing you to wear certain clothing.

Nothing is free. All resources have limits.

Seaofclouds's avatar

Jumping in late. As much as it would be nice to pick the things you really wanted to use and pay only for those, I can understand why places don’t allow that to happen. Even if you don’t pay for a specific benefit, that benefit is still there and you could potentially use it some day. In order for you to track who is able to use which benefits, the place would have to come up with a tracking system of some kind so that all employees know who is entitled to which benefits since not everyone would be entitled to the same things. This would make more work for them and possibly cost even more money for them, causing them to have to raise their fees to pay for the extra tracking costs. Not to mention, things would have to be changed around if the time ever came that you decided you did want to use some of the other benefits, thus causing more paperwork, monitoring, and billing issues.

Trillian's avatar

”... forcing someone to pay for a service they don’t make use of is immoral.”
Who said anything about forcing? The question was about someone voluntarily joining a club, paying for a membership which makes multiple services available.
Immoral. What a ridiculous statement to make.

emilianate's avatar


I’m having a side argument with saviorfaire on likening the government to the main question. Immoral argument was in response to government, not the main question. If voluntary, you have a right to negotiate or find a specific service instead of a package deal. Also, you’re not being forced to sign anything. For the record, bargaining does work because I have done it before to get a specific package for a lower rate. That is the beauty of having the ability to negotiate.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@emilianate Your first response completely misses my point. First of all, “public” things are not provided to us at no cost. We pay for them, but the payment is diffused. No irony there. Second, I am arguing that you already benefit from public education regardless of whether or not you, your parents, or your children avail yourselves of it. Public education serves many sociological purposes, including keeping children off the streets during the day for much of the year and preventing teenagers from depressing the already troubled unskilled labor markets. These are subtle benefits that are easy to miss, but they are there.

As for your second response to me, it again misses the point. More than that, however, it contradicts itself. Your a) and your b) are in tension with one another in that the former says that “society will be better off when everyone is educated” is a meaningless truth, whereas the latter says that “society will be better off when everyone is educated” is a naive falsehood. You cannot have it both ways. No matter, though, because the objection makes no sense in the first place. It conflates a minimally decent education with getting a PhD—something I never claimed to be universally beneficial.

The bit about PhD holders collecting garbage also makes no sense. At no point did I suggest that education was a way of changing the tasks necessary for a functioning society. Nor do I think there is anything shameful or unfortunate about being a garbage collector. Whatever point you might think you are trying to make there, then, gets lost in the fact that it has nothing to do with anything that was actually argued. I’m not saying that a better society would lack garbage collectors or be populated entirely with PhD holders. I am making the much less ambitious argument that public education benefits the public at large, not just those who attend public schools.

Finally, I simply disagree with your presentation of the tax issue. For one thing, nobody makes you pay taxes. You are free to move to another country where no one collects taxes—I hear Somalia is nice this time of year—but you choose not to do so. You stay because you appreciate the benefits of a tax-sponsored society despite your grousing about the putative immorality of it. I also disagree that taxes are immoral. Taxation is simply the price of admission to the social contract, which is the tool by which we improve all of our lives by taking ourselves out of a situation in which immoral actions are the only option for survival.

emilianate's avatar


I clearly have an option to move to another country, but I also have an option to speak my mind and attempt to change things in the country which I happen to be a citizen, so this is a very weak point, i.e. take it or leave it, this could be said just about anything, so we can dismiss it. And by the way, I like this country not because of its tax-sponsored society, but because of benefits it offers, such as freedom, upward mobility and others, which outweigh the negatives, one of which happens to be taxes. And if you think taxes are not forced on you, I challenge you to stop paying them. I bet you will end up in prison, have your assets taken, fines imposed or combination of all. If this is not coercion, I don’t know what is. Also, keep in mind, each society consists of producers and everybody else. Many countries in the past “offered” producers to leave, which they did, but those societies soon found themselves in deteriorating standards of living. Classical example (joke translated from Russian) “exodus of Jews from a state lead to empire’s collapse (Egyptian folk wisdom)”.

The point about Ph.D’s taking out the trash was meant to say that such person is clearly overqualified and overeducated to do the job. There was no attempt to suggest anything about job itself; yes it’s a needed one. However having such a person performing this job is a clear case of mismanagement of resources, which always occurs when government directs funding.

Now, about what’s good for the society and what’s not. I dislike such claims on principle and here is why. I was privileged to be born in a different country. One, where selective few were in power to decide and enforce what was good for the society as a whole. That went from books and music people can or cannot read to what they can wear to where they can or cannot travel and what goods and service they could purchase. That society collapsed in 70 years or so. This experience gives me a good perspective to compare contrast things elsewhere. Hence, when a pundit or elitist or a private person makes a claim about what’s good for the society, he is often motivated by several factors a) honest belief, b) disguised self-interest from perspective of either provider of the service (shield from competition) or recipient of a service (free goodies). In either case, these claims are immoral because most of the time they imply coercion, which goes against principles of individual freedoms this society has been founded on. I’m sure you would object if I would claim that Buddism is good for the society so let’s erect public institution to push this agenda. The system where few decide for many is evil. I know you’re thinking “democracy is evil” and about to call me crazy, but democracy from the day it was institutionalized in this country by our founding fathers was understood in very limited and specific context, and everything else was left to individuals to pursue as they see fit. Education falls in that category. If it is indeed good for society, you don’t need to enforce it. Members of the society know it and will pursue it on individual basis. If, on-the-other hand, majority of society doesn’t see it as such, who are you to tell them otherwise? What moral grounds do you have to dictate your will on others? So this covers philosophical aspect of this issue. Now let’s touch upon economics.

Clearly, public things, just as anything else, have costs. Question is always who pays and who benefits and if resources are utilized efficiently. (In theory I agree that it is better to have highly educated society, however I’m not willing to push this view on others, but in practice I dislike means of implementing it via public education or government’s subsidies), Of course, in public things payments are “diffused”, this is by design, i.e. to provide for those who cannot afford. Hence if you’re the one who can afford to purchase on your own, but forced to pay (taxation) for public service, you’re definitely NOT benefiting from such setup, yet the person who cannot pay for himself reaps all the benefits. So when I was mentioning “no cost” aspect, I was referring from the angle of latter. There are too many reasons to list here why government’s involvement is always bad. I will just list few points for you to consider. Government cannot create, it can only redistribute coercively, and hence there will always be a group that is worse off. In free market system all transactions are voluntarily, hence both parties benefit or else transaction would not occur. Second, look at the industries which were strongly controlled by government and those which were relatively free and observe pace of progress or what a consumer can purchase with same dollar over time. Public education is clearly the one which has gotten worse and takes in more and more tax dollars; whereas semiconductor and communications (to name a few) industries demonstrated enormous progress and benefits to consumers. Another argument to be had is that by providing goodies for free or at subsidized price for some, you create a situation where you penalize producers and encourage free riders. Long term, such a society will collapse and/or standards of living will fall for all.

If you want a highly educated society, you should be advocating for reduced barriers of entry into the industry, to kick off competition, lead lower cost, and better service over the long run. You should be advocating for dismantling of dept. of education as it’s populated by bureaucrats who resist changes (all of them usually are by design) and whose employment does not depend on quality of the job they perform. You should be advocating for eliminating government subsidies for higher education in form of guaranteed low interest loans and grants, as these do nothing to increase supply (more schools) but everything to increase demand (more people claim their subsidies) which leads to higher educational costs. Observe costs of higher education over past 30 years vs. inflation and vs. other sectors. And finally, if you really want to help those in need and implement your ideas, just do so with your own money or time. Why do you need a bureaucrat for that? Why do you need heartless bureaucracy to take a good chunk for itself in distribution of your funds? I say that by directly contributing to charitable causes and/or specific

SavoirFaire's avatar

@emilianate The part about moving to other countries would only be a weak point if I was making the standard conservative move of “if you don’t like it, get out.” But I am not. What I am doing is pointing out that something you said is false. You claimed to be forced into paying taxes, and I showed that you paying taxes is a choice. Thus it is your point that is weak. I have no problem with you speaking your mind or attempting to change things. When you say patently false things, however, I will at least attempt to show that they are false.

You seem to think that the existence of any sort of enforcement mechanism is coercion. Does the government force me not to murder people? Does it force me not to run people over with my car? I think it would be a misuse of the word “force” to say so. If you insist on using it that way, however, then being “forced” suddenly does not seem like such a bad thing. No doubt you chose the word for its negative connotations, but any investigation into the way you are using it reveals that your case is overstated.

As for your response regarding the PhD’s taking out the garbage, you have basically admitted that it was a nonsense point to begin with. Since no one has ever defended a general practice of educating everyone to the doctoral level, there would be no mismanagement of resources. What has generally been supported is a high school education for all, and various forms of help paying for college or trade school for those who wish to attend. There is no implication here of the government directing tertiary education or even demanding it.

Now, your bit about how you dislike claims about what is good for society and what is not is absurd. All you are doing there is rejecting one set of claims about what is good for society and replacing it with another. In other words, you are doing exactly what you profess to dislike. I think you do not actually dislike such claims at all, but rather dislike certain instances of such claims. That’s fine—we all agree with some such claims and disagree with others. But that’s where the conversation is, so let us not pretend otherwise.

I’m not sure where you get this whole “democracy is evil” bit. Here I worry that your language deficiency is getting in the way. Let me just state, then, that I do not think that democracy is evil and don’t know why you would even think it necessary to bring it up. In any case, education is pursued by individuals. It just so happens, however, that a majority of individuals came together and said “we should provide a standardized and universal level of basic education to all of our youth.” So we did just that. We provided that service.

And note that no one is forced to take part in that system. Once you are an adult, you are free to drop out. And if you are a child, your parents can avail themselves of some alternative (e.g., private schooling or home schooling). What public education is supposed to do is make sure that a minimally decent level of education—which is a prerequisite in this day and age for the sort of rugged individualism you seem to be endorsing—is available to all. It enables freedom, so I see no grounds for you to oppose it.

Again, I disagree with you that those who cannot afford to pay for education and have it provided to them are the ones who reap all the benefits. For one, plenty who could afford it on their own nevertheless avail themselves of the public system. For another, it is in my interest that you are educated. So if you cannot afford your own education, it is in my interest that it be provided to you. It greatly lessens the likelihood that you will be a much more significant burden on me than the small portion of my taxes put towards education ever could be.

It could only be in my interest that you not be educated if I had some plans to exploit your ignorance. Since you have been keen to bring morality into this discussion, then, I would argue that such plans would be the best candidate for a social evil that we have brought up so far. Therefore, I feel no remorse at all if public education contravenes those interests. The interests of the evil are not worth protecting, leaving us with yet another argument in favor of public education—and again, an argument you are in no position to oppose.

You say that government cannot create. You give no argument for this, but merely assert it. The point is irrelevant to our present conversation, however, because the purpose of education is not to create. It is to prepare and empower. This is true regardless of what kind of market we have. Thus neither your first nor your third arguments make any sense. Nor is education a “goodie” in the sense that term is usually used. It’s not a piece of candy for which people are clamoring. When done properly, it teaches responsibility through hard work. These are hardly the aspirations of free riders.

As for your second argument, I think it is fundamentally mistaken. I learned far more through primary and secondary education than my father did at the same age, and the relevant taxes were lower during my childhood than they were during his. Amount of education went up while cost went down. What has damaged our public schools is not the mere fact of government involvement, but the fact that so much recent involvement has been done by those seeking to undermine it. Yes, anti-education politicians have caused problems for public education. But that is an argument to get rid of anti-education politicians, not public education.

Finally, you list a number of things that I putatively “should” be doing to support an educated society. Your first is reducing barriers for entry into the industry. From the other side, of course, that’s what student loans are about. Thus it is odd that you seem to oppose them. Regardless, I wonder what barriers you think there are at present. The government doesn’t stand in the way of private schools, and even gives them and their donors a tax exemption. Surely you don’t want the government doing all the work for them—that’s hardly in the entrepreneurial spirit, after all—so what is it you think should be done?

Indeed, all of your suggestions seem to be boilerplate conservative recommendations that are assumed to hold in all cases regardless of how varied actual life is. The oddest bit is the question about bureaucrats. People love to be down on bureaucracy, but it developed for a reason: it is more efficient than the alternatives (unbelievable as that may seem while in line at the DMV). And it is not just efficient in terms of time, but also in terms of resources. Every system has administrative costs, but the bureaucracy you decry as taking a chunk of money for itself takes less than every extant alternative. So again, you seem to have accidentally argued yourself into my position.

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