National Service

Mandatory Volunteerism

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Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Jim Lindgren lays out the powerful players in Service Nation, a creepy new push for national service.  The campaign appears to be pretty Obama-friendly, jibing with his recent call for a national service bureaucracy that's "just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded" as the military.  Of course, McCain has certainly expressed an appreciation for the "a cause greater than yourself" mindset too, including a fondness for—quite literally—the sight of uniformed cadres of young people preparing for a day of service with calisthenics in the public square.

The Service Nation Summit kickoff event is getting promotional help from Time magazine, whose Managing Editor Rick Stengel is a co-chair.  Seems like an odd undertaking for a newsweekly, doesn't it?  But then, Time has an annoying habit of crossing over into advocacy on issues its editors have deemed too important to leave to impartial reportage.

Lindgren points out that though the campaign is couched in terms that make it appear oriented toward merely encouraging volunteerism, some of its top officials have a history of supporting a more coercive definition "service," including support for Rep. Charlie Rangel's (D-N.Y.) bill to bring back conscription.  Most ominously, one of the group's stated goals is to "[l]aunch a debate about why and how America should become a nation of universal national service by 2020."

Note the absence of the word "if."

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  1. I think I mentioned this before, but Im going to possibly repeat myself. My sister is a high school teacher in MD. Some years back (I have no clue if this still exists) MD added a requirement for XX hours of volunteer work in order to graduate. However, they rejected work that some of the kids had done as part of the scouts because they received a badge for it, hence is wasnt “volunteered”. I dont know how they accepted any work that was done, since if it was done in order to receive a diploma, it wasnt volunteer work either.

  2. robc, MD public schools still have that requirement. It’s 75 “volunteer” service hours from 6th to 12th grade. In many private schools, it’s 150 hours.

  3. If they gave 16-year-olds the vote, I wouldn’t be opposed to adding volunteerism to their education.

    But they don’t, so this smacks of involuntary servitude.

  4. I’ve got no kick with private schools that have a service requirement. If that’s the requirement to attend, and your family doesn’t like it, you can go somewhere else. It’s the government schools requiring it that disgusts me.

    Does this mean nothing?

    1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. – U.S. Constitution, Amendment XIII

    Everybody involved could brush up on the meaning of voluntary, too.

    Kevin

  5. And everyone who serves gets a free brown shirt.

  6. Don’t worry. “National Service” gets talked about every election, and nothing happens. America’s young folks will volunteer for national service when it means four weeks in Cancun, and not before.

  7. I really like the wording of the Thirteenth. They really leave no wriggle room at all, even for states as separate sovereigns.

    Now if you could just get judges to take seriously the definition of “involuntary servitude”…

  8. I LOVE NewSpeak! Does anyone know how to translate “Mandatory Volunteerism” into real NewSpeak?

  9. Colin,

    Throw in a free pair of jackboots and you’ve got a deal!

  10. I LOVE NewSpeak! Does anyone know how to translate “Mandatory Volunteerism” into real NewSpeak?

    Seems fine as is. “Encouraged Duties” would also serve.

  11. That hits at least one or 2 of Joe’s definitions of fascism.

  12. The Time article linked from their site as “the case for national service” (after taking a quick jab at libertarians) is quick to point out that the problem with the current high levels of volunteerism is that it is too voluntary – it’s not directed and coordinated.

    Which, explains the jab at libertarians.

  13. Translation of older conscription fans:

    “Well, these punk kids just sit around having sex and drinking; we should put that energy to good use supporting a cause I like. The fact that I am too old to be affected by this, that it’s a form of slavery, and that when I was kid, if they had suggested this I would have opposed it is irrelevant. Besides, some of them are on my lawn.”

  14. Naga,

    Freedom Service

    Liberty Duty

    Patriotic Benefaction

  15. “Well, in those days, it was just something you did. I mean, I originally joined the Obama Youth Corps to meet girls. There was some serious pent-up yearning in some of those chicks. I liked to tell myself I was performing my own particular brand of “national service” if you know what I mean. But then the weirdos took over. You know, the believers- they had that look in their eyes. But it was fun for a while.”

  16. From the Time article:

    You have millions of Americans who are yearning to be more involved in the world and in their communities.

    And what? They’re being held back from doing this by the nefarious lovers of liberty? For fuck’s sake, if they really, really wanted to be involved, THEY’D BE INVOLVED!

    Another good reminder as to why I don’t waste my time with Time.

  17. We need to get the Ministry of Freedom involved in this program.

  18. Thanks Johnny N. I like the third one best.

  19. What I find striking about this crap (besides, of course, the patriotic slavery of it all) is that of course it won’t work and will make volunteer organizations worse off.

    Why? The same reason that “conservatives” have a better record of donating to charities than “liberals.” If we make the government responsible for organizing and assigning “volunteer” work, then people will assume that it’s the government’s job to make sure this all gets handled. And therefore, once they’ve put in their “time,” they likely will be less involved in volunteer work in the future. After all, the government’s got it taken care of, right? They’ve got all these kids, what do they need me for?

    Volunteer involvement will end up going down.

  20. I agree with Alan Vannemann. This gets talked about every now and then, and while the occasional public school may do it there’s no way it will go to any large scale as any sort of post high school corps.

    Not saying anybody should support it, just saying that nobody should hold their breath waiting for it to happen.

  21. A great constitutional scholar named Dr. Edwin Vieira has proposed a similar thing to mandatory service. His plan is to reinstate “The Militia of Several States”. Whereby all men(and women) 16-60 are part of the militia. This does two things. One, it is a separate entity under constitutional law which “We The People” are engaged(and heavily fucking armed) to deal with all tyrants foreign and domestic. Talk about corruption control!! Second this lays to rest any and all arguments towards the second amendment being for the militia. Yes let’s reinstate that said militia since, it is, the ONLY thing written in the constitution that is deemed NECCESARY to the survival of a free state. Come on McPain and O-duddo, let’s see you support THAT!

  22. Scott,

    You’re on to something about how this will degrade the organizations it’s purported to help. If every American is forced to do community service, the quality of that service will be pretty poor. The people in today’s volunteer military are far superior to their counterparts who were conscripted in the 70’s because today’s soldiers want to be soldiers.

    I know someone who manages a public housing facility for the elderly. The county routinely sends her juveniles who’ve been convicted of crimes and sentenced to “community service.” Usually, there’s not enough work to keep the young potheads and shoplifters busy, so the staff either lies about how many hours the youth worked to get them out of there, or the kids end up grumpily and half-heartedly painting a freshly painted wall while looking for things to pilfer.

  23. Scott at 12:14 and robc’s first post –
    This has always been my beef with the logic of those who would force “virtue” upon us. If people are forced to do something that we would consider virtuous, is it still virtuous? And additionally mandatory service could actually serve to make people resentful of those they are serving more than it makes them virtuous.

    MP @ 12:05
    I hear this logic all the time when referring to fuel efficient cars and such.
    Them: “There should be a government incentive to buy hybrids”
    Me: “Why?”
    Them: “Because they save people money on gas costs, and it’s more economic than buying a gas guzzler”
    Me: “so… why do they need a government incentive?”

  24. Nice to see that even Hope ‘n’ Change’s supporters around here don’t take what he says seriously.

    I hope you all are right, and that Mr. New Kind of Politics is just blowin’ that old-time smoke.

  25. If people are forced to do something that we would consider virtuous, is it still virtuous?

    No, because virtue, like morality, arises from the exercise of free will.

  26. Nice to see that even Hope ‘n’ Change’s supporters around here don’t take what he says seriously.

    Well, anything too egregious along these lines would either be de-funded or tossed on Thirteenth amendment grounds. I wouldn’t cry all that hard if a kid while growing up was forced to *gasp* interact with people outside his/her comfort zone.

    And don’t make the mistake that Obama supporters around here support him because of the “Hope ‘n Change” rhetoric (huh, reminds me of a System of a Down song…). I certainly have other reasons.

  27. No, because virtue, like morality, arises from the exercise of free will.

    True, but children do not come pre-built with the moral knowledge to exercise vital powers along lines of excellence. They need to learn the requisite skills and the available scope, and above all the habit of doing that which is felicitous to track those lines of excellence.

    To wit, free will is the beginning of morality; self-mastery is the end.

    Teaching children is a very different exercise than governing adults.

  28. Actually, a friend of mine volunteered for something like this back in the sixties, pulling out poison ivy in a national park in Colorado somewhere. He said that at night they would sit around a campfire, drinking wine, smoking pot, and singing dirty songs. When they were all suitably wasted, they’d crawl into their sleeping bags and screw all night. So maybe some kids would be up for this after all. Hey, this is certainly how I want to spend my taxes!

  29. What is the problem with national service. After all, we only exist for the state. That’s why we have a War on Drugs Sanity (you won’t be productive if your stoned), anti-cigarette crusades (you’ll cost the government money if you get cancer), seat belt laws for supposedely free adults (money again). That’s why we use eminent domain to seize property that coud be put to “better” use. It all comes down to what is best for the state and you’re selfish, subversive, individualist desires are counterproductive to all of that.

    Might as well stop fucking around with the language and just bring back the draft.

    If i were a parent and the public school system required civic service, euphemistically called volunteer work, for a diploma, my children would get their diploma somewhere else.

  30. Re: Elemenope’s comments:

    Well, anything too egregious along these lines would either be de-funded or tossed on Thirteenth amendment grounds.

    Funny how that never happened with conscription.

    … children do not come pre-built with the moral knowledge to exercise vital powers along lines of excellence. They need to learn the requisite skills and the available scope, and above all the habit of doing that which is felicitous to track those lines of excellence.

    All the more reason to make sure that they don’t learn those habits from the frelling government. This is the duty of their parents, who should not be foisting it off on their (often childless) neighbors.

    Kevin

  31. “The greater goooood”

  32. LMNOP –
    Are college graduates “adults” or “children”? Because I could swear I hear Obama talking about service related to receiving student loans.

  33. Funny how that never happened with conscription.

    Yeah, there’s that. Never said it would be foolproof. However, if it does become *that* unpopular, de-funding a national service project is waaaaaaaaay easier than de-funding a war or the conscription for one.

    All the more reason to make sure that they don’t learn those habits from the frelling government. This is the duty of their parents, who should not be foisting it off on their (often childless) neighbors.

    And so…if the parent is unwilling or incapable of teaching such lessons, then what? Is the child condemned to be just another sociopath, or could it be *possible* that someone could be made available that does have the requisite knowledge, skills, time, and patience?

    If you haven’t guessed, childhood and child-rearing is where I believe Libertarianism fails most spectacularly as a coherent and productive ideology.

  34. If you haven’t guessed, childhood and child-rearing is where I believe Libertarianism fails most spectacularly as a coherent and productive ideology.

    You remember how a lot of us thought you were a woman? I wonder why that was… 😉

  35. Is the child condemned to be just another sociopath, or could it be *possible* that someone could be made available that does have the requisite knowledge, skills, time, and patience? –LMNOP

    Oh, that’s cute. Because some parents wouldn’t teach their kids how to behave, the state is to impose its will on all children? I guess that attitude shouldn’t surprise, seeing as how it is pretty much the motivation behind the government’s near-monopoly on schooling. We all know how well the publik skoolz turn out citizens.

    Kevin

  36. It’s been over two weeks since some other commenter linked about a related BHO plan and asked why Reason hadn’t covered that plan. That caused me to write about that plan. This is the first Reason post I’ve seen since then that has approached that plan, but even so they still don’t want to mention the plan for some reason.

  37. It’s been years since commenters first began to point out how full of shit Lonewacko was, but he still hasn’t fessed up to his full-of-shittiness. Many Reason commenters make explicit reference to his full-of-shittiness, but he still doesn’t want to acknowledge it for some reason.

  38. kevrob —

    I particularly love how you lept from “he’s criticizing libertarianism” to “he wants the state to train our children!!!”

    I said it was a problem; I did not indicate how I thought it should be solved.

    Pointedly, I said “could it be *possible* that someone could be made available that does have the requisite knowledge, skills, time, and patience?”

    Does the above describe many of the public school educators you know? I didn’t think so.

    You remember how a lot of us thought you were a woman? I wonder why that was… 😉

    LOL.

    Are college graduates “adults” or “children”? Because I could swear I hear Obama talking about service related to receiving student loans.

    In that case it wouldn’t be “involuntary servitude”, but rather “compensated volunteerism”. Am I wrong? You ask the government for money, and in return for giving it to you, they ask for a service.

  39. If you’re feeling a strange lack of outrage after reading this Radley Balko article, I think this unrelated link might cure it. Sorry about that.

    There are some classic quotes from the police chief there, though. My favorite:

    He done what he thought he was trained to do to bring that subject into custody. At some point, something happened with his body that caused him to go into cardiac arrest or whatever.

  40. In that case it wouldn’t be “involuntary servitude”, but rather “compensated volunteerism”. Am I wrong? You ask the government for money, and in return for giving it to you, they ask for a service.

    Don’t get me wrong – I don’t like the feds subsidizing colleges and simultaneously somehow making college consequently more expensive – but I think that if you’re going to promote incredible inefficiencies by reinforcing a system where people need to go to college before they’ll be hired to sell greeting cards that you shouldn’t then take the individual that you’ve just saddled a bunch of debt on and say “ok, now pay up”

  41. Thanks, Shawn.

    Was it just me, or were the info links after each paragraph somewhat disturbing? —

    “Video: Watch coroner describe how cop might’ve Tasered a dead man ?”

    “Video: Watch racism charges fly after Taser death ?”

    “Link: See how Tasers work ?”

  42. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t like the feds subsidizing colleges and simultaneously somehow making college consequently more expensive – but I think that if you’re going to promote incredible inefficiencies by reinforcing a system where people need to go to college before they’ll be hired to sell greeting cards that you shouldn’t then take the individual that you’ve just saddled a bunch of debt on and say “ok, now pay up”

    What would be ideal (if one is already resigned to subsidized loans for education) would be if the program was a voluntary option in exchange for lowering (or zeroing) the interest rate on outstanding gov’t-issued student loans.

    The way those charges add up, a hundred hours of community service or so would be more than adequately compensated for.

  43. The way those charges add up, a hundred hours of community service or so would be more than adequately compensated for.

    All of this is just trying to find alternative ways to compensate folks for services they would not otherwise provide. There is this really old, but tried and true system I like to call “paying people to do a job”. Adding a bunch of bureaucrats into the process is not going to be more efficient than just hiring people.

    You want trees planted, students tutored, addicts counseled, or trash picked up, laundering the payment prcess through the student loan guarantee/interest rates process with the attendant bureaucracy is not an economical way to do it.

  44. You want trees planted, students tutored, addicts counseled, or trash picked up, laundering the payment process through the student loan guarantee/interest rates process with the attendant bureaucracy is not an economical way to do it.

    You’re probably right about that. However, since the market notoriously undervalues labor in these areas, laundering may be the only way to do it.

    Besides, it is a bit different; the neat thing about community service is that all those pesky (and usually overstated and irrelevant) blocks to doing the work, like certification in XYZ or attending such-and-such school for X number of years, do not apply. “Free” help (even if it is subsidized) is less likely to be turned away for bullshit reasons.

  45. I dunno. “Obama Youth” has a nice ring to it.

    Or two nice rings to it. Around your wrists.

  46. Let’s assume this isn’t national defense service.

    If the service consisted of bringing meals to senior citizens or cleaning carrion from the swamps of protected wetlands (and there’s no reason we couldn’t combine the two), there would not be violent protest against it. But you know the “service” is going to consist of filling potholes on the interstate and unclogging toilets at the courthouse.

  47. America has a national service program funded by the CNS. Each year hundreds of citizens enlist in service corps, AmeriCorps.

    We have uniforms or a dress code, depending on what kind of term you serve. At the end of the year, the government provides each member with an educational grant– money that must be used for education. It can be used to pay back loans, gain credit for loans or for non-traditional schooling (such as outdoor education instructor certification hours). As the program is now, you choose to join.

    I’m not entirely sure this is a giant leap from individuals who enlist to get money for college and few seem to comment on that phenomenon. I’d rather serve my country peacefully than by carrying a gun. You serve your country, you get money for something you want. This sounds to me like being paid at the end, rather than “involuntary servitude.”

    And I don’t think service is a bad lesson for anyone to learn. Actually, I think an appreciation of public service would benefit everyone. Are high school students above serving their country?

  48. You serve your country, you get money for something you want. This sounds to me like being paid at the end, rather than “involuntary servitude.”

    Except that a real job pays better, so you can get MORE of what you want.

    Or you can join AmeriCorpse and get paid less. Unless what you want is a feeling of moral superiority.

  49. I heard that Lonewacko’s American citizenship is disputed.

  50. re: “trees planted, students tutored, addicts counseled, or trash picked up”

    However, since the market notoriously undervalues labor in these areas, laundering may be the only way to do it.

    Undervalued? Many people can perform those jobs. They’re not particularly difficult to obtain, nor do they require unique talents or a significant amount of training. How would you suggest that they be valued?

  51. If you haven’t guessed, childhood and child-rearing is where I believe Libertarianism fails most spectacularly as a coherent and productive ideology.

    Libertarianism isn’t intended to address every aspect of human endeavor, just the basic political ones. Beyond respecting the right of children to life and bodily integrity, you have to go on the assumption that parents want what’s best for their children…just like we assume that all individuals want what’s best for themselves.

  52. Also, libertarianism doesn’t rule out communities. What’s to say that people wouldn’t choose to live in housing developments that are very similar to the communities they live in now by way of paying “property taxes” to pay for “public schools.” It would just be something that was entered into contractually, and you’d probably find a lot of single people declining to live in these communities unless there was some other benefit to it.

  53. This sounds to me like being paid at the end, rather than “involuntary servitude.”

    Yeah, because you chose to sign up for the program. Would you be willing to call it involuntary if you were required by law to do it, or would it still be voluntary because you might be compensated at below-market rates?

    Sorry, I think it would be way more educational for high school kids to get a job that someone actually wants done (i.e., is willing to pay for) than to perpetuate the idea that there is something wrong with working for money.

    And I don’t know why anyone is talking about high school kids here anyway. Some public and private schools require stuff like this now, but the proposal Balko is describing is for young adults, and at least one proposal would affect adults 18-42. Do you think it’s somehow cool for everyone in their twenties to drop their lives and careers and waste two years on this crap?

  54. Conscientious objector here.

  55. Well, the Europeans do it so it must be better.

  56. As the program is now, you choose to join.

    And that’s the way it should be. Some people “care”; some people don’t. It’s ridiculous to ignore human nature and pretend that everyone must “care”.

  57. If people are forced to do something that we would consider virtuous, is it still virtuous?

    Exactly. I’m pretty sure the original ‘call to service’ liberal, Jesus, taught that the answer to this question is ‘no.’

  58. Get it straight. He didn’t talk about a “national service bureaucracy.”

    He said: “We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.”

  59. The problem with Volokh’s article is that Service Nation has nothing to do with Rangel or his National Service act aside from using the same term. The campaign’s focus is to expand volunteer programs like Americorps and Peace Corps, and promote volunteerism in the country.

    Their website even states in response to Volokh that they do not support mandatory national service.

  60. Let me start by thank you for bringing attention to ServiceNation. Granted it’s not the kind of attention we wanted. Let me clear up a couple of things for you.

    1. We do NOT in any way, shape or form support mandatory service.
    2. We are NOT in any way affiliated with Rep. Rangel’s bill.
    3. By National Service, we mean national service programs, such as Teach fro America, AmeriCorps and Peace Corps
    4. Organization that join our coalition support our agenda as it relations to national service programs. That however does not mean that we support their agenda nor the method by which they achieve their agenda.

    If you have any more questions about serviceNation, please do not hesitate to contact me henri@bethechangeinc.org and also visit our blog at http://www.changewireblog.org to learn more about us.

  61. Henri’s canned response is questionable at best…

    http://blogofbile.com/2008/07/31/service-nation-sponsors-and-supporters-and-additional-information/#more-1398

    “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

  62. military service is a meaningful experience for every young people. it should be treated as a responsibility.for me, of cause i’d like to extremely without any mandatory. haha………

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