Conscription

Does Declining Volunteerism Mean We Need National Service? Only If You Don't Count Money

|

Yeah, I don't get it either. |||

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank has a piece today I've seen retweeted a lot, making the following sextuple-jump of logic:

1) Like a lot of slacktivists, Milbank did his patriotic duty in watching The Interview.

2) Effort-free slacktivism is kinda lame.

3) This is George W. Bush's fault, for not raising taxes during war.

4) According to a couple of studies, Americans are volunteering less.

5) That's because we abolished the draft, dammit!

6) So let's expand National Service tenfold.

Milbank adds: "there's hope in the form of the would-be presidential and vice presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio and Rob Portman have all expressed interest in the issue." So they've got that going for them.

Rather than rehash Reason's (and my) arguments against the perennial political temptation of National Service, let's start with a chart, then a parable. First the delicious numbers, this time not of hours volunteered, but of monies donated to charity:

||| Giving USA Foundation
Giving USA Foundation

Not only is that trend line impressive (see a bigger breakdown of the numbers here), it calls into question the very premise of Milbank's argument. Which is to say, if volunteer-hours are going down but charitable giving is going up, do we even have a crisis of community-spiritedness? After the jump, a real-world parable on the subject, involving New York public schools, vacuum cleaners, and political correctness.

How 'bout I serve up a check instead? And send it to who I want! |||

So, last year at our (terrific) local public school, the teacher put out a call to parents, asking them to volunteer to come clean up our kid's classroom after hours. Seems that the Zamboni-sized vacuum cleaners used by the janitorial staff wouldn't fit through the door, and the teacher didn't feel like she should be doing maid service. So, naturally, we were all, "Let's buy 'em a Roomba!" And the answer came that, well, there had already been a (non-robotic) vacuum cleaner bought recently, so that wouldn't be appropriate. Fine, we said, let's buy a cleaning service. Well, you see, ah, so, this would be sending the wrong message about our values.

The result: We ended up "volunteering" my wife's expensive but more flexible time in doing drudge work that should have been handled by someone else, instead of simply mailing off a check to fix the problem with our earnings. Was America better served because she was on her hands and knees, scrubbing dust and grime out of a classroom, rather than paying for a professional to do the trick while she got back to work? According to Milbank's parameters, yes. According to mine, oh hell no.

As it happens, probably like a lot of Americans, over time our charitable giving has gone up substantially, while our hours volunteered are probably on net lower, even with the increases for school/kid-related stuff. That's because in the great Division of Labor called life, this actually makes sense if you think about it even for one minute. If you are fortunate enough to be able to increase your earnings as you get older (especially when you have some mouths to feed and plan for), you spend your time doing just that, then sending off checks to charitable organizations you have confidence will spend some of the excess wisely. Meanwhile, volunteering and networking are actually pretty valuable ways for starving freelancers (to name one category of non-richies I have familiarity with) to spend their otherwise not-very-well-remunerated time.

Long story short, if you are going to make the consequentialist argument that declining volunteerism requires more tax money to be conscripted for "National Service," you should probably explain why you care more about volunteering labor than volunteering hard-earned cash. You may also want to compare international rates of both, and ask why America so consistently (if contestably) leads the world, even over countries that until very recently have had—wait for it!—national service. Though it's true that doing so will require almost as much effort as watching The Interview.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

81 responses to “Does Declining Volunteerism Mean We Need National Service? Only If You Don't Count Money

  1. It’s not about helping the poor, it’s about providing statists with free labor.

    1. Not even that. It’s an obedience ritual, just like the airport molestation security theater.

      -jcr

      1. This.

        It’s about ritual service to the State. The “service” is an end in itself, getting the actual work completed is entirely beside the point.

    2. The point of National Service is to decide what service gets done. The “problem” with volunteers is that they get to choose where their hours will go.

      If I volunteer at a church choir or teaching people Hunter Education, the government doesn’t get to make me quit and pick up litter along highways or provide transport for Moms Demand Action.

  2. Seems that the Zamboni-sized vacuum cleaners used by the janitorial staff wouldn’t fit through the door

    I wonder whose corpulent brother-in-law had those for sale.

    How about fire whoever decided to buy those useless vacuum cleaners and buy new ones out of their salary savings? Or tell the janitors to use a broom.

    Matt, you must be on a daily handful of Valium. I would have rage-stroked if this situation landed on my doorstep.

  3. I’m impressed you’re able to wade through the pig trough that is Milbanks article Matt. You’re a better man than I.

    1. +1

      I start from the premise that “national service” is fundamentally fascist. And then I’m done.

      How do people like Milbank get away with recycling this BS every year or two?

      Somebody paid him to write that article. Think about it.

      1. If I had mad hacking skills or the right connections, I would be tempted to dig into how much time the little fascist douche bag has donated himself and then post it for all the world to see.

        I bet it’s zero.

  4. Whenever some statist asswipe like Rahm Emmanuel floats this idea, my reaction is always “eat flaming death, you slave-driving bastard. The people are not the property of the state, and you have no right to compel my labor for any purpose at all.”

    -jcr

  5. I thought national service was the whole point of bringing in all of those illegals.

  6. National Serfcialism. Has a nice ring to it.

  7. I might be interested in this idea if it only applied to people on welfare, and/or as a criminal justice alternative to fines and imprisonment. Maybe. But otherwise, no.

    1. It’s sad that for many liberals, ‘workfare’ or making people on welfare work in return for their benefits, is ‘slavery’ but national service, making people work for nothing, is a great, noble thing.

      1. I wonder if that has anything to do with the idea that money is bad and therefore any money received for any work is even worse, unless that work is in service to the State.

        1. I’m sure you’re right, it’s that and perhaps some other nutty ideas. But it’s so crazy.

        2. I wouldn’t even try to look for consistent logic in their thinking. These are the same people who think: giving someone money is ok; having sex with someone is ok; but somehow, giving someone money an having sex with them is evil.

    2. Indentured servitude. Work seven years for room and board, learn a trade.

      1. A bit OT, I just learned this the other day, that we had two US Presidents who actually were indentured servants for a time.

          1. If you consider Millard Fillmore and Andrew Johnson successes 😉

            1. I did find it interesting that one of our two Presidents who was an indentured servant, Johnson, was one of the most bitterly racist officials toward the newly freed slaves.

              1. He hated both slaveholders and blacks with a smoldering person.

                Johnson gave poor whites a bad name.

  8. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank…

    And you stop right there. Turn the page. Open a new web site. Get a fresh cup of coffee.

    Life is too short to read Milbank’s retarded scribbles.

  9. Of course, left unspoken is a simple truth; a good idea does not require coercion to be implemented.

  10. Citizenship is guaranteed!

    Would you like to know more?

    1. The sad thing is this a good idea, the book/movie takes it WAY too far. A nation where you serve in some way in order to gain citizenship and the right to vote creates a more tightly-knit nations, one that values what it means to be part of something greater than yourself. You object to killing? Ok then, join the Peace Corps, or a public sector job, or something. Something that shows you have pride in your country beyond just living here.

      The problem is again, that the book took it too far. It ONLY allowed citizenship through military service. Only veterans were allowed to teach history. Democracy was basically dead. It went from using Switzerland’s model of citizenship to a fascist state.

      1. Not true, it was stated in the book that even a blind mute could earn citizenship. If necessary they would find you a job counting the hairs on a back of a caterpillar. The military wasn’t the only route, it was just the best.

        1. “One, two, three,” SQUISH! “damn, I pushed too hard again! Can I go study?”

          “Shut up, Ms. Keller, and start over with a new caterpillar.”

      2. “creates a more tightly-knit nation”

        Look up the meaning of fascism sometime.

        1. After you do! From Il Duce’s own mouth: “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

          Doesn’t line up with what’s in Starship Troopers; there was an active civil society.

      3. The history/pol-sci teacher in Johnny Rico’s HS did happen to be a vet, but was that actually required? Also I don’t think “fascist” means what you think it means.

  11. The result: We ended up “volunteering” my wife’s expensive but more flexible time in doing drudge work that should have been handled by someone else, instead of simply mailing off a check to fix the problem with our earnings.

    Good for her, I guess.

    My respo0nse would have been, “Since I offered a perfectly good option which you declined, you get to do it yourself.”

    1. Ah, except that would consign our child to filth!

      1. Get your child a biohazard suit so they’re better prepared for the world of tomorrow.

      2. I’ve heard a moderate amount of filth is good for the child’s immune system.

        1. But not necessarily good for the rest of the child’s systems.

      3. Filth improves their immune system. When I have kids I’m going spray their blankets with non-fatal diseases every night.

        1. I am pretty sure it was the antibiotics i got as an infant that gave me asthma late in life.

          Of course i prefer that i didn’t die from an ear infection at the wee age of 7 months old over not having asthma.

        2. The fact that a completely antiseptic environment in childhood can lead to immune system problems (and even that’s not fully proven) does not imply that “filth improves the immune system”.

    2. Why don’t the little shits kids do it themselves?

      I know as a kid, I would have been happier cleaning up the class room than sitting still for 30 minutes.

    3. Bingo. They still have a janitor, I take it, even though the janitor cannot get the vacuum through the classroom door? And this janitor, is s/he able to use a broom or a smaller vacuum? Problem solved. The janitor, I take it, is not consigned to clean rooms in only one fashion and using only one tool. (Although if he’s a union janitor…ugh…don’t even get me started.)

      Oh, you don’t want to do that because it’s not “community-minded” enough? Then I guess the classroom will be dirty. Toodles!

  12. So let’s expand National Service tenfold.

    As always, Dana: “You first.”

  13. BTW, one of the fascinating cultural changes that correlates with state socialism is the decline of volunteerism; the more coercively socialist the state is, the less the residents who live under its control are willing to provide a helping hand.

    To falsify the notion that perhaps coercive socialism is a response to cultural disinclination to be voluntarily helpful, in places like North vs South Korea, and East vs West Germany, one can see the cultural change occurs after the forced collectivization.

    One can see why:
    1) If you are forced to help people who don’t deserve your help, you are naturally going to associate helping people with being taken advantage of, rather than feeling good about yourself for doing something nice.

    2) If you are forced to provide for others and have little surplus wealth, you are less capable of providing charity.

    3) Under forced collectivism, the only way to really build wealth or accomplish selfish ends is to literally adopt a secretive selfishness; to not volunteer either information nor evidence that you are a have.

    1. I’d also imagine it has to do with totalitarian states crushing any independent voluntary organizations that might coordinate volunteering activity.

      1. Actually, you don’t need to look to totalitarian states that crush independent voluntary organizations to see the phenomenon. There’s been a lot of whinging about the decline in civil society in the U.S. for years, as reflected in the article/book “Bowling Alone”. What the whiners fail to notice is that the phenomenon began post-WWII, coinciding with the rise of the welfare state.

        1. Yes, I agree, I referred to totalitarian nations because other than undermining they much more literally ‘crush’ (as in take out and shoot) independent voluntary organizations.

    2. This is exactly true. But, actually, it goes beyond just volunteerism to civic participation more generally.

      As the role of the state expands, the institutions that encourage both volunteerism and civic participation are squeezed out, co-opted, or neutered to the point that people are (quite rationally) uninterested in having their money and free time being enlisted in institutions and activities in which they have little or no ownership.

      1. I’ve been told that in India private philanthropy is basically nonexistent. Indians are often amazed to come here and see all these buildings, schools, libraries, art galleries, etc. named after donors, or see every billionaire on TV giving money away for something.

        Even in Europe, private philanthropy, like tipping, is not so big as it is here. Expanded government involvement erodes volunteerism and any sense of civic duty.

        Leftists are the biggest proponents of rights without responsibilities; people get free stuff without having to do anything for it. Of course people now don’t want to give their time for nothing. What a surprise.

    3. All true. And look at how government welfare has displaced civic association charity, charity hospitals, etc. Leftists have the idea that in the US pre-LBJ, poor or sick people just died in the streets, but that’s b.s.

      1. Yup. The predominance of civic life that DeToqueville talked about in Democracy in America really was a constant until the post-WWII era.

    4. “the more coercively socialist the state is, the less the residents who live under its control are willing to provide a helping hand.”

      Reminds me of my mom’s shortlived stint volunteering at the library in my (public) elementary school when I was in third grade. She was so appalled at the widespread laziness, incompetence, and rudeness of the paid employees that she soon pulled my brother and me out to homeschool us. And needless to say she stopped volunteering there.

  14. “Well, you see, ah, so, this would be sending the wrong message about our values.”

    This is a pretty big strain running through much Christianity, isn’t it? It’s less about success as about trying with the correct attitude. Think about how the poor woman’s pennies were worth more to God than the rich man’s donation.

    1. That’s why the Church has historically been so bad a fundraising.

  15. that would consign our child to filth!

    *dials Child Protective Svcs excitedly*

  16. So let’s expand National Service tenfold.

    There’s no shortage of enthusiasm for this collectivist scheme to obtain free labor but when it comes to internships, which actually help the interns learn actual skills, the little red marxians are all worked-up, calling it slave-labor.

    Methinks consistency and coherence are not terms they know personally, like Occupiers don’t know soap.

    1. Well, unless they’re a progressive publication that uses intern labour. In which case they’ll regularly write articles about increasing the minimum wage while having unpaid interns.

  17. […] if you are going to make the consequentialist argument that declining volunteerism requires more tax money to be conscripted for “National Service,” you should probably explain why you care more about volunteering labor than volunteering hard-earned cash.

    Obviously, they want both the slave-labor AND the cash. We’re fucked in the tail either way.

    1. We need the cash to create a National Compulsory Service Administration! We’re shopping around for government contractors to build our proprietary software that does not interface with other government software now…

  18. We need to take Milbank seriously! He’s a serious journalist! And to make sure you never forget, here’s a little memory jogger:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/…..01098.html

    This is the mental picture I get whenever I see or hear his name.

    1. WTF? Since when do hunters wear reflective road vests?

      1. I was confused too and wondering what crossing guards had to do with Dick Cheney.

        1. On further reflection (ha) he was probably afraid they’d never ask him onto MSNBC again if he was seen making a purchase from Cabela’s

  19. Is this going to be a thing for the chattering classes now? Joe Epstein at the Atlantic just had a piece saying the same thing about a week ago. Do they think a GOP senate is more likely to pass such a monstrosity?

    http://www.theatlantic.com/mag…..ft/383500/

    1. Word must have gone out on whatever they are calling JournoList these days.

  20. Milbank: “Similarly, Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that volunteering in 2012 (the most recent data available) was at the lowest percentage (25.4 percent) since the government started counting in 2001.

    The cause of this is fairly clear: Americans are not being asked to serve their country.”

    That’s it. That’s the “clear” cause. What has become known as the “Great Recession” clearly did not affect the volunteer rate. Why on earth would it?

  21. I propose a coercive law that requires all proponents of conscription to stab themselves in the thigh with a steak knife once at least once an hour.

  22. I can’t stand volunteerism. People lauding their volunteering exploits gives me the runs.

  23. “In the World War II generation, people felt like happiness wasn’t some individual right but something we helped one another achieve,” Bridgeland says.

    The WWII generation were socialists?!?!?!?

    1. FDR was but honestly WWII gen were young and probably like all youth didn’t vote. Also I think the voting age was like 21 back then so lots of them couldn’t

      They voted in Eisenhower.

      What generation preceded the WWII gen?

      They should have a name simply for sucking so bad by voting for FDR so many times.

    2. As a son and son-in-law of members of the WWII Generation, I can assure you that they would absolutely object to any notion of National Service.

    3. The WWII generation were drafted to fight against a truly evil country which was trying to conquer the world.

      Milbank would draft people to empty the Senatorial spitoon.

  24. “I’ve seen retweeted a lot, making the following sextuple-jump of logic”

    7. Conflates community with government

    sevtuplet-jump?

  25. So, last year at our (terrific) local public school, the teacher put out a call to parents, asking them to volunteer to come clean up our kid’s classroom after hours.

    The result: We ended up “volunteering” my wife’s expensive but more flexible time in doing drudge work that should have been handled by someone else, instead of simply mailing off a check to fix the problem with our earnings.

    Better solution than the horrible one you acquiesced to:

    Send little Matt Jr to school with a note pinned to his chest stating, “Not only no, but fuck you for asking, you piece of shit lazy cunt.”

    That’d send a better message.

  26. “you should probably explain why you care more about volunteering labor than volunteering hard-earned cash. ”

    Because forced labor in service to the State is the goal, not the means to a goal.

    1. We already volunteer cash. Just ask Harry Reid.

  27. After having two workable suggestions rejected out of hand, telling the teacher to address the problem herself would have been appropriate. After all, demanding volunteer assistance under her terms would be “sending the wrong message”.

  28. Do not worry. National Service will never come into existence as long as the unions realize that every unpaid volunteer means one less paid public sector job.

  29. “If you are fortunate enough to be able to increase your earnings as you get older (especially when you have some mouths to feed and plan for), you spend your time doing just that, then sending off checks to charitable organizations you have confidence will spend some of the excess wisely.”

    The Reason Foundation?

  30. Dude needs to learn to roll with it.

    http://www.Way-Anon.tk

  31. hilarious. I gave at the office asshole. get back to me when you have a plan for fewer National Parasites.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.