A Pandemic Is Not a Chance To Flog Your Bad National Service Proposals

The federal government has done a terrible job managing the coronavirus. It doesn't deserve our labor.


The coronavirus pandemic has led lots of people—myself included—to loudly insist our pet policy proposals are the right way to react to the virus. This week the bingo ball hopper has, inexplicably, landed on "expand national service programs."

Sen. Chris Coons (D–Del.) and a bipartisan group of 35 lawmakers introduced a bill in late April to double the size of AmeriCorps from 75,000 people to 150,000 in a year—and then double that to 300,000 for years two and three. He also wants to increase the participants' "living allowance" to 175 percent of the federal poverty line, dramatically increasing the amount they'd get paid. (The poverty line currently rests at $12,760.)

Coons argues that AmeriCorps can help with the coronavirus response by using its workers for contact tracing. Andrea Mitchell interviewed him about his plan on MSNBC yesterday:

Here's a partial transcript of Coons' justification:

If you wait and think about it for a second, Andrea, contact tracing is a hard thing to do. You're calling someone to tell them they've been infected and ask them to share with you confidential information about where they live, where they work, where they've traveled, where they've shopped and then information about how to contact the people they've been around. This requires skill and it requires someone who is really connected to those communities that have been most heavily impacted by the pandemic, so that's often communities of color and communities where bilingual skills will be necessary.

New York Times columnist David Brooks doesn't think Coons' program goes far enough. In an op-ed titled "We Need National Service. Now," Brooks argues that AmeriCorps should expand into smaller organizations in rural parts of the country:

We Americans suck at regimentation and blindly following orders from the top down. But we're pretty good at local initiative, youthful dynamism and decentralized civic action. We need a Covid response that fits the kind of people we are. National service is an essential piece of that response.

My immediate response to this paragraph, sentence by sentence, was "Yes. Yes. Yes. Wait, what?" How does a need for customized local response justify the expansion of a federal make-work program?

More importantly: How do you feel about the level of "national service" the federal government has given us in its dealings with the coronavirus thus far? (If you're not sure, read Reason's documentation of the disastrous federal response here.)

Yes, it's true that we need contact tracing and that it should have happened quickly (with appropriate privacy protections). The operative word here is "quickly." It's May. The federal government has already dropped the ball on contact tracing, and it's already too late for "quickly" implementing anything by the feds. Nor does that training and deploying tens of thousands of people with no experience in this area sound very quick—especially in contrast with the work tech companies have been doing to safely (and anonymously) trace infection spread.

But Brooks and Coons always think it's time to expand these national service programs; COVID-19 is just their latest excuse. Unsurprisingly, former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who called for national service in the Democratic primaries, is promoting Coons' bill.

By all means, direct federal money back to communities so they can manage the right responses to COVID-19 based on local needs. But nothing about this pandemic should give us high hopes for national management of such a program. The feds have done a terrible job of providing us with "national service." We absolutely should not be "unifying" behind them now.

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  1. The statement that the “federal government has done a terrible job managing the coronavirus” presumes that the federal government has some legitimate role in the management of the coronavirus. It strikes me as odd that those who write for an ostensibly libertarian periodical would not even try to hide that they neither think nor argue from a libertarian, much less constitutional, framework.

    1. I meant to write “presupposes,” not “presumes.”

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    2. That’s what I wanted to point out. Seems the only ‘help’
      the states have wanted is cash from uncle sugar. And a
      skirt to hide behind when the economic chickens come
      home to roost.

      1. Wait’ll they see the April sales tax receipts with everything closed. March was only closed for a week or two in most places.

        No wonder even Newsom wants to open more retail (curbside pickup only of course) and get the kids back in school (for those sweet federal student-days dollars and to help the teachers unions).

    3. The federal government has obviously played a large role in managing the pandemic, and I can’t see how anyone could suggest that they haven’t done a pretty terrible job. Whether that role is legitimate, and what role, if any, would be legitimate, is a completely different debate. By conflating the two, you’re adding nothing to the debate, merely indulging in holier-than-thou posturing.

      1. What exactly did they do besides Trump et al giving daily briefings and then all of them working together to spend half a years annual budget in six weeks?

      2. Why do you think we’re here?

    4. I will be charitable and assume that you just made a mistake and are not being deliberately deceptive. Criticizing how the government does something does not mean that you think they should be doing it in the first place. It doesn’t presume what you say it does; you should go back and refresh your studies into logic.

    5. Luckily the federal response wasn’t led by Cuomo (we’d all be dead by now) or Newsom (we’d all go broke). Trump’s first instinct would have been the best plan — ban international travel and do nothing, let it play out (like Obama did for H1N1).

  2. I’m not saying the response by this government hasn’t sucked, but it just seems like *other* governments who aren’t run by megalomaniacs and assholes have managed to handle this crisis (see Argentina, Germany, South Korea, and China) This disease doesn’t warrant a condemnation of government and the public sector in general. It does warrant condemnation of *this* government. I wonder if libertarians can make that distinction. From what I’ve seen probably not.

    1. don’t you have some political dissidents to murder somewhere?

    2. Wait, you think Argentina, Germany, South Korea, AND FUCKING CHINA are not run by megalomaniacs?

      1. Personally, I tend to assume anyone who fancies themself fit to “run” a country possesses a strong streak of megalomania. Although describing the (so-called) People’s (so-called) Republic of China as not being run by “megalomaniacs and assholes” was the biggest stretch there.

    3. You are funny.

      1. looking.

  3. Meh, this Pandemic is being used to push every crazypants idea that you never imagined.

    They’re right, we won’t be the same after this thing is over, because we shoved so many ideas down people’s throats that had zip to do with the pandemic.

    20 miles of Seattle streets will remain permanently closed to cars

    Stay Healthy Streets are spaces closed to cars in order to allow safe social distancing while walking, running, and rolling. SDOT previously said the streets were chosen with the goal to increase outdoor exercise opportunities in areas with limited open spaces, low car ownership, and routes connecting people to essential services and food. The street closures do not impact any food pick-up loading zones, parking near hospitals, or bus routes.

    Because of a disease, we want to keep people out of their cars… forever.

    1. Rolling? Is that some kind of catch-all term for cycling and skating? Because I immediately got this mental image of people just lying down on the ground and rolling over until they got where they were going. Which seems improbable, but, hey, Seattle, so I’m not ruling it out.

      1. I guess it refers to the constellation of activities that includes but is not limited to bicycle riding, skateboards, roller-blades… basically non-motorized (Electric bikes/scooters?) methods of getting around on wheels.

    2. yet California had a lower fatality rate because people drive everywhere.

  4. There are two kinds of Americans in their minds: 1) Those who should work for the government and 2) Those who should pay taxes to support them.

    Those of you who are not content to sit in either category, shame on you.

    1. you got it — they want the medical “front line” people to work for the government, and all the other “essential” workers to be government workers or so heavily unionized and regulated that they are essentially government workers. They call them heroes every chance they get, while making the true heroes of American capitalism (small business owners risking everything) slowly starve to death and lose out to big corporations with deeper pockets.

  5. “The coronavirus pandemic has led lots of people—myself included—to loudly insist our pet policy proposals are the right way to react to the virus.”

    True, and that’s why I love so much. I appreciate the uncompromising commitment to open borders — whether the unemployment rate is low, or at Great Depression levels.

    1. Since when do right-wing assholes like you concern themselves with poor people who have to compete for jobs with the undermenschen class of MExicans? God, it’s amazing how pathetic you Trumpian crybabies have become.

      1. Call me when they match the level of tears left in the wake of your fellow travelers.

      2. Spoiler alert: “OpenBordersLiberal-tarian” is basically a parody act. They were even vaguely amusing for a while, but really seem to be phoning it in lately. Granted, I probably shouldn’t be surprised that a self-described socialist wouldn’t recognize a joke if it walked up and bit them in the ass.

        1. Yeah, I am disappointed by the recent output as well.

  6. This thing sells itself:

    Get your Prog on – join AMERICORP – get paid to ‘contract trace’ your enemies and their friends and out them as virus-carriers so they can be placed under house arrest!

    They accuse Trump of being Putin’s puppet while implementing programs that would make the USSR & PRC blush with pride.

    1. Contact tracing works when there’s twelve cases or so to track down. Not so much when 12 million people have already been infected. The virus is everywhere.

  7. San Antonio is trying to criminalize free speech. They want people to report those who use Chinese Flu.

    Jaie Avila
    · May 7, 2020
    Replying to @JaieAvila
    Council regular Jack Finger was speaking against the resolution when his mic was cut off.

    Jaie Avila
    Council Member Manny Pelaez speaking on resolution says “hate speech is more dangerous than the virus itself”

    1. You disappoint me San Antonio. And to think you’re the home of The Alamo…

      1. San Antonio City Council Bans “Remember the Alamo” as Racist

        A council-member was overhead to say: “Remembering that the Mexican army executed illegal immigrant prisoners will only incite hatred.”

    2. Now hang on. The article is mischaracterizing the resolution.

      Here’s the main part of the resultion, without the “Whereas” section. It doesn’t criminalize anything.

      SECTION 1.
      The City of San Antonio denounces antisemitism, anti-Asian bigotry, and all hateful speech, violent action and the spread of misinformation related to COVID-19 that casts blame, promotes racism or discrimination or harms the City of San Antonio Asian and Pacific Islander, Jewish, immigrant or other communities.
      SECTION 2.
      The City of San Antonio joins cities, counties and states across the country in affirming its commitment to the safety and well-being of all community members, including the Asian and Jewish communities, and in combatting hate crimes targeting Asians, Jews and Pacific Islanders.
      SECTION 3.
      The City of San Antonio will continue its efforts to protect residents and targets and victims of hate, and to prosecute and curb hate acts related to COVID-19 in partnership with nonprofit organizations, the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, the San Antonio Police Department and other law enforcement partners.
      SECTION 4.
      The City of San Antonio pledges to support the inalienable rights of all people in our community, who should be treated with respect and must remain safe during this pandemic. We call upon all our residents to treat each other with respect.
      SECTION 5.
      The City of San Antonio urges residents to join us in calling attention to these harms and denouncing hate to help keep us all safe during this unprecedented pandemic and beyond.
      SECTION 6.
      The City Clerk is directed to forward a copy of this action to the County Judge, of Bexar County on behalf of the City.
      SECTION 7.
      This Resolution is effective immediately upon the receipt of eight affirmative votes, otherwise, it is effective ten days after passage.

      1. It says it will continue to prosecute hate acts related to covid 19. Given section 1’s “hateful speech” reference it seems pretty clear what they had in mind.

        1. I suppose it’s possible that by “hate acts” they meant “hate speech”. To the extent that’s true, this resolution is inappropriate.

          On the other hand, the city council can have whatever it wants in mind. They aren’t the ones who arrest or prosecute. And the phrasing “continue its efforts” implies that they aren’t going to be doing anything they aren’t already doing. Either way, the resolution criminalizes nothing and bans nothing.

  8. Presumably they envision something like census takers resident in every community doing contact tracing, possibly door to door, for…uh…years?

  9. Great idea! And let’s give them a snazzy uniform to build espirit de corps and, maybe a colorful armband so we can readily identify these helpers.I can’t to see them marching through my neighborhood.

  10. My idea has nothing to do with national anything. But it is ludicrous to believe there is not a huge value in unit training at the local/community level. With specialist training that addresses what the community deems it needs distributed broadly among the population.

    So that in the event of a common threat, random people can self-organize to deal with it before it becomes a bigger problem. This doesn’t happen naturally. The people who took action on 9/11 on Flight 93 all had one thing in common. They all had played team sports. That is the only venue where that skill is trained in school. But unless people have also been trained to quickly recognize imminence and respond as a group, then they fail to take action until after the threat has taken over the plane and barricaded themselves in the cockpit. At which point, it’s too late.

    Same with public health or natural disasters or a ton of other issues that only manifest as bigger problem at precisely those points when they cannot be dealt with by individuals.

    1. My church already does all of that at no cost to the greater community. All that is ever requested in return is a few moments of time to listen to a short message…

      1. Your church? Or is this the usual tripe that someone else will do this? Because I have NEVER met a libertarian actually doing charity or community service work. Not once.

        What modern libertarians of your ilk (I suspect you’re one of the Paul/Mises/ancap/R) actually seem to want is not merely the ability to avoid doing that personally (exit) but the right to veto it being done.

        1. What modern libertarians of your ilk (I suspect you’re one of the Paul/Mises/ancap/R) actually seem to want is not merely the ability to avoid doing that personally (exit) but the right to veto it being done.

          Project much? Because my actual experience with real people is that progressives are the ones you are describing. The ones who believe charity is the rightful province of government and that providing aid without permission is racist oppression and, where they can get the legislation passed, a punishable crime. Reason covers that shit all the time and it is always in some liberal bastion.

          Not only do I frequently participate in real substantial charity and community service work, giving both my time and sweat, my children, who also consider themselves libertarians both served 2 year missions before entering college, which I encouraged and applauded. Me and my ilk get along fine with just about anybody who doesn’t place their freedom/health/safety above our own, which are the type of people you tend to find in most American churches.

          I get righteously angry, and occasionally boil over into spiteful, but you are just as mean-spirited as Kirkland and as deluded as to your importance to the rest of the world as Hihn.

          1. The only religion that really walks the talk re the role of the govt v church is the Amish. Since they don’t post much on the Internet – esp not to the English, I was comfortable making that reply.

            Congrats however on successfully trolling me and getting me to respond to something entirely different than either the article or my original comment. Both of which are more about conscription/militia (in this case to deal with a threat of disease by having it engage itself in contact tracing) and whether that should be federal or state (or church). Not about soup kitchens. You know that and I know that – but still I fell for it so congrats.

            But getting back to the issue. Neither of us would trust any ‘national’ level thing like Americorps. I think this can only occur at the state/local/community level – where the cohesion/training/etc is face-to-face and personal. You seem to think it can occur at the church/private level – even when the experience of south Korea strongly indicates the opposite.

            In SK, the entire disease problem for the first six weeks or so was BECAUSE the epicenter was a church and it was leaking out from there. The opposite can also occur though – where contact tracing needs to occur across denominational lines but where a church-based effort has no possibility of fulfilling any contact tracing outside its own denomination. And re the latter, it is precisely the abdication of that notion of local/state service that let a state defense force get taken over by white supremacists so it had to shut down. Effectively vetoing that means of dealing with the current problem

            1. Not about soup kitchens. You know that and I know that

              I am sure this thread is dead, but just to be clear, I wasn’t talking about soup kitchens. I have sat in coordination meetings at church to formulate emergency response plans to blizzards, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, etc. I have personally participated in acquiring heavy equipment and the formation of action teams to cut fire breaks. It is done all the time on a volunteer basis. You might even look up who landed the first airplane carrying aid to Jamaica after the massive earthquake they had there: hint, it was not the US government or the Amish (wtf, btw?).

              You are as ill-informed about volunteerism as you are about what motivates a libertarian.

              Oh, and you can take your KGB/SS ‘contact tracing’ and shove it up your ass sideways. I have no doubt you would get plenty of volunteers to single out the candidates for quarantine or internment ‘for their own protection’, but you will find that me and my ilk would rather not line up for the gulag and your ‘disinfecting’ showers.

        2. No, we don’t want the right to veto it – but what people of your ilk actually seem to want is to be able to force others to contribute, if not actually participate, in your scheme.

          That’s what we oppose.

          People aren’t doing what you want them to do so you seem to be certain that the fault is with them and therefore the government should step in to correct that.

          1. Cute. Of course a standing army is cheaper than a militia. It’s so obvious.

            Do you know why the night watchmen concept actually failed? Because the wealthy didn’t want to waste their time at night patrolling. Which is fine – you contribute supplies instead. I’m not going to contribute supplies unless I get to decide what they do. And they shouldn’t be patrolling houses cuz there’s been no crime since they started patrolling. It’s a waste of time. They should be doing something productive like chasing down my runaway slaves instead. And whoosh – there goes the volunteer interest.

            Enter full-timers. Dependent on a paycheck. Government as the employees of the powerful. Which is exactly what classical liberals were deploring and what libertarians seem to be useful idiots to.

    2. The Boy Scouts used to do that kind of prep training.

      1. So did most societies throughout history as some sort of coming-of-age ceremony/ritual. Course they didn’t have the same sort of technical/skills training to offer back then. But the knowledge that music/percussion has a very deep ‘connective’ impulse in humans is retained by military even today. No accident the beat in that video is – a snare drum beat. And no coincidence either that Baden-Powell who founded the Boy Scouts was a general (and better at communicating/training than at operations).

        Course it’s a short slippery slope from the Cups song or the Boy Scouts to the urge to invade Poland.

    3. JFree
      May.8.2020 at 5:12 pm

      My idea has nothing to do with national anything. But it is ludicrous to believe there is not a huge value in unit training at the local/community level. With specialist training that addresses what the community deems it needs distributed broadly among the population.

      Who determines what training? Who pays for it?

      Because it would seem to me that if people agreed with you then they would already be doing it and so no further action would be necessary.

  11. I’m gonna just leave this here.

    “An article Democrat Chris Coons wrote for his college newspaper may not go over so well in corporation-friendly Delaware, where he already faces an uphill battle for Vice President Joe Biden’s old Senate seat.

    The title? “Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist.””

    1. That kind of revelation is a feature, not a bug, to the majority of Delawareans who vote. As the plaintiff lawyers destroyed duPont and took bread out of the mouths of duPont’s employees, the employees blamed management.

  12. Or your bad universal income proposals. Dems now want to give the bottom 91 percent of wage earners 2,000 dollars a month, retroactive to March, extended to 3 months AFTER the coronavirus “emergency” ends, and would start at ages 16 and up for some reason. The cost is estimated at 300 billion dollars a month, or 3 trillion if the “emergency” actually ends in September. 3.6 trillion a year if they wait for a vaccine (average time to develop being 4 years).

  13. Since public health and safety are state level powers, the feds have no constitutional powers to address CV or any other disease issues…

    1. They do if it’s a weapon.

  14. Am I the only one to notice “By all means, direct federal money back to communities so they can manage the right responses to COVID-19 based on local needs.”?

    How about letting the states keep the money in the first place? The round-trip to DC and back, minus the skimming, is a travesty of the first order. On top of that, as I recall, generally the overall flow is like that of the flow of wealth from the middle class to the 1%. The biggest, richest, states reap the harvest of the smaller, poorer, ones.

  15. The entrenched looters incapable of reacting to a bio-weapons attack have not yet repealed the Selective Service Act. Any tinpot 1850s communist regime can freely breed and dump its pet viruses on looter governments no less corrupt–and way less competent when it comes to politics “by other means.” The Gee Oh Pee and Dems are gonna haveta go. This is the 21st Century!

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