Friday, December 05, 2008

National Service

There has been talk of a national service program in the Obama administration. I'm very intrigued by the idea. I think of it as a "time tax." Obama's proposal is actually fairly mild. What might a much more expansive requirement look like? Here is the proposal that I thought of before reading Obama's version.

18 months service by age 25. Service can be done in two separate installments of 9 months. It could be satisfied by participating in any of a list of activities approved by Congress. Such a list might include: military service, public works projects, UN relief agency work, religious missionary service, Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity, tutoring in K-12 schools. Such work must include 40 hours of labor per week, but need not preclude participation in other activities.

The government would provide some basic stipend to those participating in a subset of the projects that are deemed to be directly beneficial to the country. Other options, such as religious service, would not receive a stipend but would satisfy the requirement.

This isn't really that different from the draft, it just allows more ways for people to serve outside of a military capacity.

Someone like Connor might argue that this program would amount to involuntary servitude which is prohibited by the 13th amendment. I would disagree, however, siding with the Supreme Court which wrote on this subject saying that the 13th amendment,
certainly was not intended to interdict enforcement of those duties which individuals owe to the state, such as services in the army, militia, on the jury, etc. The great purpose in view was liberty under the protection of effective government, not the destruction of the latter by depriving it of essential powers.

No, I'm not totally sold on the idea of mandatory national service. And I'm not sure what the penalties should be for violation or whether people ought to be able to pay a fee to escape the service. But I must admit that I am at least intrigued by the idea.

1 comment:

Scott Hinrichs said...

I completely disagree with mandatory national service. It is nothing more than indentured servitude. It is based on the premise that the nation owns the life of the individual, or at least part of it. People accept this idea in a monarchy, but not in a democratic society.

America was founded on the premise that each individual owns himself/herself. We fought a war, amended the Constitution, and later passed various legislation to cement this principle and apply it across the board.

What we owe to each other is fairness and freedom. Required civic duty should be minimized in favor of volunteerism. We could, for example, force people to run for office under the auspices of civic duty. But most of us recognize that this would bring us worse politicians than we get under the voluntary system we now have.

The draft is an especially sticky problem. We have always had many more serious problems each time the draft has been used, as opposed to when we have a volunteer military. We end up with more rebellion, less motivated soldiers, and far higher casualty rates.

The main thing that compulsory politically driven 'service' (i.e. servitude) teaches young people is to submit to the power of the political system. While you hope that it will teach love of country -- and it will do that for some -- it will also instill a smoldering resentment of a political system that assumes that it owns the citizen rather than the citizen owning it.