pageok
pageok
pageok
Reasons to Worry about McCain and Obama's "Public Service" Initiatives:

Shikha Dalmia of the Reason Foundation has an interesting Wall Street Journal column explaining some of the reasons why we should be deeply concerned about John McCain and Barack Obama's plans to promote "national service." In a recent follow-up, she argues that Obama's national service plans are ultimately more dangerous than McCain's (though she also believes that Obama is the lesser of the two evils overall). To my mind, the danger of Obama's proposals stems from the combination of their immense scope (covering all high school and middle school students, plus a large proportion of college students and working adults) and the fact that, if he becomes president, he will have a cooperative Democratic Congress willing to give him what he wants. I fear that implementation of Obama's plans would, among other things, establish federal government control over a large portion of the American labor force. Numerous private organizations will then have an incentive to lobby Congress to be declared eligible for participation in Obama's programs. The end result will be to make more firms and charities dependent on government, and to ensure that their priorities come into line with those of whoever controls Congress at any given point in time. Federal government allocation of large parts of the labor force is also likely to divert people away from more productive private sector activities. I'm also not convinced that we should require either school or college students to spend more time on "service" as opposed to studying for their classes. Time spent on the latter might ultimately benefit both the students and society more than additional time spent on government-defined "service" work.

John McCain's plans seem less ambitious and are also likely to face a more skeptical reception in a Congress controlled by the opposing party. There is, however, much to criticize about his emphasis on "public service" as well.

Randy R. (mail):
You can't force students to become kind and generous. I think this is a bad policy.

I would have no problem with a volunteer national service -- if you want to be a volunteer, an organization can help you identify your skills and find you a place. Perhaps throw in some incentives as well. But don't we already have enough nonprofits that can help already? I have no problem with a little gov't support in terms of promotion and cooperation, but anything more will likely be a boondoogle.
9.17.2008 2:35pm
The General:
mandatory volunteerism - not a good idea for anyone inclined to appreciate individual freedom.
9.17.2008 2:54pm
Boose:
And this is why I'm not voting this year. Republican me-too-ism needs to stop immediately.
9.17.2008 2:58pm
Rob M.:
I went to a private Jesuit high school in the early 90s that forces students to not only do community service (100hrs) but broke it down into categories that had to be filled. 25hrs with the homeless, 25hrs with the elderly, etc.

It seemed to me the vast majority of students didn't take it seriously, many would show up, sign the attendance sheet and leave, or do nothing helpful.

Worse the category restrictions even hampered actual volunteering. I did 40+hrs with the Red Cross blood bank before they added the category restrictions. I liked and would have continued with the Red Cross. I wish I could say I liked or was even helpful in the rest of the places I was forced to volunteer, but I wasn't and I was resentful of the school for it.
9.17.2008 2:59pm
Oren:
Perhaps with some luck, the Senate will prevent this BS.
9.17.2008 2:59pm
Anderson (mail):
mandatory volunteerism - not a good idea for anyone inclined to appreciate individual freedom.

This is doubtless why the General opposes the draft.

-- Me, I don't have strong feelings one way or the other on this issue -- like Oren, I'm confident that the Congress is too mainstream to allow anything upsetting --

... but, DAMN, people, if this is really a major issue for you, then you aren't paying attention to what else is going on in the world.
9.17.2008 3:01pm
John (mail):
Are we beyond the 13th amendment here?
9.17.2008 3:01pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
You know, I've probably read 20 Volokh posts on this issue, and I still can't get worked up about it. Yes, I suppose there's a theoretical point to be made against mandatory national service. But the level of outrage is quite extreme-- the government asking youths to work part time in some soup kitchen simply isn't precisely analogous to the slave trade.

Somehow, I suspect the republic will survive a national service requirement.
9.17.2008 3:03pm
Justin (mail):
Your congressional calculations are exactly backwards. If McCain wins the election, he'll be able to get more "liberalish" stuff done, because the GOP will go along and the Democratic majority will simply move to compromise upwards. But if Obama is elected, the GOP have no reason to go along, and will muck things up with filibusters, holds, etc.
9.17.2008 3:05pm
pwedza (mail):
I really fail to see the threat in creating such service programs. Neither do I view it as 'forcing'. To me, it seems to be much more a matter of providing opportunities to serve the country that are linked to the State and, as a result, fostering a more participative democracy.

It's true that there is an enormous amount of private service that is accomplished in the U.S. Could this service not be linked? Yet, at the same time, many people [or at least myself] don't necessarily want to be linked with religious service groups or other groups with an ideology - all the while recognizing that these groups do 'good things'.

As of now, most service initiatives operate in urban areas. I think that it would be good to cast a wider net. I grew up in a rural wasteland where, if you didn't participate in school related activities after school hours, most people just played video games and did drugs.

The only time I did public service as a young man was as a mandatory punishment for doing something stupid. It was actually a great experience - I got to feed wolves at a local park and work on cleaning hiking trails. In effect, it was an opportunity to do something worthwhile. Could I have done it alone? Probably - but some people need structure to go forth with things. And yes, I had long since dropped out of the Boy Scouts.

On another point, I believe that many Americans - despite chanting "U.S.A., U.S.A..." during the Olympics and at political rallies feel quite removed from the workings of our government. Service programs could foster a whole new relationship that Americans have with their country - i.e. to help people to be more participative and engaged.
9.17.2008 3:08pm
The Unbeliever:
Perhaps with some luck, the Senate will prevent this BS.
Ideally, we shouldn't have to depend on luck to stop such patently bad ideas from being implemented.
9.17.2008 3:10pm
TEvanFisher (mail):
I have to wonder about the constitutionality of any mandatory national service program. Hitler had a very similar proposal, and though I would not suggest that Obama and MaCain are national socialists, I think that their motives might be similar to that the Nazi leader.

Obama is a big-government guy. He clearly thinks that government is the best way to solve any problem. His national service program would serve to condition school-age children to the idea of working for government personally and using government as the means for solving social problems. His plan paves the way for a generation of Rooseveltian bureaucrats to graduate and migrate to Washington to fill an office and be supported by taxpayers in perpetuity.

The flaw, of course, with this line of thinking is that government is actually the LEAST effective way to solve social problems, administer service to the disadvantaged, and serve the community. Private charities and foundations have been proven to be more effective and cost-efficient.

McCain's reasoning is a bit harder to pin down. Certainly McCain is in no way a small-government politician, but what is the ultimate goal for the Senator's plan? Why doesn't he simply tell America's youth to get involved with their local church or private charity? That would definitely be the approach of a fiscal conservative or a libertarian. McCain's biographical centerpiece is his military service. It is likely that he envisions a national service plan as a way to encourage a new generation of young Americans to make sacrifices for their government and foster a sense of patriotism (or nationalism, depending on your semantic interpretation), which is a high virtue in the GOP.

But, if McCain's plan is mandatory it will backfire and create the exact effect that is sought by Obama.

Both plans amount to larger, more bloated government. Both plans have serious constitutional problems. Both candidates should properly be viewed with suspicion.

Volunteer service should be just that, voluntary. It should not be compelled or coerced, and it should be privatized.
9.17.2008 3:17pm
Incredulous:
pwedza: Why do you think _mandatory_ means "providing opportunities", not "forcing"? Does a student have the opportunity to refuse, or choose a non-government-approved volunteer job, or is he then ineligible to graduate?
9.17.2008 3:20pm
TEvanFisher (mail):
To clarify my Hitler reference, I should note that the purpose of Hitler Youth was to obtain free labor for the national government, to build in the youth an inherent trust for government, to prepare students for the lifestyle of a government or military career, and to create nationalist sentiment in that generation.
9.17.2008 3:20pm
phants (mail):
I have yet to see any details of this "plan."
Mandatory volunteer is an oxymoron -
and probably not constitutional...

Are the times, days and hours mandated?
Is it durring school or in addition to school hours?
Will transport be supplied like schoolbus routes?
Who will check, administer and submit attendance?
To whom is this submitted, with and under what authority?
What are procedures and penalties for refusal?
what are the penalties simple absence?
What charges &prosecution of refusal or abscence?

Everyone seems inclined to discuss this as if it is legal, wise, accepted, etc.. It is none of those...

Nobody's slave
9.17.2008 3:21pm
Oren:

Ideally, we shouldn't have to depend on luck to stop such patently bad ideas from being implemented.

"Patently bad" ideas supported by a large fraction of the populace are always tricky to stop. You would do well to remember that.
9.17.2008 3:23pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
Oh I don't know- maybe if this fascist BS is implemented less people will attend college.
9.17.2008 3:29pm
FWB (mail):
_The_Road_to_Serfdom_ by Hayek. Read or reread. The signs are and have been there.

Every time the government moves into an area of charity that was traditionally outside the government, the charitable portion outside government management drops.
9.17.2008 3:33pm
Just Stopping By:
This article neglects what I consider to be the more important arguments against nationalized service. First, the opportunity cost is staggering. Our young people have more important ways to occupy their time than ladling soup or painting buildings. Second, there is a fixed pot of money and time that people are willing to devote to charity and volunteerism. If they are spending that money and/or time in support of an inevitably poorly managed government run ObamaCorps, they will not be supporting the well run foundations and nonprofits that are already working on these issues. If Obama and McCain were halfway informed, the most they would propose would be supporting foundations like Gates and Meyer that are good at targeting resources to need and at the same time decreasing the regulatory friction that slows the work of nonprofits.
9.17.2008 3:33pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
As a blind person confined to a wheelchair for moving any but the shortest distances I look forward to having a government supplied fifteen year old pushing me around.
9.17.2008 3:37pm
Nifonged:
"First, the opportunity cost is staggering. "

The cost itself is staggering, not just opportunity cost.

Obama's plan is 50 hours a year, for those of us who have or have had billing requirements, we know that 50 hours is a lot of time (and its even longer for people that are a fraction of our age). Plus given that these are kids too young to drive or really "work" the typical 8-hour day, how much transactional costs (insurance, transportation, energy, etc.) will this entail? I can't imagine having kids "volunteering" more than 5 hours at a time for any project, so you're looking at 10 days (or two business weeks) to fulfill this "voluntary requirement."

I wonder if Obama's kids were just a little bit older and are starting into the rebellious stage whether he would still back this program. I remember when I was junior high, I'm sure a school-day field trip was absolute hell for the chaperones. I feel sorry for the adults that are going to have to monitor the volunteering.
9.17.2008 3:56pm
Mmmmm-hmmmm:
First, the opportunity cost is staggering. Our young people have more important ways to occupy their time than ladling soup or painting buildings.

Like working at McDonald's? The mall? What did you have in mind?

Second, there is a fixed pot of money and time that people are willing to devote to charity and volunteerism.

Yeah, that's the idea--increase the amount of time people devote to nonprofit work. Duh.

If they are spending that money and/or time in support of an inevitably poorly managed government run ObamaCorps, they will not be supporting the well run foundations and nonprofits that are already working on these issues.

Really, teenagers are supporting well-run foundations and nonprofits? But I thought you said teenagers have better things to do? Get your story straight.
9.17.2008 3:58pm
Anderson (mail):
Hitler had a very similar proposal

Right. I'm particularly worried by Obama's proposal to send 300,000 volunteers into Poland.
9.17.2008 4:00pm
wfjag:
Reasons to Worry about McCain and Obama's "Public Service" Initiatives:

1. We're from the Government and we're here to help you;
2. We're from the Government and we're here to help you;
3. We're from the Government and we're here to help you;
4. We're from the Government and we're here to help you;
5. We're from the Government and we're here to help you;
9.17.2008 4:01pm
Angus:

First, the opportunity cost is staggering.
The cost is quite high, but the opportunity cost I think is nil. It's just two hours per week less the kids would spend playing Playstation3 or XBox360.
9.17.2008 4:07pm
Oren:

Our young people have more important ways to occupy their time than ladling soup or painting buildings.

I recall having large numbers of hours with jack shit to do as a teenager.
9.17.2008 4:08pm
Waldensian (mail):
I ask again: if you're going to institute mandatory volunteerism, why not put the old people to work. Many of them have valuable skills, and these skills are going wasted during their retirement.

I'd link the number of hours required to some sort of formula. More hours if you are taking out WAY more Social Security than you ever paid in. Fewer hours if you were ever shot at during WWII, Korea, or Vietnam.

"Old People: It's time they gave something back."
9.17.2008 4:11pm
trad and anon (mail):
I fear that implementation of Obama's plans would, among other things, establish federal government control over a large portion of the American labor force.
Insofar as "the American labor force" means "middle and high school students, for 50 hours a year apiece," sure. I guess there's the college students too, but full-time students are generally not part of the labor force, unless you count the school library. And the college students are being incentivized, not required, to serve via refundable tax credit.
Numerous private organizations will then have an incentive to lobby Congress to be declared eligible for participation in Obama's programs.
Really? I'm not sure being deluged with middle schoolers wanting to do volunteer on an extremely part-time basis would be such an incentive. I guess the college students might be useful though.
Federal government allocation of large parts of the labor force is also likely to divert people away from more productive private sector work.
God forbid, high school students will have an incentive to volunteer rather than working part-time for minimum wage at Mickey D's. This might be a problem for poor kids but that's not Ilya's concern: he's concerned that minimum wage at McDonald's is "more productive" than helping the Red Cross with blood drives.

I can't say I favor mandatory volunteerism for schoolkids but Ilya's histrionics are hard to take seriously.
9.17.2008 4:13pm
Randy R. (mail):
"I recall having large numbers of hours with jack shit to do as a teenager."

Recall the cover of a Calvin and Hobbes book, showing them sleeping in a tree, and the book is entitled: The Days Are Just Packed!

If you want kids to do something productive with their lives, I suggest a negative, rather than a positive: Remove all tv and computers from their lives. Half of them will drop dead (which is probablly a good thing, IMO), but a certain percentage might actually discover things called 'nature' or 'outdoors' or 'real people'.

Heck, it might even work for us adults.
9.17.2008 4:17pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
As always, the liberal folks here who are willing to say "what's the big problem" with something as mind-boggling bad as this proposal scare me. These are folks who tend to be paranoid about any step taken by George Bush to protect us from terrorist attack, who scream that the government is not to be trusted the slightest bit, but when somebody from their own party says he wants the government to MANDATE (and yes, that means "force") every single person of a certain age to devote themselves to a task ultimately selected by the government for more than an entire work week every year, they say, "hey, no problem, it'll be good."

Listen to terrorist calls into this country from those outside it? "Oh, no, Police State!" Require "national service" to help teach youth the "proper values?" "Hey, that's great, that's what government SHOULD be doing."

As I have before, I can't imagine that this will ultimately pass the Congress, no matter who is elected President. Most likely, it will be watered down into some voluntary program that the government spends a fortune to administer. If it were adopted, it will end when the first father teenager is arrested for refusing to go work for the government.

I'm sorry, but if you support government-mandated universal service, in peace time, for an entire age group of citizens, you are a fascist.
9.17.2008 4:18pm
trad and anon (mail):
The cost is quite high, but the opportunity cost I think is nil. It's just two hours per week less the kids would spend playing Playstation3 or XBox360.
You've forgotten the many other productive activities our teenagers engage in, such as whining, texting, writing facebook comments, looking at internet porn, griping, watching TV, "hanging out," getting drunk, shopping, complaining, and demanding money from their parents.
9.17.2008 4:20pm
Mmmmm-hmmmm:
About Ilya's "fears" and "dangers" mentioned in the post: which is the bigger danger, some program where teenagers clean up graffiti, or the Fed taking over huge segments of the banking and insurance industries? Some perspective is in order here.
9.17.2008 4:21pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
9.17.2008 4:25pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Also, who really wants to try and organize a bunch of kids who are too young to legally work any non-family job using tools as inocous as a hot glue gun?
9.17.2008 4:28pm
Mmmmm-hmmmm:
I'm sorry, but if you support government-mandated universal service, in peace time, for an entire age group of citizens, you are a fascist.

This was meant to be funny, right? I mean, you are a supporter of Bush's torture regime, how can anyone take such a thing seriously?
9.17.2008 4:29pm
josh:
I've seen a lot of references to "mandatory" service. Could someone point me to campaign literature or statements in which either candidate has proposed such reqquired work? This post links to a Lindgren post. The Lindgren post does have a link to Obama's web site in which the proposal is detailed. There discussion of "encouraging" 50 hours a year of high school students and 100 hours for college in exchange for $4,000 in tax incentives.

I suppose proposals like these can raise concerns about costs to taxpayers, but I don't see how the proposals are mandatory.
9.17.2008 4:30pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

About Ilya's "fears" and "dangers" mentioned in the post: which is the bigger danger, some program where teenagers clean up graffiti, or the Fed taking over huge segments of the banking and insurance industries? Some perspective is in order here.


I believe there is a thread concerning the bailouts- the perspective you mention in this thread is a strawman.

-and here's one from me: how 'bout we make graffiti punitively illegal rather than treating it as an artform that innocent people have to be organized to remove?
9.17.2008 4:34pm
Oren:
(1) Graffiti is illegal
(2) You cannot propose adding more nonviolent offenders to prisons until you either reduce the prison population or provide the funding to build more prisons. As it is now, large numbers of offenders are released before their sentences are up to make room.
9.17.2008 4:39pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Thank you for proving my point precisely, Mmmmm-hmmmmm. The Bush Administration subjects 3, count 'em, 3 terrorist leaders to water-boarding, and it's a "torture regime." Your candidate proposes government-mandated "service" requirements, and that's just good government. You're not afraid of government power in general, you just want to be able to control what it does.
9.17.2008 4:40pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
josh... one of the links to a Reason piece says that Sen. Obama's plan would make all federal aid to schools conditioned on the school adopting a mandatory service requirement. Thus, on the one hand, there would be no "mandatory" service just as there is no "mandatory" national speed limit and no "mandatory" national drinking age. States only have to adopt 21 as the drinking age (and a max speed limit) if they want to receive a single federal tax dime for transportation.

Federal support of higher education is nearly universal... almost every college and university receives federal aid, and all reputable ones at least are approved to accept Pell Grants for low-income students. Either colleges would have to radically restructure (and lose out on a lot of opportunities to help poor kids attend school) or they'd have to require this mandatory service. Look how hard even huge, rich colleges have fought to refuse ROTC on their campuses and still collect the federal money. They NEED that federal money... and so do the poor kids who depend upon federal aid to obtain a higher education.

And for all those fools in this thread sneering at kids working at McDonalds, a lot of those kids are earning money for college. One of my law school classmates worked his way through law school as a part-time manager at a Subway.

Look, rich kids will find a way out of this. Daddy will make a nice contribution to a local qualified charity, and they'll be happy to sign baby daughter's time-card without actually requiring her to work.

As is often the case with well-intentioned government programs, it is the working poor and middle class who will be most hurt by this. Fifty hours is a lot of money lost when you're working 2 or 3 jobs and trying to go to school at the same time. All those lazy kids y'all are sneering at will show up and punch their clock until the charity realizes they're more trouble than they're worth and sends them on their way. Then the lazy ones will go right back to doing squat, smoking pot and playing video games. It's the diligent, decent folks who (as always) will be screwed by the government with this.
9.17.2008 4:52pm
Suzy (mail):
After so many posts on this subject, I think it might be time to get a little more specific with evidence. What exactly makes this "mandatory" labor? Where is the evidence that the service projects "mandated" are in conflict with the curriculum and take time away from it, rather than enhancing it? Until someone can provide some decent evidence, in one of the many posts we've seen on the subject, I'm afraid it sounds like a giant straw man.

I know this falls on deaf ears, but here's another specific example I just read about that is happening in my daughter's school system: A group of students is going to volunteer for a weekend trip to help clean and restore a nearby historical site. In preparation for the trip, they will be doing research on the topic. They will engage in discussion and activities on site as part of the lesson.

This probably counts as the "50 hours of service" right there. It has a direct educational value. The activity will probably do more to ensure that students retain the relevant information than if they sat through lectures on the same topic. They are not forced to participate in this activity, but sign up for it. Where is the downside, specifically to activities like these? And where is the evidence that the service proposals--whether Obama's or McCain's, I am not partisan about this--would require something so vastly different from what I am describing? These are real examples; on the other side I see a lot of speculative heavy breathing.
9.17.2008 4:54pm
David Warner:
Dilan,

"the government asking youths to work part time in some soup kitchen simply isn't precisely analogous to the slave trade."

Asking? Kennedy exhorted us to do the asking. Now McBama wants to arrogate that responsibility to the government because they don't like the answers. Whatever that is, its not liberal.
9.17.2008 4:59pm
Mmmmm-hmmmm:
Since there's no mandate except when taking gov't funds for education, that does indeed sound like good government and good ROI. Care to point to the fascism inherent in such a scheme? Weird that you'd be supporting government handouts with no return, but hey, politics makes strange bedfellows.

What have we gotten for torturing "three" terrorists? Our elected officials named war criminals? KSM admitting to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby? Lemme guess, some number of terrorist attacks have not been carried out, but we can't say how many or when or where. Great work, that.
9.17.2008 5:00pm
SPO:
Let me get this straight--the federal government is going to use the spending power to coerce local schools into imposing a 50 hr service requirement on middle and high school students? And people don't think that's coercion or is somehow ok because they disagree with how kids spend their time.

What is truly scary about this is that people actually think that they have a right to dictate to others how they use their time. Who in the hell is John McCain, Barack Obama or anyone to try to tell my kids they have to spend 50 hrs a year doing some sort of national service? We have a saying: "It's a free country." Well, it isn't if this nonsense ever comes to pass.
9.17.2008 5:12pm
wfjag:

4) Giving up freedom for security has begun to look naive.

Even to me. Many of you were ahead of me on this-Three out of four hijacked airplanes destroyed the World Trade Center and a piece of the Pentagon in 2001. How is it possible that those planes were taken using only five perps armed with knives? It was possible because all those hundreds of passengers had been carefully stripped of every possible weapon. We may want to reconsider this approach. It doesn't work in high schools either.

Niven's Laws 2002, with author's commentary Jan 29, 2002 www.larryniven.org/stories/nivens_laws_2002.shtml

"Mandatory volunteerism" -- Teach us to be more like sheep. Sheep don't think very much. Maybe they're happier for that reason.
9.17.2008 5:22pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Suzy, nobody is against volunteering. Our country's citizens volunteer more than just about anybody else in the world. What we're opposed to is the government ordering us to do it, and dictating which charities are "approved" for such service and which aren't.

Mmmm-hmmm.... If you want to condition Pell Grants, say, on a requirement that the specific individual receiving it work on a government job for awhile, that's fine by me. I think it would be a bad idea, because I think that would probably hinder that individual's education, diverting time away from either school work or from the other jobs the Pell Grant recipient is working to pay for all the school expenses not covered by the grant.

But we're not talking about that here. We're talking about the federal government telling the schools not that the SCHOOL has to do something for the government in return, but that the school must compel its students, even those paying full tuition and not actually getting any direct funding from the government, that they must do government-dictated work.

And the issue with your label of "terror regime" is not the merits of torturing KSM and his ilk. The relevance is that because the government "tortures" three particular individuals who have conspired to kill thousands of innocent people around the world (including the U.S.) in order to prevent more such killings, you label the current administration a torture regime. But when YOUR favored candidate wants to compel not 3 guilty people but millions of innocent people to do mandated work for the government, you think that's just fine and dandy.
9.17.2008 5:25pm
ruralcounsel (mail):
Suzy:
How can you compare "mandatory" with your "voluntary" example with a straight face? There's plenty of info out there giving conceptual details of what the candidates want, in order to debate it now. We shouldn't have to wait until its a done deal to piss and moan about what a lousy idea it is. Laying down a smokescreen for your favorite candidate?

Mmmmm-hmmmm:
Having a hard time processing that fascist tendencies are to be found in both parties, are we? I vote we create a mandatory program for you and your family, such that if you want to have any of the benefits of the services you already pay for through your taxes (e.g. public schooling, guaranteed student loan programs, etc.) you'll need to spend time doing whatever I say is a valuable activity. It'll be good for you. I'll make sure it's for a worthy purpose. Honest! You can trust me.

Oren:
Maybe you had JS to do, but I've got plenty of work for my kids to do at home helping out the family. Besides, part of being a kid is to have time to be a kid ... I wasn't aware that we had national productivity quotas to meet. As far as I'm concerned, their time is my time, up until they turn 18 and I'm no longer providing room &board. Just because it's the government, and for someone else's idea of "charity", doesn't make it right.
9.17.2008 5:42pm
ruralcounsel (mail):
BTW, do people who don't have kids, or don't have many kids have to buck up and contribute to this trainwreck too?

They're already freeloading on the Social Security system, as far as I can tell, since they aren't helping raise any replacement taxpayers for the time they start drawing on the system.

It's time they started "ask[ing] what [they] can do for [their] country." Or else we can tell 'em what they have to do!
9.17.2008 5:51pm
trad and anon (mail):
Let me get this straight--the federal government is going to use the spending power to coerce local schools into imposing a 50 hr service requirement on middle and high school students? And people don't think that's coercion or is somehow ok because they disagree with how kids spend their time.
What's next, complaining about the "coercion" involved in making kids do homework?

I don't care for this plan but the proper response is to yawn, not to go into histrionics about coercion and fascism.
9.17.2008 6:00pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Yes, let's all just yawn at proposals to conscript into peacetime "volunteer" service at government do-nothing jobs, wasting billions of dollars worth of man-hours every year. That's smart. The problem, trad and anon, is that politicians take the public yawning as a sign that we don't care what they do, and then they go off and vote for it to appease some little bloc of constituents who DO think it's a great idea.

Silence is consent.
9.17.2008 6:10pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

(2) You cannot propose adding more nonviolent offenders to prisons until you either reduce the prison population or provide the funding to build more prisons. As it is now, large numbers of offenders are released before their sentences are up to make room.


(1) Oh yes I can.

(2) Who says put them in jail?- get them out side and start scrubbin'.
9.17.2008 6:12pm
Nifonged:
"What's next, complaining about the "coercion" involved in making kids do homework?"

If the federal government is mandating it, yeah. That's sort of the whole point.
9.17.2008 6:18pm
ruralcounsel (mail):
trad and anon:
What's next, complaining about the "coercion" involved in making kids do homework?

The government doesn't make my kids do homework. I do. The coercion is mine ... and that makes it okay.

You seem to confuse personal responsibility with government control.
9.17.2008 6:19pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

John McCain's plans seem less ambitious and are also likely to face a more skeptical reception in a Congress controlled by the opposing party. There is, however, much to criticize about his emphasis on "public service" as well.

Really, like what? Because despite you and Shikha Dalmia's attempt to suggest that we should be "afraid" of McCain's proposal, this is the sum total of what she wrote about it:
Mr. McCain certainly uses his bully pulpit to proselytize Americans about public service. But he more or less stops there, even repeatedly cautioning during the Columbia forum against federalizing public service, although that doesn't mean that he wouldn't throw taxpayer money at some of his pet service projects. However, his Web site offers nothing near what Mr. Obama is proposing.


So basically it seems like McCain favors encouraging people to do more volunteer work and is against the federal government taking it over. That's worthy of fear or criticism, how exactly?

Look I'm sure we all realize that Dalmia's in the tank for Obama and it's necessary for her to create some fantasy narrative for her libertarian friends about how McCain is worse* but this seems pretty silly to even suggest that they are comparable on this issue.

* Except for taxes, spending, RTKBA, free trade, corporate welfare, entitlement program reform, health care reform, school choice, earmarks, ethanol subsidies, etc.
9.17.2008 6:21pm
p. rich (mail) (www):
There is, however, much to criticize about his emphasis on "public service" as well.

Which you conveniently failed to detail, choosing instead a vague general criticism. No points for you, Pookie.
9.17.2008 7:19pm
Ilya Somin:
About Ilya's "fears" and "dangers" mentioned in the post: which is the bigger danger, some program where teenagers clean up graffiti, or the Fed taking over huge segments of the banking and insurance industries? Some perspective is in order here.

Government "service" programs including millions of people are not a minor issue. However, concern about them doesn't exclude concern about the Fed's recent actions. I oppose both.
9.17.2008 7:28pm
Smokey:
Obama is eagerly following the trail blazed here.
9.17.2008 8:07pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
It's just two hours per week less the kids would spend playing Playstation3 or XBox360.


Generally speaking, you don't have the power to remove leisure time, unless there is no other time use which can be reduced. If you honestly think you can strap two extra hours of 'work' -- even laughable busy work -- onto the side of a teenage kid's week and still get the same quality of homework, after school activities, and culturally acceptable social interactions in, I hope you've got another think coming.
9.17.2008 8:16pm
Dr. T (mail) (www):
Dilan Esper said: "...But the level of outrage is quite extreme-- the government asking youths to work part time in some soup kitchen simply isn't precisely analogous to the slave trade."

Apparently Esper has not heard or seen the proposals. This isn't about a few hours a week in a soup kitchen. It's about the government forcing our young adults into one or two full years of unpaid servitude in the military or anyplace in the country. An 18-year-old from Nebraska could be sent to Miami to clean up city streets. A 19-year-old from Brooklyn could be sent to work with migrant farm laborers in California.

As the father of two teenage girls, I am very concerned about Obama's proposal and moderately concerned about McCain's proposal. I believe that both candidates are supporting temporary enslavement of our young adults for unneeded purposes. The real agenda, as others have noted, is the formation of a huge government labor pool and the further expansion of the 'federal' government into local affairs.
9.17.2008 8:44pm
kurt9 (mail):
My question to those of you who advocate national service remains unanswered:

What defines public service? Is it limited to social work? Or would it include any kind of productive effort that benefits society as a whole?

Take the 130 IQ brainy kids at the local high school. Would it not be a more effective use of their cognitive resources to let them work in a cancer or fusion energy research laboratory than to require them to do social work for the homeless? One would consider the later to a waste of human talent, would it not?
9.17.2008 9:17pm
Dick King:
Boose, rather than not voting this year, I'd like to urge you to vote the rest of the ballot and just leave out the presidential race.

It is my fond hope that those who plan for th enext election will see th emissing presidential votes, will think of them as votes that they could have gotten, and will field more appealing candidates.

-dk
9.17.2008 9:22pm
kurt9 (mail):
Dr. T,

Ideological issues such as freedom aside, consider the following scenario:

Obama proposes to create a civilian parallel system to the military. Your daughters could be drafted into it and shipped off to do "social work" in places like East St. Louis or Detroit. They could be attacked, raped, or even killed by thugs in these places as a result. You would not be able to sue for their injuries or deaths because the Federal government has sovereign immunity in these cases. Remember, this is a civilian equivalent to military service. So, the Federal government would not be any more liable for their injury or death than it would if they had enlisted in the military and shipped off to fight a war.

This is not an improbable scenario under an Obama administration, backed by a democratic congress.

If this bothers you (and it should), you should consider making this into a campaign issue by contacting and discussing this ugly scenario with as many parents as you possibly can.
9.17.2008 9:30pm
DADvocate (mail) (www):
mandatory volunteerism

An oxymoron if there ever was one.

The best thing a person can do is get a job and support themselves and their family, if they have one. These public service ideas are a very bad joke. The last thing we need is the government telling us who to help and how to help them.

Whether it's collecting food for the food bank, assisting a neighbor or relative, or working on some other school/community project, my kids and I have no shortage of real volunteer activities.

Obama wants a program he can use to indoctrinate kids into his socialist/Marxist philosophy. McCain's promoting it because he thinks he has to in order to match up against Obama.
9.17.2008 10:02pm
James Lindgren (mail):
The 10 billion dollar number floated by the campaign and the WSJ for the college program makes no sense.

17 million college students x $4,000 = 68 billion dollars

If some students don't qualify and others are induced to attend college by the $4,000 and it costs $$ to run the program, then it should cost perhaps $60 to $100 billion.

That assumes that bogus schools don't crop up to make it easy for nonstudents to collect $4,000 for minimal studying.
9.17.2008 11:31pm
Elliot123 (mail):
How about using the kids to watch he southern border and alert the border patrol when Mexicans are crossing? Jantorial work in public buildings? Picking up garbage for municipalities? Cleaning out sewers? Cleaning public toilets? Picking up trash along highways? Making license plates for the state? I'd predict the experience would be so rewarding they would continue to clean public toilets for 50 hours every year for the rest of their lives.
9.18.2008 12:43am
Suzy (mail):
After trying to engage in this argument several times, I realize this is fruitless...
but is anyone who opposes these programs even willing to consider--not agree with, just consider!--the possibility that they are good not because of the abstract idea of "volunteerism", but because they actually teach kids more of the same kind of stuff they are already learning in school?

The last time I brought this up, some wiseacre suggested "story problems" as the relevant alternative. Um, there's a reason many kids hate those canned problems, and would probably learn a concept better when it could be applied to a real-life example.

Again, I'm not expecting to change anyone's mind, I'm just asking for a wee bit more honesty from the opposition. Service learning DOES involve learning, and many empirical studies have been done in this area so you don't have to take my word for it. Kids seem to grasp and retain concepts better when they are interested in a real-world application, or can get their hands on it, literally.

I think both Obama and McCain seem to grasp this; it's not a partisan issue for me.
9.18.2008 2:25pm
David Warner:
Suzy,

You're correct about the value of "service learning", which is why it doesn't require a government mandate to continue to grow. Such a mandate, in fact, would likely do more to kill it than encourage such growth.

Advocates of service learning would do better to broaden the definition of service to embrace for-profit enterprise than to bring in the sledgehammer of the federal government (which happens to already have more than enough on its plate anyway)

The Lenny State: loving civic initiative to death since 1932.
9.18.2008 2:38pm
Suzy (mail):
David, yours strike me as reasonable arguments that must be dealt with. First, we already encourage some kinds of cooperative ventures between for-profit enterprises and schools, like "shadow" days where students get to observe different kinds of businesses or careers. What are the limits of such cooperation, though? This kind of arrangement seems to benefit the students more than the businesses, and the students aren't doing work for the business. If we say we don't want students doing unpaid work for businesses, on principle, perhaps we should also say that we don't want them doing unpaid work for non-profits, either. However, we already expect them to do lots of unpaid work in school, and we grade them, which significantly affects their future prospects, on precisely that basis. So what exactly makes one kind of service-learning work appropriate and another not appropriate? I'm sure there are legal questions here that I, unlike the other legal minds on this blog, cannot answer. Honestly, I have an open mind on the subject, though--it raises a lot of thorny issues.

The other issue is whether federal funds should be used to encourage such projects. Here I actually have a lot more sympathy with those opposed to service learning. I'm not sure it's a) a good use of taxpayer funds, and b) constutitional or appropriate for the federal government to get into these kinds of curriculum decisions. I wouldn't want the federal government telling us what we must do in chemistry class, and tying the loss of federal funding to it, so I have a theoretical opposition to demanding other parts of a curriculum like service learning. I think state and local control is better on the whole for making those decisions, so this is the strongest argument in my view against any federal involvement in the matter.
9.18.2008 4:47pm
David Warner:
Suzy,

Then we are agreed. The more visceral responses elsewhere in this comment section actually arise from similar concerns.
9.19.2008 12:09am
Ryan Olcott (mail):
I have recently come to believe that true volunteering is a horrible waste of human productivity. To clarify, if no-one is willing to trade value for the volunteer work, no-one should be wasting their life doing it. If the worker is getting value (valuable experience, etc.) in the process, it isn't volunteering, they are just not being paid with money.

The trick is that only the worker can decide whether they get value from the activity. "Mandatory Volunteering" is slavery and worse. True volunteering (where the volunteer has nothing to gain) is nothing more than signing yourself up for (part-time) slavery performing worthless work. It is anti-productive and unethical.

Service Learning. If I want to do service learning I can do it at my own discretion, as I did as a kid (when I had a choice, this mandatory volunteering isn't new) and continue to do. I do it when I feel I get value out of it. I does not matter if anyone else values it - I'm not doing it for them. If I was, they'd be paying me for it, value for value.

Service learning also tends to be far less enlightening and productive than learning by doing work people are actually willing to pay you for. It is really quite simple, in most cases learning to do the unpaid work more effectively will get you... nothing - remember, no one is giving anything of value for it. On the other hand, learning to be more effective in work other people are willing to trade value for will get you (and them).. more value, faster.

Real opportunities for "service learning" - where workers gain a lot of valuable knowledge and experience (i.e. helping out a professional in a trade you want to pursue) are very limited and usually competitive. What our millions of students in these mandatory volunteer programs are going to be stuck doing are the far more common soup kitchen/food drive/garbage pickup types of volunteer work that provide ZERO educational value to the student ("but slavery builds character!!" says Calvin's dad).

If you think it is valuable to have clean streets - then do it yourself or pay someone to do it. Don't make slaves out of your neighbor's children and tell them they're better for it.

And a side point because I see it mentioned so much - the Nazis weren't the only monsters that tried to mobilize their youth. Obama's plan sounds a lot more like Mao's Cultural Revolution than the Hitler Youth to me. Goal(s) wise I think they are much more closely aligned. Obama is also more of a socialist than a national socialist (the only real distinction being the pragmatism and nationalism). Mao was also much more effective than Hitler at cultivating their young minds (by turning them into plant food).
9.19.2008 1:24am
Suzy (mail):
Well, now that we've settled the issue of whether Obama is more like Mao or Hitler...

Students are forced to attend school without being paid (mostly, unless they earn scholarships later on). We do this because we assume that they learn something in the process. You assume that valuable learning only takes place when someone gets paid to do a job. If you're right, then pedagogy is a hopeless enterprise.

You do imply later that some service learning might involve learning, but then you lament that most people won't be able to engage in these more useful opportunities. Could it be that's exactly the sort of thing Obama and McCain's service programs are designed to improve?
9.19.2008 12:37pm
Ryan Olcott (mail):
I'd say something pithy about reading comprehension, but I think you probably had no problem comprehending my comment. Rather you just chose to make misrepresentations for your man of straw.

I was very specific in saying "value for value" rather than "value for money payment" in order to keep the myopic from successfully attributing such ridiculous assumptions to me.

To reiterate, students going to school are receiving value for value. Their parents (or the student) paid value (money) for value (the education). The only entity "forcing" the student to endure the hardship and work of school are either themselves or their parents - because they paid for it and want the value that is due them (i.e. an education or educated offspring).


The implications of Suzy's last supposition are pretty interesting. I'd like to see how Obama or McCain could increase the types of "service learning" opportunities I mentioned previously without greatly expanding the scope of their forced volunteerism to encompass a large sector of the professional class (from whom such mentors would have to be drawn). Would that affect U.S. productivity?
9.19.2008 1:07pm
Suzy (mail):
Yes, I know what you mean by value for value. The problem is that you refuse to allow that service learning can be part of that value equation in any but a particular narrow way that you consider best, and that you cannot envision expanding without more "forced" volunteerism.
9.21.2008 4:59pm