The Arizona Desert Lamp

Weekend Notes and the Service Debate

Posted in Campus, Media, Politics by Evan Lisull on 23 November 2008

First, I’d like to take some time to welcome new guest-writer Matt Styer, whose first post can be read here. Matt was also a columnist for the Daily Wildcat last year, and is indeed an “unrepentant social democrat with strong Green sympathies.” Zounds! But yes, expect some good intra-Lamp debates in the coming weeks.

Yet let’s not forget the inter-blog debates — and what a doozy we had this week. It started with Justyn Dillingham’s column praising Obama’s national service plan (which I’ve written about briefly at another blog). Connor quickly responded with a post and a guest column in the Wildcat, while Dillingham and Styer provided counter-counterblastes. Fun all around!

Unsurprisingly, I’m with Connor on this one. Matt describes this as a “freakout,” but somehow my fear isn’t assuaged by his assertion that this is “pretty unnecessary.” I have trouble seeing how this is different from a draft. I am being forced to engage in an activity for the federal government, an activity that I do not approve of. I realize that the Supreme Court ruled that the draft is not forbidden by the Thirteenth Amendment, but the Supreme Court is not always perfect.

Furthermore, it ignores how quickly this sort of draft would be politicized. How will Dillingham and Styer respond when they are drafted to volunteer at an evangelical soup kitchen? Also, drafts are usually in responses to grand emergencies. What is the emergency here? Or will the “everything is worthy of intervention” approach to foreign policy applied to domestic policy as well?

Justyn also makes the assertion that “. . .requiring something of public school students is quite a different matter than requiring it of free men.” You’re slaves, all of you, blind slaves! But in all seriousness, I find this troubling as well. Crazy as it may seem, I’ve always held that public education is for. . .education. Not sensitivity training, not feel-good pabulum, not community outreach. Our kids act more kindly, but it is the kindness of ignoramuses rather than of free men. Already, schools are having issues getting kids to learn — is throwing in a 100 required hours of community service going to remedy the solution? At the very least, give the lower and middle classes the option to opt out of such a system, like the Obamas have. I can has voucherz, plz?

Matt approvingly cites the civil service requirements of Western Europe, but we have to remember that America is different. Warts and all, liberty means a lot more in the US than it does anywhere else — in fact, I’d argue that our nation is one of the few philosophically-based nations, rooted more deeply in a sense of the American Ideal (which, I’d argue is a Puritan-cum-libertarian one in politics) than any common Volk or shared history.

I’ll reiterate a half-joking, half-“No, really though, why not” proposal I made earlier — use the Obamatrons! Many of Obama’s young devotees still hold their dear leader in loving ecstasy, and would be more than willing to serve at his beck and call. Why not keep volunteerism voluntary, and enlist these drones, rather than using force to subject the rest of us to unwilling labor?

Finally, the “most generous nation” line refers to a study from the upcoming Foreign Policy (via Tyler Cowen).

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2 Responses

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  1. Connor Mendenhall said, on 24 November 2008 at 4:54 am

    The Cowen link is to a study on remittances, which I didn’t even consider. The figures in my column were first read in a Wall Street Journal article by Shikha Dalmia, “Comparing Obama and McCain on Public Service.” They were confirmed by “Volunteering in America,” a report from the Corporation for National and Community Service, and several other sources, most notably a September 2003 blog post from Marginal Revolution titled “Who is stingy?”

    Let me be clear: evidence shows that Americans are the most generous people on Earth, at least when it comes to charitable giving and volunteer hours.

  2. mattstyer said, on 24 November 2008 at 9:31 am

    Thanks for the references Connor. Interesting. I have read figures elsewhere in a comparative public policy book and several other sources I researched for that class that the Nordics were the most generous. I’ll have to crosscheck those with yours later today.


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