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Service Nation, Part III: Mandatory Community Service is a Basic Assault on Anglo-American Liberty.--

Every year around so-called "tax freedom" day, people talk about moving from working for the government to working for themselves. But this is too glib because it conflates paying taxes with compelled physical labor. There is a big difference, one central to the history of Anglo-American liberty.

Under the medieval system in much of Europe, serfs or peasants owed obligations of actual physical labor (beyond military service) to their political overseers. As English liberties grew, this obligation of physical labor was replaced by the right to pay taxes instead, with the chief exception being obligations of military service for males. Free men were increasingly free to choose their line of work and pay their political overseers with money, rather than owing an obligation of service to whatever physical tasks happened to be thought important or profitable to the upper and the political classes.

Service Nation is an organization devoted to stripping away this bulwark of Anglo-American liberty, hoping by the year 2020 to require every young American man and woman to be drafted into either military or community service.

[4th UPDATE: Service Nation has emphatically stated that it does not favor mandatory service, favoring only voluntary service. My characterization of their goal for 2020 was based mostly on their 13th stated goal, which used to be on their website, but has since been scrubbed: "13. Launch a debate about why and how America should become a nation of universal national service by 2020: debating baby bond, lottery draft, new GI Bill, etc." Their email to me did not explain what they did mean by their 13th goal, but I hope to speak with them next week. Their more immediate goals include passing a National Service Act in 2009 (which would probably not require universal service).]

But they do not even discuss the Constitutional Amendment that ought to be required before they can mandate community service and take away the hard-won Anglo-American liberty from involuntary servitude. The Constitution gives the Federal Government the power to raise a military, which in the 18th century contemplated an obligation of male citizens to serve in the military. In my opinion, the Constitution does not give the Federal Government the power to compel community service.

Let's hope that the Supreme Court would not permit Service Nation's move backwards to a more feudal relationship between ordinary people and the people who govern them. One senses that de Toqueville understood American values of volunteerism and freedom of association much better than the people behind Service Nation, an understanding that was also concerned about the tyranny of the majority.

UPDATE: Service Nation's coordinator, Alan Khazei, argues that doing community service turns on one's "'justice nerve. . . . And once a justice nerve is turned on, it rarely goes off."

It seems to me that, if it really turned on one's justice nerve, one would have a good enough sense of justice to oppose Service Nation's unjust goal of state-mandated public service. I wonder whether instead forced community service would tend to turn on one's "collectivist nerve."

2d UPDATE: Comments below helpfully point to Butler v. Perry (1914), in which the Supreme Court upheld a Florida statute that required EITHER 6 days of labor a year on local roads OR the provision of an able-bodied substitute OR the payment of $3 to the road repair fund.

Although the statute allowed the payment of a tax to avoid service (which made service not mandatory), from reading the case my guess is that the Court would probably have upheld the statute even if it were truly mandatory.

Whether requiring a full year, rather than 6 days a year, would be allowed and whether one could expand services beyond road building duties is unclear.

3d UPDATE:

1. Philip Hamburger points out that the federal government is one of enumerated powers, while the states have more general powers. This wouldn't affect the involuntary servitude argument, but it would affect whether the Constitution gives the Federal Government power to compel participation in an "army" of domestic service workers several times larger than the US military.

2. Ann Althouse comments:

Service Nation. It sounds like the title of a dystopian novel.

You'd think before naming your movement, you'd check the etymology of your key word:

service...

ETYMOLOGY: Middle English, from Old French, from Latin servitium, slavery, from servus, slave.

But as Lindgren notes, one man's "justice nerve" is another man's "collectivist nerve." Something might sound so right to you, that you don't even notice how it sounds to others.

3. I came across these quotations from De Toqueville:

a. Every central government worships uniformity: uniformity relieves it from inquiry into an infinity of details.

b. Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.

I very much doubt that the highest and best use of ALMOST EVERY American for a year of his or her life is to spend it in a government program.

4th UPDATE: See the 4th UPDATE embedded in text above.]

Richard Nieporent (mail):
Let's hope that the Supreme Court would not permit Service Nation's move backwards to a more feudal relationship between ordinary people and the people who govern them.

Justice Kennedy would find a national consensus in favor of it.
7.23.2008 10:43am
Timothy Sandefur (mail) (www):
Prof. Larry Sabato actually does advocate a constitutional amendment for this purpose, in his recent book. He's not quite explicit about the fact that the reason his proposal would require an amendment is because he's calling for involuntary servitude--a matter he brushes aside as of little moment. It's shameful.
7.23.2008 10:46am
Mark Rockwell (mail):
I sometimes find people proposing mandatory military service, along the model of Israel or Switzerland. I always though that if you are going to follow a model like that, there ought to be a choice between military and civil service. I'm not really a fan of either, but I suppose it would instill some civic pride in the population. Or resentment.
7.23.2008 10:51am
NI:
I'm unable to see a principled distinction between a military draft, which the Supreme Court has already upheld against an involuntary servitude challenge, and being drafted into community service. In fact, I would think that being drafted into community service would be far less onerous because one is less likely to be shot at or sent halfway around the world. As a libertarian I'm opposed to both, of course, and I think the military draft should have failed under an involuntary servitude challenge as well. But since it didn't, what would be the argument for allowing one but not the other?
7.23.2008 10:52am
Gabriel (www):
One thing I find interesting is that the Europeans mostly have such systems but are abandoning them. For instance, over the last decade the French have phased out their two hundred year tradition of conscription. (My understanding is that this was mostly because after Algeria draftees could not be sent overseas and absent another war with Germany the army was merely a very expensive symbolic institution).
7.23.2008 10:56am
darelf:
How do all the Militia clauses of the various States square with this argument?

Many of these clauses were in place from the very beginning of the nation.
7.23.2008 11:00am
Patrick216:
It seems to me that, if it really turned on one's justice nerve, one would have a good enough sense of justice to oppose Service Nation's unjust goal of state-mandated public service.

I detest required community service. I had to do it in high school and I nearly had to do it in law school. (My graduating year was the last year exempt from Harvard's mandatory 40 hour per year pro bono requirement). I found that required community service was more about enhancing the reputation of the entity or person forcing you to do the community service than it was a genuine effort to teach you the value in helping others. In the law school context, I found it was also a way to advance political agendas through conscripted labor. It's shameful and offensive and I really wish it would stop -- both at the private and public levels.
7.23.2008 11:04am
TRE:
This sounds like a rather grandiose plan. I think if anything got put into action it would be watered down a lot but we must watch carefully.
7.23.2008 11:05am
Jim at FSU (mail):
Are they sure they want to wake up our justice nerve through the joy of slavery? I'm thinking that those of us being forced to serve will have a different notion of social justice than our taskmasters. For example, they might consider it just for us to dig ditches or build aqueducts in a particular place, while we might be consider it more in the interests of justice to attack them or escape.

This country tried slavery before and it didn't work so great. This time the potential slaves have guns and the ability to vote. I just don't see how this will work.
7.23.2008 11:08am
Patrick216:
NI:

The distinction between military service and civilian civil service is that the defense of the country is seen as a duty that runs with the rights and privileges of living in a free country -- much like the duty to pay taxes or the duty to obey laws. But in the Anglo-American tradition, you can not find any such tradition of compelled do-gooder activities, because those are seen as the delegated duty of the state. It's a weak distinction, but it is what it is.
7.23.2008 11:08am
A.S.:
While I support the concept of universal service, I agree that a Constitutional Amendment would be necessary to enact it. The analogy to a military draft is not appropriate, to my mind: there are many things that would be constitutional in emergencies like wartime that are not constitutional in peacetime, and the involuntary servitude of a military-like draft is one of them.

That said, I support a system of national service that is completely voluntary, but in which signficant government benefits are linked to signing up to voluntary national service.

In particular, I would support a law that said that drivers licenses are linked to national service. That is, anyone over the age of 25 who has not performed a year of national service is not eligible for a drivers license. A drivers license is a privilege provided by the government, not a right. If you want the government to extend that privilege to you, you should return something to your country (in the form of national service).

Other government benefits should also be linked to providing national service - perhaps the personal exemption on taxes, or even social security.

This completely alleviate's Prof. Lindgren's concerns about compelled labor, involuntary servitude, and the like. It is a strict quid pro quo. You can choose what you want to do - if you want the government to provide you with the copious benefits the government currently provides to you, you must in return provide back to your country national service. On the other hand, you are perfectly free to decline to provide national service - but in that case, don't expect the government to continue to provide all the benefits it currently provides to you. Again, completely voluntary - your choice. The choice has consequences, of course, but all choices have consequences. And I see no constitutional hurdles whatsoever.
7.23.2008 11:09am
NI:
A.S., you have it backward. Governing is a privilege that the governed extend to the state, and have the right to revoke.

Your post is also a perfect example of why regulating should be kept to a bare minimum. Driver's licensing should be about whether someone is a competent driver, period. Not whether their child support is up to date or they are otherwise a decent human being.
7.23.2008 11:15am
NI:
Actually, I think there's an old case (the 1910's or so) from Florida in which a law that required all able bodied males between a certain age to spend a month working on the state's highways for free went to the Supreme Court and was upheld against an involuntary servitude challenge.
7.23.2008 11:17am
cboldt (mail):
Florida had, at one time, a requirement that able-bodied men perform road maintenance or similar work. The duty could be bought-off by payment of a fee. I don't recall for certain, but believe there was a SCOTUS ruling that struck down the practice.
.
Involuntary servitude is one of those places where the law has a interesting challenge drawing distinctions. Obvious, some amount of "involuntary" participation/contribution is in effect. The challenge is where to draw the boundaries.
.
Ahhh ... Butler v. Perry, 240 U.S. 328 (1916)
7.23.2008 11:17am
Jim at FSU (mail):
Alan Khazei's picture and bio: http://www.cityyear.org/dynamic_ektid6391.aspx
7.23.2008 11:18am
Thoughtful (mail):
AS has not made an argument for national service. As far as I can tell, he's made an argument for privatizing roads...
7.23.2008 11:18am
cboldt (mail):
LOL at two mentions of the same case, back to back. "NI" is correct, and I was in error on the outcome. SCOTUS upheld the law in question.
7.23.2008 11:20am
Another Kevin (mail):
I believe that the policy under question is half-formed.
There's a way to achieve very nearly the same end at no
cost to the government.

You see, the Federal government, through its power to
withhold funding, has nearly complete control over the
educational institutions. It could simply issue the
edict that one year of full-time community service -
in addition to all of today's requirements - is required
for graduation from high school, on pain of the State's
losing all Federal support for its schools. It can
also decree that a second year of community service
is a requirement for any college degree, on pain of
the school's losing all Federal support - including
the school's being required to repay any Pell grants
or guaranteed student loans of students in attendance.

These rules would bankrupt any institution that fails
to comply. Moreover, the administrations would love
it. Not only might they get to direct some portion of
the no-longer-"conscripted" labor, but the "students",
no longer "conscripts", would have to pay for the
privilege of laboring under such a regime in the form
of "tuition."

All perfectly Constitutional, since it offers "only"
financial incentives for the participants in such
a scheme. I can hardly imagine a Court holding that
the Thirteenth Amendment would touch it. It instead
plays into a long line of jurisprudence that says
that the Government can do whatever it pleases with
its power of the purse. Remember that national speed
limits, drinking ages, and such were enacted, and
passed Constitutional muster, under much the same
rationale.

Add to this, if you like, a prerequisite ("for the
protection of the public") that no
license to practice any profession or trade shall be
granted unless all principals have achieved at least
a certain minimal level of basic education, and you
add the community service requirement as a requirement
for employment, and shut those who would shirk it
out of legitimate participation in the economy.
Add a grace period for businesses to upgrade their
existing workforce and bring it into compliance, and
a sufficiently juicy subsidy for doing so, and what
capitalist can resist the bait?

Really, the proposal as I've seen it stated has
no imagination at all!
7.23.2008 11:23am
A.S.:
AS has not made an argument for national service. As far as I can tell, he's made an argument for privatizing roads...

I'm not aware of anything preventing private persons from building roads on their property. If private persons want to purchase property and build roads on them, and then allow people to drive on those private roads without a government-provided drivers license (which is linked to national service), I don't think there should be any law stopping that from occurring.

OTOH, where the public acquires property, builds roads, and allows persons to drive on those public roads, I don't see any reason we shouldn't condition providing the use of those signficant public benefits on the user providing, in return, national service.
7.23.2008 11:27am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Supervising the unwilling is an expensive proposition.
What are you going to do with a guy who "accidentally" forgets to put the oil filter on a government vehicle after changing the oil?
Or who, being seconded to a democratic representative's campaign, goes door to door telling lies about the guy? Bad lies, I mean. Or the truth, come to think of it.
If he's going to tutor the poor kids, then we are putting the poor kids' future in the hands of somebody who doesn't want to be doing what he's sent to do.
This is why the military has corporals and sergeants. One to five or one to four is the general rule of supervisors (NCO) to the troops.
So, for every four or five involuntarily serving folks, we need one government employee to supervise them.
If the interest in volunteering were as great as the proponents suggest, we wouldn't need the proponents propounding this nutty scheme.
Thus, the great bulk of the corvee laborers would be pissed off.
7.23.2008 11:28am
Hoosier:
I'm somewhat familiar with the German system, which allows young people to opt out of military service in favor of civilian service. (Civildienstleiner or something like that. They just call them "Civis.") From what I could tell back in the '90s, much of this was pointless, and wasn't even "work" in any real sense. 20 year olds were having fun on the public dime. It was not like they were trained to teach German to Turkish and Kurdish guest-workers, or somehting useful like that.

So, my question is how many people are we going to have to hire and pay in order to keep an eye on these kids who are NOT in uniform, but who are neverthess getting free food and digs at our expense?
7.23.2008 11:28am
Srsly:
Wouldn't such a program be prima facie inefficient, since the sort of public works that most people would opt to do would be better performed by the private sector, and this would essentially be a windfall for the labor on these projects and diverting labor from other things? I guess the loss in efficiency could be outweighed by the benefit to society in having youth with a sense of "country" and "duty." Eh.... If we're so concerned with unmotivated youth why not get rid of the ridiculous government subsidization of useless college degrees - that would be a great place to start.

Isn't this the sort of system those stalwarts defenders of liberty, the Nazi....er I mean the Germans use?
7.23.2008 11:34am
SPO:
Has anyone ever thought how this would work? I mean, what are you going to do, have people disciplined if they don't show up or if they have a bad attitude? What about people with kids? What about criminals? What about getting along with the boss? Will there be sexual harassment rules? What if the boss politicizes the workplace--can the workers push back?

This whole thing is a supremely bad idea concocted by people who simply want to tell others what to do and congratulate themselves on it.

People may think this is constitutional--maybe it is, and maybe it isn't, although you could tie this in knots with litigation over many things. I'll tell you something else that is constitutional, namely, my power as a juror to acquit anyone that resists this tyranny by force.
7.23.2008 11:34am
MarkField (mail):
I'm not a big fan of community service requirements, but your history needs some revision. Compelled service was a standard part of Anglo-American community life until roughly the time of the Constitution. It was very common in the 17th C, gradually fading out (but still there) in the 18th. As others have pointed out, it continued in some forms into the 20th. Note, also, that the social pressure to contribute to, say, a barn raising, would be just as compelling as a government demand.

I'll point out that this ties in with Prof. Chafetz's posts on the inability to decline service in the House of Commons. The upper classes faced the issue of compelled service as well. Noblesse oblige and all that.
7.23.2008 11:35am
DG:
Because no one else has said it: "Service guarantees citizenship"
7.23.2008 11:37am
JK:

Isn't this the sort of system those stalwarts defenders of liberty, the Nazi....er I mean the Germans use?

Well that didn't take long.
7.23.2008 11:40am
NI:

OTOH, where the public acquires property, builds roads, and allows persons to drive on those public roads, I don't see any reason we shouldn't condition providing the use of those signficant public benefits on the user providing, in return, national service.


A.S. simply does not get it. The government reports to the citizens, and not the other way around. A.S. is making it sound like roads come from the government instead of from the pockets of the taxpayers.

So now I'm supposed to pay taxes to build the road AND ALSO do public service for the privilege of driving on it? I don't think so.
7.23.2008 11:42am
jim47:

In particular, I would support a law that said that drivers licenses are linked to national service. That is, anyone over the age of 25 who has not performed a year of national service is not eligible for a drivers license. A drivers license is a privilege provided by the government, not a right. If you want the government to extend that privilege to you, you should return something to your country (in the form of national service).


The government may not condition the receipt of benefits on the forfeiture of constitutional rights unless there is a relation between the right and the benefit. That's why the government can make forced speech a condition of getting a driver's license if the forced speech is answering test questions and filling out forms, but may not make forced speech a condition of getting a driver's license if the forced speech is, for example, swearing that you are not a member of the communist party. So maybe if the service you had to sign up for to get your driver's license was cleaning the side of the road, or even helping to build the road, it nmight pass general muster...

But otherwise, the conditioning of mundane and near-universally held government privileges on an unrelated quid pro quo with the government is unconstitutional for the very obvious reason that allowing it would be the end of any and all of our liberties. Because why stop at driver's licenses? What about professional licenses? — after all, working a trained job is a privilege, not a right. Forming a corporation is a privilege, receiving social services is a privilege, traveling on airplanes is a privilege. Potentially everything one has to do to live a normal life can be called a privilege and conditioned on government approval, and most people are going to accept undue restrictions on their liberty before they choose to starve.
7.23.2008 11:43am
Jeff Boghosian (mail):
If the interest in volunteering were as great as the proponents suggest, we wouldn't need the proponents propounding this nutty scheme.

and

The distinction between military service and civilian civil service is that the defense of the country is seen as a duty that runs with the rights and privileges of living in a free country

Likewise, if military service is truly seen as a duty by the people, we wouldn't ever need mandatory military service.
7.23.2008 11:47am
Bored Lawyer:
The Florida statute upheld in Butler v. Perry required only six days of labor a year (each day being at least 10 hours!).

That is much less onerous than requiring a full year or two of national service.
7.23.2008 11:50am
byomtov (mail):
Excuse me, Professor Lindgren. I have a question. Checking the website I note that it says:

The ultimate vision of ServiceNation is an America in which, by 2020, 100 million citizens will volunteer time in schools, workplaces, and faith-based and community institutions each and every year (up from 61 million today), and that increasing numbers of Americans annually will commit a year of their lives to national service.

(my bolding)

How is volunteer work "involuntary?"

And aren't you trying a bit of sleight-of-hand in reading "a national service act" to mean Rangel's specific "National Service Act?" Lots of people talk about "tax reform," for example, but that doesn't mean they are for some particular proposal that a legislator has introduced as the Tax Reform Act of 20xx.
7.23.2008 11:50am
Thales (mail) (www):
"I'm unable to see a principled distinction between a military draft, which the Supreme Court has already upheld against an involuntary servitude challenge, and being drafted into community service. In fact, I would think that being drafted into community service would be far less onerous because one is less likely to be shot at or sent halfway around the world. As a libertarian I'm opposed to both, of course, and I think the military draft should have failed under an involuntary servitude challenge as well. But since it didn't, what would be the argument for allowing one but not the other?"

To my knowledge, the Supreme Court's "rulings" on the matter of the constitutionality of a military draft or other compulsory service have never been particularly reasoned or persuasive, just ipse dixit in the vein of, of course it's constitutional! Moreover, I think the last time the issue was examined was during WWI, an era not notable for the Court's robust protection of civil liberties (viz. Holmes's preposterous "falsely shouting fire" analogy to draft resisters distributing flyers in Schenck). It would be interesting to see what the contemporary Court would do. I think there is both a lack of affirmative Congressional power to conscript (if "raise and support armies" implies that power, than there are no limits at all) AND a prohibition in the 13th Amendment.

Incidentally, I haven't followed this issue--(de)merits of a service corps aside, is there any reason to think Obama's proposal is for compulsory service, or is it simply rewarded with college funds or something like that?
7.23.2008 11:53am
Another Kevin (mail):
jim47 writes:

the conditioning of mundane and near-universally held government privileges on an unrelated quid pro quo with the government is unconstitutional for the very obvious reason that allowing it would be the end of any and all of our liberties. Because why stop at driver's licenses? What about professional licenses?


The perverse beauty of the "make it part of edducation" scheme is that it makes this argument hard to frame. It instead builds a tower of reasoning: "community service is an essential preparation for life, therefore should be required as part of a basic education", followed by "the requirement for a basic education is necessary to protect the public from unqualified practitioners of any trade or profession", both much less inflammatory in themselves, and
twists them into a requirement to satisfy a community service requirement as a condition of employment.

The first argument is an argument of a sort that we've already delegated to the professional educators. The second is uncontroversial if you accept the premise of professional licensing at all. The combination is what it is.
7.23.2008 11:54am
RBG (mail):
A.S. - Where exactly do you draw the line? Would it be permissible to condition one's eligibility for a driver's license on abstaining from sex outside a heterosexual marriage? Or on membership in a religious organization? If not, why not? If so, why is it permissible for the state to demand the surrender of one constitutional right (to be free from involuntary servitude) but not another (to the free exercise of religion)?
7.23.2008 11:55am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
The draft was not outlawed by the 13th Amendment, if I recall along the lines of "They couldn't possibly have meant what they said."

Given the success of the all-volunteer military, the necessity argument would fail. Just like the notion that Americans won't pick lettuce or clean motel rooms or study computers, raise the compensation enough and you'll have people lined up around the block.

How would a single-sex draft square with current notions of equal rights? (I know women-in-combat was batted around here, but if you're going with the defense of the country is seen as a duty that runs with the rights and privileges of living in a free country you've got to add a "but some are more equal than others" clause somewhere.)

By the way, Rand's works are parables, not cookbooks.

Benefitting society is a good thing, personally. An engineer-turned-lawyer of my acquaintance said it was important to find work that doesn't cause you to lose your soul, and you had to figure out what that means to you by yourself. I figure if I'm creating stuff that I think helps people (best when it's direct, sometimes when it's just part of a system), and the people show me they agree by paying for it, it's good enough for me. (That's the fundamental difference between the two camps: Whether you think it's good because people will pay for it, or you think it's only good if you do it without being paid.)
7.23.2008 11:58am
Kevin P. (mail):
It looks like the little statists have been doing their conscription homework:
http://www.nationalserviceact.org/17.html
7.23.2008 11:58am
krs:
bymotov, the "voluntary" aspect of the service is addressed in Prof. Lindgren's prior post.

NI, I think the answer to your question is in this post. Prof. Lindgren wrote: The Constitution gives the Federal Government the power to raise a military, which in the 18th century contemplated an obligation of male citizens to serve in the military.
7.23.2008 12:01pm
krs:
bymotov, nevermind...
7.23.2008 12:02pm
AF:
bymotov, the "voluntary" aspect of the service is addressed in Prof. Lindgren's prior post.

It is "addressed" by asserting without evidence that Service Nation suppoerts Charles Rangel's National Service Act.

The fact is that compulsory national service is not being proposed.
7.23.2008 12:04pm
Kevin P. (mail):
bymotov, see the conscription link I posted. Clearly, the authors of this madness do not believe that they will be able to persuade enough volunteers.

Incidentally, if the ages for which service is mandatory is 18 - 42, I suspect that this would exempt most of the authors of this scheme. How convenient!
7.23.2008 12:05pm
trad and anon:
What kind of world do you live in? As far as I can tell, tax freedom day is a press release sent out by some anti-tax group, which the media (and everyone else) proceeds to ignore.
7.23.2008 12:07pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
If advocates of "national service" rely much on Butler v. Perry, they will likely be making an error.

Look at some of the cases relied on in Butler v. Perry. Such well regarded cases as Plessy v. Ferguson and Slaughterhouse Cases.
7.23.2008 12:09pm
Kevin P. (mail):
Other interesting stuff:

From Harvard Crimson:


Volunteering should be a requirement for college admittance
...
I have no doubt that it will be students that will say 'we must end the Iraq War now, prevent war with Iran, and restore America's moral leadership in the world


From Frequently Asked Questions


The short answer to this question is human overpopulation. At the end of the 21st century human overpopulation may be the most significant problem facing the human race.
...
Last, consider the cost-savings potential of integrating serving-citizens into virtually every agency in federal, state, and local government. Though our government(s) is made up of many professional administrators, engineers, functionaries, and technocrats, there are also many roles than can easily be accomplished by serving-citizens working according to a wage and benefits scale similar to junior-enlisted personnel in the Armed Forces. Phasing in serving-citizens where it is appropriate for us to do so offers us a way of greatly reducing the cost of government.
...
By involving more people in government all segments of our society become better informed and develop a marked interest in NOT going to war.
...
It's up to all of us to decide the best National Service program for the United States. Whether that means 12-month obligations, 2 years, or 2 years plus is one thing that will be hotly debated.


This whole program just sounds like a group of frustrated statists hoping to grab government power and use it to obtain slave labor for their progressive ideals.
7.23.2008 12:12pm
Kevin P. (mail):
And we can count upon Time Magazine to once again support the cause of big coercive government.
7.23.2008 12:14pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
A draft allows for conscientious objectors. Could one have a conscientious objection to being forced into slavery to the do gooder masters of the universe for 1 to 2 years??

Says the "Dog"
7.23.2008 12:15pm
Curious Passerby (mail):
The problem is it is too easy for the exempt part of the population (AARP is a big supporter of this of course) to force it on a minority. Wouldn't almost everyone over 25 want 16-24 year olds to work for free making their world better.

We need a national consensus that forced labor is evil.
7.23.2008 12:16pm
Kevin P. (mail):
JunkYardLawDog, of course not. Conscientious objectors are objecting to the evil military. How could you possibly object to doing slave labor for well meaning do gooders?
7.23.2008 12:18pm
Curious Passerby (mail):
Supervising the unwilling is an expensive proposition.

If this ever comes to pass I'd love to start a web site to teach conscriptees how to sabotage their jobs!
7.23.2008 12:18pm
Blue (mail):

At the end of the 21st century human overpopulation may be the most significant problem facing the human race.


Yeah, see, anyone who can make that statement to me has abdicated being taken seriously.
7.23.2008 12:19pm
jim47:

The draft was not outlawed by the 13th Amendment, if I recall along the lines of "They couldn't possibly have meant what they said."


More along the lines of, "when they said what they said, they probably meant the same as when they said it last time." The thirteenth amendment's language is lifted from well-known language that controlled the northwest territories.

It was well-established that certain kinds of compulsory service associated with political rights — jury service, militia service, and a poll tax to be paid in limited communal labor — were both permissible and widely practiced under the constraints of that language.

The hypothetical ordinary citizen envisioned by Original Public Meaning could have easily been aware of the prior meaning of the language that became the thirteenth amendment and could be expected to assume the meaning was not changed.
7.23.2008 12:20pm
cjwynes (mail):
If it took less than 20 comments to get to a comparison between this proposal and Nazi Germany, I assume much of the public would have the same thought. I think we've just found our way to combat these people. We need some sort of organization in opposition to this, running advertisements comparing this to fascist programs of the past and tossing in some video of the Hitler Youth.

This should be easy to stop merely by swaying public opinion, given the obvious imagery we'd have to draw upon. If somebody doesn't get out ahead of this thing and attack it hard and fast, I'm afraid it could get some traction. No doubt the advocates of this collectivist nightmare will be blathering on about patriotism with flags waving behind them, so the counter-propaganda needs to focus on how this is truly un-American.
7.23.2008 12:21pm
Kevin P. (mail):
Here is the list of the statist co-conspirators. No surprise that the AARP is on the list. Now if all seniors over the age of 59 1/2 (Social Security Retirement age) were compelled to render service... heck, seniors would have nothing to do with their time, right, other than playing golf and cards ... the AARP should support that as well.
7.23.2008 12:23pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
The Constitution gives the Federal Government the power to raise a military, which in the 18th century contemplated an obligation of male citizens to serve in the military.

If one were going to amend the Constitution so as to take away that particular means of raising an army, now or in the late 19th century, how would the amendment be worded?

(The Constitution allows Congress "To raise and support armies" but "To provide and maintain a navy", and IIUC, until WWII conscription was only into the army -- does that distinction and that fact bear on constitutionalty of conscription into other branches of the military, or [on-topic] into non-military service?)
7.23.2008 12:23pm
James Lindgren (mail):
NI &CBOLDT:

Thanks. I've updated accordingly.
7.23.2008 12:23pm
Andy Freeman (mail):
A big part of the argument is the benefits to the folks doing the work, such as "education". However, it's unclear what distinguishes much of this "community service" from commercial activity.

If meals on wheels is "community service", why isn't delivering for Domino's?

If cleaning up a park is "community service", why isn't working on my yard?

And, unless someone is planning to go into one of those fields, how is the education relevant?
7.23.2008 12:24pm
Jim at FSU (mail):

We need a national consensus that forced labor is evil.


Yeah, lets pass the 13th amendment again until the government notices.
7.23.2008 12:25pm
Curious Passerby (mail):
Maybe we can get the labor unions to shoot this down by explaining how it will bring down wages.
7.23.2008 12:28pm
James Lindgren (mail):
byomtov,

The universal service goal by 2020 is number 13 in my first post on Service Nation.
7.23.2008 12:30pm
Mad Max:
it conflates paying taxes with compelled physical labor. There is a big difference, one central to the history of Anglo-American liberty.

I don't know about you, but I have to work for my money. If the government makes me pay them money, I have to work to obtain that money. In short, paying taxes is compulsory labor.

Because no one else has said it: "Service guarantees citizenship"

Wow, who knew - slavery is freedom!!!

So now I'm supposed to pay taxes to build the road AND ALSO do public service for the privilege of driving on it? I don't think so.

Exactly right!
7.23.2008 12:34pm
Don Miller (mail) (www):
If we are going to go have to go the Constitutional Amendment route to allow forced National Service (and is it really service if it is forced?),

Why don't we go the whole Heinlein Starship Trooper route and tie voting rights to successful completion of the term of service.

Not Serious, I think this whole forced servitude thing is inane. I spent 12 years in the military and think it was some of the best years of my life, but I was surrounded by people who wanted to be there.
7.23.2008 12:34pm
Mad Max:
lets pass the 13th amendment again until the government notices.

LMAO!
7.23.2008 12:35pm
Srsly:
"OTOH, where the public acquires property, builds roads, and allows persons to drive on those public roads, I don't see any reason we shouldn't condition providing the use of those signficant public benefits on the user providing, in return, national service.



A.S. simply does not get it. The government reports to the citizens, and not the other way around. A.S. is making it sound like roads come from the government instead of from the pockets of the taxpayers.

So now I'm supposed to pay taxes to build the road AND ALSO do public service for the privilege of driving on it? I don't think so."

THAT WAS EPIC PWNAGE!!!


And this law would EPICALLY FAILS LOL!!!! Sorry dooders, this is so obviously barred by the 13th Amendment that if you don't see that you must be...special. Nice try at creative arguments to get around it - the military is obviously special since Congress has enumerated powers in that area, and that's not "servitude" anyway its military.

If, by some miracle such a law passd, any judge who hears the first challenge should summarily rule for the challengers, and the lawyers who defend the law should lose their license for defending an obviously illegal law and wasting the court's time with a frivolous legal theory. Thank you!!!!
7.23.2008 12:37pm
jim47:
The conscription link is notably lacking in any attempt to grapple with the key issue that would determine the constitutionality of a national service program. That issue is not whether the draft is constitutional, or whether compelled military service was an aspect of common law, but what the scope, purpose, and premise of the draft's constitutionality is.

It simply does not follow that because compulsory service is legal in a few very historically very well-defined incarnations, that any form of compulsory service, regardless of its purpose, is legal.

I would argue that a regime of extended civilian compulsory national service is distinctly different from the traditional obligations of citizenship in quality, character and premise, in a way that has great bearing on its legality.
7.23.2008 12:38pm
Curious Passerby (mail):
They won't require national service. They'll just say if you didn't do it you don't get student loans, grants, or the right to go to a state school. The left is crafty.

I think the YouTube shots of hundreds of thousands of brownshirts marching to national service would help disabuse people of the idea.
7.23.2008 12:45pm
James Lindgren (mail):
jim47:

I agree.
7.23.2008 12:47pm
GMUSL '07 Alum (mail):
Rather than harm the economy by delaying workforce entrance, why not make the recipients of Social(ist in)Security do it? They're out of the workforce, and they're also receiving money from the government that they could take away.

Imagine, a volunteer army of Wal-Mart greeters. Of course, that would flip the American Association of Retarded Pensioners' position on the proposal, but you can't make an omelet without breaking a few old eggs.
7.23.2008 12:50pm
PC:
We already involuntarily serve the government: taxes. I guess, maybe, if there is some program that trades my labor for the state for a tax break, then I could, maybe, support it, but that's not very likely. This strikes me as statism and opens an ugly door that inverts the purpose of our form of government.
7.23.2008 12:51pm
Curious Passerby (mail):
I've got it! A great slogan for this program can be:

WORK MAKES YOU FREE!

Maybe Obama can mention it in Germany tomorrow. ARBEIT MACHT FREI!
7.23.2008 12:59pm
Mad Max:
For the college kids, the slogan will be ARBEIT MACHT FUN!
7.23.2008 1:00pm
autolykos:

Maybe we can get the labor unions to shoot this down by explaining how it will bring down wages.


It wouldn't bring down wages because the involuntary servitude wouldn't be going towards anything people would be willing to pay for. It would just be a larger example of the community service we all did in high school. You have a bunch of untrained, poorly compensated (or not compensated at all), poorly motivated people ambling about and counting the minutes on the clock until quiting time. Far from engendering any sense of community, community service just made people mad.

What people don't understand that the labor isn't free. Not only are you pissing on the poor saps that have to do the labor, but you're taking people who would be performing productive service in the economy (or training towards that being able to provide that productive service) and making them perform labor that is almost by definition inefficient.
7.23.2008 1:02pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
If meals on wheels is "community service", why isn't delivering for Domino's?

If cleaning up a park is "community service", why isn't working on my yard?

And, unless someone is planning to go into one of those fields, how is the education relevant?


Noted similarly, especially in the comment funnel. I think the local high school has a "community service" requirement, and if my kids want, I'll support them in this argument, especially if they donate the wages to some worthy cause like the Institute for Justice. (But they're young and still communitarian, maybe because they've never had to earn their keep. They haven't taken me up on my offer to support them in their Tinker rights or those protected by our state's Student Free Expression Act.)

That's one of the "education" benefits, learning that work is hard work, a lot harder than studying, and the kind of work you can get without a degree is harder and pays less than the kind you can get with a degree.
7.23.2008 1:04pm
jdd6y:
I view people who "volunteer" as having some sort of self-esteem issue and therefore seeking approval of the "do as I say" class.

At any rate, there are many excellent points set forth in this thread as to why such a program would fail, and fail in a big way.

I find it particularly amusing that any of the "USA USA" class would desire such a program, given their anti-immigration fervor. If a bunch of dirt farmers can "steal jobs" at 5 bucks an hour, what will a national service program do?

I also find it amusing to visualize myself and my friends in one of these programs against our will. If any economist wanted a movie illustrating the concept of "negative utility" we would provide it for them.

It sickens me that there is even one person on this thread that thinks they have some moral right to compel service of another person, merely based on the fact that they each live within the same political unit, often not by choice.

Forget the Constitutional issue. The Constitution is a weak document that has almost no meaning and someday soon will have absolutely no meaning. The anti-federalists predicted as much and the good little statists have done a pretty good job undermining the restraints on government that the federalists thought would work. I guarantee that if a National Service Act is passed that the Supreme Court would uphold it. Particularly if religious institutions could benefit from the free labor.
7.23.2008 1:05pm
JK:
If a military draft is constitutional, and the government is allowed to exempt people from the draft for various reasons (as has always been the case), then why can't you just say that everyone is drafted, but that participation in this "national service" program is grounds for exception?

To be clear, I'm a long way from convinced that this is a good idea, but the idea that there is no constitutional way of implementing such a program strikes me as rather silly.
7.23.2008 1:07pm
iambatman:
Professor Lindgren, if we accept that a military draft is constitutional (not giving a hoot for originalism, I do not, but for the sake of argument) and civilian universal service isn't, what's to stop the government from conscripting all the 19-year-olds into the Army and having the Army fill those traditionally civilian community service functions.
7.23.2008 1:09pm
iambatman:
^^^ assume the above post ended in a question mark
7.23.2008 1:10pm
Al Maviva (mail):
We are the indentured servants we've been waiting for.
7.23.2008 1:15pm
JK:

I view people who "volunteer" as having some sort of self-esteem issue and therefore seeking approval of the "do as I say" class.

Wow, the poster that said the drama queens were out in force on this one nailed it. Community service is the moral equivalent of "slavery," this is an idea rooted in Nazism, and now anyone who volunteers for anything has "self-esteem issue[s]" (whatever that means). I never considered that I would volunteer for my son's boy scout troop because I had "self esteem issues."

You folks need to get a grip, there are plenty of good reasons to oppose this type of program, no reason to degrade into histrionics and start insulting everyone who donates their time. That type of garbage is just going to undermine your position.
7.23.2008 1:20pm
NI:

I spent 12 years in the military and think it was some of the best years of my life, but I was surrounded by people who wanted to be there.


I'm a Navy vet and regard it as some of the best years of my life too, and here's an important point: Service, either military or civilian, is a good thing. Eating your vegetables is a good thing. Physical education is a good thing. The nation probably would be better off if everyone were compelled to do a stint in the military -- the 9/11 hijackers wouldn't have stood a chance against a planeload of ex-Marines. But just because something is a good thing doesn't mean it should be mandated. Freedom is a good thing too.
7.23.2008 1:22pm
Mad Max:
I'm a Navy vet and regard it as some of the best years of my life too, and here's an important point: Service, either military or civilian, is a good thing.

You were in the Navy voluntarily, right? And you were paid to serve, right? That's a little different from being compelled to provide free labor!
7.23.2008 1:26pm
L Nettles (mail):
This scheme violates the economic principle of Comparative Advantage A society will be better off if the individual members are free to choose how they allocate there time and effort. Did Albert Einstein have to spend a year of his most productive time in compelled service?
7.23.2008 1:34pm
SPO:
Bottom line, this coerced service idea is around so that people can feel good about themselves for telling someone else what to do. It's laughable.

I'll raise my own kids, thank you very much.
7.23.2008 1:48pm
L Nettles (mail):
When I was very young the county had a chain gang dig a drainage ditch in front of my house prior to paving the street (yes we were living on a dirt road). Why don't you see that any more? Because one man with a backhoe is much cheaper and faster that ten convicts with shovels and 3 guards with shotguns.
7.23.2008 1:52pm
Sean E:
Regardless of whether or not this is constitutional, if you find yourself needing to explain over and over how your proposal is different from slavery, that maybe should be a red flag of some sort.
7.23.2008 1:53pm
Sarcastro (www):
FREEEDOM!

Down with societal coercion! If the people don't wanna pay for roads, they shouldn't have to! Anything less is slavery!

And don't' get me started on Jury duty! It's the moral equivalent of the Holocaust!
7.23.2008 2:00pm
Richard Nieporent (mail):
I know the perfect way of killing this proposal. Just point out to all those in favor of a National Service that this is what Robert Heinlein proposed in his book Starship Troupers. Only people who have served in the military/national service would be allowed full citizenship.

A coming-of-age story about duty, citizenship, and the role of the military in a free society, Starship Troopers resonates with modern concerns. The book proposes that suffrage be given only to those who have earned it through military or other devoted social service, with no conscription. The choice for the form of the devoted service was up to the government, with military service being a strong possibility. The point was that you placed your wellbeing at the hands of the government in return for a voice in that government. Psychosocially, you were invested in the government, just as one invests in a business. Further, as long as you were actively in whatever service you found yourself in (career military, for example) your suffrage did not apply -- only after you were out of the service did you gain the franchise.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_A._Heinlein
7.23.2008 2:04pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Sarcasm isn't automatically funny or insightful.
7.23.2008 2:05pm
Seamus (mail):
Your post is also a perfect example of why regulating should be kept to a bare minimum. Driver's licensing should be about whether someone is a competent driver, period. Not whether their child support is up to date or they are otherwise a decent human being.

Or whether they can prove legal status in this country (as required by the REAL ID Act).
7.23.2008 2:06pm
Snarky:

Sarcasm isn't automatically funny or insightful.


Yeah, but watching rabid libertarians work themselves into a lather over the idea that they would actually have to do something to serve the community, that is automatically funny.

I don't know about insightful.

I must say, I have very much enjoyed this thread.
7.23.2008 2:09pm
Snarky:

Not whether their child support is up to date or they are otherwise a decent human being.


Yeah. The idea that the government would do anything to enforce a court order is absolutely ridiculous. And besides, I am sure that people who owe money for child support have better ideas of how to spend the money anyway.

Child support is involuntary servitude!
7.23.2008 2:12pm
r78:
This is silly.

Why is it acceptable to be drafted into the military but not into the national service? Especially nowaday when "military missions" include transporting food to folks in Africa, doing nation building and policing in Iraq and such things.
7.23.2008 2:17pm
Curious Passerby (mail):
Not whether their child support is up to date or they are otherwise a decent human being.

Yeah. The idea that the government would do anything to enforce a court order is absolutely ridiculous. And besides, I am sure that people who owe money for child support have better ideas of how to spend the money anyway.

Child support is involuntary servitude!


Take away driver licenses of people who don't pay child support? So they lose their jobs and need to go on welfare, or what? How does no license help them pay?
7.23.2008 2:22pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
r78
You'll note that the services you mention are being done by the military, or by hired firms, nany of them involved in the scarier places having high numbers of ex-military. And the NGOs who actually pay their people. Drafting guys to offload bags of wheat in Upper Revolta is a waste of time, money, and effort.
7.23.2008 2:22pm
r78:
Aubrey - you may be right that is it a waste of time, money and effort, but the point is that if such activities are not "involuntary servitude" for the military, why would they be that for the "national service"?
7.23.2008 2:25pm
Sean E:
Comparisons to the draft may be relevant as to whether or not compulsory service is constitutional, but certainly do nothing to advance the argument that it's a good idea.

America currently does not have the draft. Presumably, this is in part because Americans are only willing to support this sort of mandatory service in times of dire need. As well, the miliatary has repeatedly indicated that they prefer an all-volunteer force because they perform significantlty better than draftees. In other words, the reason there is no draft is not because there can't be, but because it's a bad idea in all but the most desperate of circumstances.
7.23.2008 2:35pm
James Lindgren (mail):
AF wrote:


It is "addressed" by asserting without evidence that Service Nation suppoerts Charles Rangel's National Service Act.

The fact is that compulsory national service is not being proposed.

1. I made no claim that Service Nation was supporting Rangel's proposal. Read the post again. I was discussing several overlapping strands in the movement for compulsory national service. Rangel's bill also illustrates the conflation of mandatory with voluntary and the conflation of community service with national security.

2. Read Service Nation's own goals in my first post. Number 13 is universal national service by 2020. So they do favor a Rangel-type solution, but apparently not in the 2009 Service Act.
7.23.2008 2:38pm
autolykos:


If meals on wheels is "community service", why isn't delivering for Domino's?

If cleaning up a park is "community service", why isn't working on my yard?

And, unless someone is planning to go into one of those fields, how is the education relevant?


There is a difference between ability to pay and willingness to pay. A social service can provide a great amount of utility, even if a person is unable to pay for it. However, that does not change the fact that people are undervaluing the cost and overvaluing the supposed benefit.

Apart from the constitutionality of the issue, it's just a dumb idea and a huge waste of time and effort. If big government liberals really want a source of free labor, why don't they make this kind of compulsory service a prerequisite to receiving unemployment benefits or other types of welfare (not relating to disability). In that case, there's actually a relationship between the privilege at issue (unemployment benefits) and the requirement. You could even set up a career services office that aided the people get jobs when they weren't digging ditches or working in the community.
7.23.2008 2:47pm
ys:

I'm somewhat familiar with the German system, which allows young people to opt out of military service in favor of civilian service. (Civildienstleiner or something like that. They just call them "Civis.") From what I could tell back in the '90s, much of this was pointless, and wasn't even "work" in any real sense. 20 year olds were having fun on the public dime. It was not like they were trained to teach German to Turkish and Kurdish guest-workers, or somehting useful like that.

So, my question is how many people are we going to have to hire and pay in order to keep an eye on these kids who are NOT in uniform, but who are neverthess getting free food and digs at our expense?


For the college kids, the slogan will be ARBEIT MACHT FUN!


A German movie "Am Ende Kommen Touristen" is right on this topic. A young German is sent on Civildienst. He does not give a damn and ends up in … Auschwitz (yes, that one, but as a peon social worker -- simply because the German government has an office there). He happens to learn something there in a year and is having fun to boot, but his actual output is close to zero. Meanwhile the government takes his upkeep from Mommy's and Daddy's budget. Now, it's probably not a bad idea for young Germans to go to Auschwitz (and many do, as those Touristen of the title), but support people for a year?



Did Albert Einstein have to spend a year of his most productive time in compelled service?


He would have had to -- in the Soviet Union.


When I was very young the county had a chain gang dig a drainage ditch in front of my house prior to paving the street (yes we were living on a dirt road). Why don't you see that any more? Because one man with a backhoe is much cheaper and faster that ten convicts with shovels and 3 guards with shotguns.


Or ten Einsteins. Many on this thread mentioned the Nazis, but it's the good old Eastern Block where this tradition got started. Physicists digging potatoes, engineers canvassing habitual felons on the police list, students sorting rotten apples, everybody showing up at "voluntary" sabbathniks usually just to show up. Yes, even fun sometimes, but a big cause/symptom of the eventual fall of the empire.
7.23.2008 2:49pm
pete (mail) (www):

Why is it acceptable to be drafted into the military but not into the national service? Especially nowaday when "military missions" include transporting food to folks in Africa, doing nation building and policing in Iraq and such things.


Uh, you do realize that we do not have draftees anymore?
The main reason why a draft is accetable to most people is that it has been necessary for the nation's survival. People found the draft more acceptable in earlier times was because the alternative was losing the war. There is no similar compelling reason for the other type of national service.

And as someone who spent a year in Americorps VISTA I am opposed to forcing anyone to do it and would be reluctant to encourage anyone to join even voluntarily. The training I got was near useless to the actual job I did and I was not put to good use. My main probalem with it while I was a part is that Americorps just sticks warm bodies into positions and hopes everything works out. A lot of times it does if the person is qualified or the job is simple enough, but I saw a lot of people put in jobs they were not able to do or who quit because they were being wasted. And these were all people who were there voluntarily.
7.23.2008 2:56pm
byomtov (mail):
I made no claim that Service Nation was supporting Rangel's proposal.

You tried to, without explicitly saying so.

I can't get the PowerPoint to download, so can't confirm what it says. Given that elsewhere they talk strictly about voluntary service I'd say their objective is, at most, unclear. Perhaps you could have tried to clear up the ambiguity with them before addressing the issue.

Let me say that I oppose mandatory national service, and creating an academy for the purpose strikes me as a bad idea. But I think you ought to have a clearer understanding of the whole thing before attacking it.
7.23.2008 3:03pm
Srsly:
"Yeah, but watching rabid libertarians work themselves into a lather over the idea that they would actually have to do something to serve the community, that is automatically funny."

Uh...dood wtf does "service" mean? I assume it means "benefit." People benefit society more by doing what they choose to do, not by what bureacrats dictate they do. As the comments on this thread have made clear over and over, this would be by definition inefficient.
7.23.2008 3:08pm
Spitzer:
To be sure, the 13th Amendment establishes a positive prohibition on involuntary servitude. That aside, however, it is not clear to me under what ennumerated power this "civilian draft" would be enacted - it is not a national security power (which, presumably, is the authority under which the draft was enacted), nor is it commerce or spending, nor is it a police power.
7.23.2008 3:10pm
Mad Max:
but watching rabid libertarians work themselves into a lather over the idea that they would actually have to do something to serve the community, that is automatically funny.

You mean, "serve the community" beyond paying my taxes? If "the community" wants me to work, why shouldn't they pay me?

"serve the community" = "serve those in power" (but the correct formulation doesn't sound nearly as good, does it?)

Why is it acceptable to be drafted into the military but not into the national service?

If the government tried to draft people right now, I bet they'd find out that this would be very unacceptable - even more so than "mandatory voluntarism". You're not sending my son to get shot at in some Third World hellhole at the behest of corrupt, incompetent politicians who don't even really intend to win.
7.23.2008 3:20pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Isn't it a major distinction between military and civilian conscription that every able bodied male in this country is already part of the militia under federal law? Isn't that where constitutional military conscription comes from?

In time of dire need, Congress raises armies by activating and enrolling the militia. You start with the regular army, move on to the national guard (the "organized militia") and work your way down to the unorganized militia in the end.

Mass conscription of free men for other purposes simply has no historical basis as of the time of the founding. The best that fans of this proposal can point to are conscription for very limited periods of time to work on local roads. Even assuming that the conscription at issue here isn't so different from the Florida statute as to be violative of the 13th amendment, there is the additional wrinkle that state constitutions don't operate on the principle of enumerated powers. The federal government needs explicit constitutional permission to engage in these shenanigans and there simply isn't anything in the constitution that lets congress do this.
7.23.2008 3:39pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Off-topic, pete, why do those who run or support these programs think that the VISTA or similar volunteer, even with training, can do a better job than a local person with the same training? I'm not talking about doctors, or firefighters, or glaziers (one of the specialty occupations Boston sent to Halifax in 1917) -- just earnest kids being sent someplace with a surplus of unemployed people and often a shortage of food or housing.
7.23.2008 3:40pm
autolykos:

Off-topic, pete, why do those who run or support these programs think that the VISTA or similar volunteer, even with training, can do a better job than a local person with the same training? I'm not talking about doctors, or firefighters, or glaziers (one of the specialty occupations Boston sent to Halifax in 1917) -- just earnest kids being sent someplace with a surplus of unemployed people and often a shortage of food or housing.


I've always wondered the same thing (see my proposal above). I did a "voluntary" service project when I was a summer associate at a large Chicago firm. It involved trekking down to the South Side and fixing up the local elementary school (painting, landscaping, etc.). I didn't understand then, nor do I now, why the work we were doing couldn't have been done by the people in the community who were sending their kids to the school.
7.23.2008 3:50pm
Lonely Capitalist (mail):
It's funny to see the lefties wetting their pants at the thought of government forcing young people to do their bidding for a year or two.
7.23.2008 3:57pm
JK:

To be sure, the 13th Amendment establishes a positive prohibition on involuntary servitude. That aside, however, it is not clear to me under what ennumerated power this "civilian draft" would be enacted - it is not a national security power (which, presumably, is the authority under which the draft was enacted), nor is it commerce or spending, nor is it a police power.

You're kidding, right? If the commerce clause allows the regulation of what I grow in my own garden for my own consumption, then it certainly applies to sending kids across the country to build houses or whatnot.
7.23.2008 4:04pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Since when does the power to regulate interstate commerce imply the power to engage in it, or to force people to engage in it?

The commerce clause is broad (today), but it doesn't say "Congress can do whatever it wants as long as it crosses a state line."
7.23.2008 4:11pm
Kazinski:
There is so much necessary work left undone in this country because we starve our public sector. Mandatory required compelled forced voluntary service could help close this gap.

For instance in the UK they have government regulators monitoring pay-per-view porn channels to make sure that they don't re-run "live" sex shows which can't of course allow viewer interaction as advertised:

Ofcom has recently sanctioned a number of broadcasters for misleading viewers in
programmes that have involved the use of premium rate services ("PRS").
Broadcasters should be in no doubt about Ofcom's concerns regarding the
inappropriate use of PRS in programmes. In this case it was unacceptable for the
broadcaster to mislead viewers into believing that they could genuinely interact with
the programme when they could not.
We are extremely concerned that the broadcaster in this case failed to take adequate
steps to remove fully the PRS number from a repeat of a programme that was
originally broadcast live. Any further breaches of this nature by this licensee may
result in the consideration of further regulatory action.

Breach of Rule 2.2


Were we to institute a mandatory required compelled forced voluntary service this would be the kind of additional benefit that government could offer us, for the good of all.
7.23.2008 4:13pm
Jim at FSU (mail):

The commerce clause is broad (today), but it doesn't say "Congress can do whatever it wants as long as it crosses a state line."


According to our current jurisprudence, it says that, minus the part about crossing a state line.
7.23.2008 4:21pm
GMUSL '07 Alum (mail):
Also, I don't think that Congress does have the power to compel involuntary national service.

The draft, though repugnant, is arguably authorized by under Congress' explicit Article I power to "Raise ... and support armies".

Based on the timing of the 13th amendment, the original public understanding of it could not have been to prohibit the draft, as the draft had just happened in the Civil War. So while there's a tension between the explicit text and the historical context and practice (like the 14th and Segregation), it's at least arguable in good faith that the 13th allows a draft. I disagree with that, both morally and constitutionally -- I think that the text trumps even the practice at the time honored in the breach, like Brown v. Bd. of Ed.

But there are no similar arguments on the side of non-military service. Congress doesn't have the power to raise and support civilian service.
7.23.2008 4:23pm
byomtov (mail):
It's funny to see the lefties wetting their pants at the thought of government forcing young people to do their bidding for a year or two.

Huh?

Most of the commenters here who are opposing mandatory service are not "lefties."

Do you have pointless random insult generator software installed on your computer?
7.23.2008 4:31pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Based on the timing of the 13th amendment, the original public understanding of it could not have been to prohibit the draft, as the draft had just happened in the Civil War.

Slavery had also just happened, and is contemplated in the Constitution even more explicitly than conscription.
7.23.2008 4:39pm
Virginian:

It involved trekking down to the South Side and fixing up the local elementary school (painting, landscaping, etc.). I didn't understand then, nor do I now, why the work we were doing couldn't have been done by the people in the community who were sending their kids to the school.


Um, because they don't give a crap?
7.23.2008 4:41pm
Anonymous #348:
"It's funny to see the lefties wetting their pants at the thought of government forcing young people to do their bidding for a year or two."

Actually, it's the lefties who proposed this, which is one plan in a long list of them to enact the opposite of voluntary exchange ("Progress").
7.23.2008 4:48pm
Lonely Capitalist (mail):
I'm talking about the lefties who are so excited about supporting it, not the commenters who are opposed to it.
Commenters who oppose it would more likely "get their panties in the knot" than wet them in the excitement.
7.23.2008 5:03pm
mojo (mail):
Non servitum!
7.23.2008 5:04pm
AKD:

"It's funny to see the lefties wetting their pants at the thought of government forcing young people to do their bidding for a year or two."

Actually, it's the lefties who proposed this, which is one plan in a long list of them to enact the opposite of voluntary exchange ("Progress").


I think we may be meant to infer wetting the pants with a bodily fluid that is not urine.
7.23.2008 5:07pm
Van Ericsson:
Perhaps, all things considered, this may well turn out to be a wise and meaningful proposal if limited to those who:

1. Accept free housing, food, criminal prosecution, imprisonment, and so forth.

2. Would have been adjudicated "hooligans" under the old system in the former Soviet Union.

3. Work as street entertainers, including break dancers, pick-pockets, drug dealers, pimps, three car monte dealers, harmonica and banjo players, etc.
7.23.2008 5:38pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
Mr. Lindgren,

Can you please update your contact info on the sidebar? It may be available somewhere, but I haven't been able to find it. If you don't just want to post it, I wish you could email me at teaforthetillerman@gmail.com.

Thanks!
7.23.2008 5:55pm
pete (mail) (www):

Off-topic, pete, why do those who run or support these programs think that the VISTA or similar volunteer, even with training, can do a better job than a local person with the same training? I'm not talking about doctors, or firefighters, or glaziers (one of the specialty occupations Boston sent to Halifax in 1917) -- just earnest kids being sent someplace with a surplus of unemployed people and often a shortage of food or housing.


Theoretically because the VISTA is better educated/smarter and the VISTA positions are supposed to be professional in nature. But they do not train you in any depth and you only have a year to do anything so by the time you know what you are doing it is time to move on. On paper I was a pretty good candidate since I had experience in working with non-profit groups in inner city Phildelphia other places, had lived in the city for four years while in college, and had a college degree. But I had never had a "real" job before and had to learn everything from scratch with no real guidance after the first few weeks. This included everything from selling the program I was involved to recruit volunteers to putting together a board and developing bylaws for the non-profit I was helping to start up. I did about as good as could have been expected for me and really did help some people and they even suggested I stay on a second year, but I needed to make more money and wanted to do something else. The person before me who was a professional in midlife transistion also did pretty well. One person they recruited soon after me had potential, but quit in frustration pretty quickly and the second person they got was totally unqualified and did not even realize it. The one who was totally unqualified was one of the "local person with the same training" and had somehow managed to graduate from college.

My wife was also a VISTA and she was put into a perfect position for her skills, but VISTA's are supposed to set up systems that continue to work after they leave and the people she was working with had no intention of setting up any systemic effort so after she left the program she started basically fell apart. I have other friends who did regular AmeriCorps and while they felt they helped they were really talented and had skills that could have been put to much better use in other positions.

I still think Americorps is useful and does good work a lot of time, but for the top students and future professionals they are private better off getting a regular job in a private non-profit that is willing to take them on for a couple of years. Forcing people to do national service will probably result in a lot more wasted man hours.
7.23.2008 6:01pm
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
. . . . since we got to "Nazis!" within 20 comments (paging M. Godwin!) we're long out of the rational discussion realm, and into invective, so here's my thought:

If we can declare, (or the Chief Executive?Commander in Chief) can proclaim) and apply the Constitutionally raised and financed army to a thing called a "War on Terrorism", why can't the CE/CIC proclaim the need for a "War on Embarassingly Crappy Infrastructure" as necessary for the national defense and security?

Then, we draft whole big ol' swaths of people into, say, a completely reconstituted Army Corps of Engineers to build bridges, fix potholes, restore libraries, clean up schools, etc etc.?

We could allow, heck, REQUIRE that that everyone get firearms training and carry weapons (this 'd get the 2nd Amendment absolutists board...) though, to hew closely to the framers' intent, it'd need to be limited to ball ammo (which they'd learn to cast themselves) and black powder.
7.23.2008 6:14pm
spiffy (mail):
The lefties may be wetting their pants at the prospect of compulsory conscription, but it aint urine.
7.23.2008 6:40pm
KenB (mail):
Service Nation's coordinator, Alan Khazei, argues that doing community service turns on one's "'justice nerve. . . . And once a justice nerve is turned on, it rarely goes off."
The truth comes out. They see this as a way of manufacturing Democratic voters. I suspect it will (rightly) tend to make participants cynical and bitter about government.
7.23.2008 6:44pm
autolykos:

Perhaps, all things considered, this may well turn out to be a wise and meaningful proposal if limited to those who:

1. Accept free housing, food, criminal prosecution, imprisonment, and so forth.

2. Would have been adjudicated "hooligans" under the old system in the former Soviet Union.

3. Work as street entertainers, including break dancers, pick-pockets, drug dealers, pimps, three car monte dealers, harmonica and banjo players, etc.


Please amend #3 to include quotation marks around "work" and to clarify that hippies and other long-hairs, mimes and bucket boys are covered by this proposal, otherwise I agree 100%.
7.23.2008 7:43pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
This is a test:

How about Mandatory National Service as a requirement to vote in a Democrat Caucus?
7.23.2008 9:32pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
OTOH, where the public acquires property, builds roads, and allows persons to drive on those public roads, I don't see any reason we shouldn't condition providing the use of those signficant public benefits on the user providing, in return, national service.
Because the user already paid for those roads. They're not a "public benefit."
7.23.2008 9:48pm
Smokey:
This statement from the Harvard student know-it-all made me LOL:
"The short answer to this question is human overpopulation. At the end of the 21st century human overpopulation may be the most significant problem facing the human race."
The entire world is getting wealthy fast [despite the repeated basket case examples, mostly in the African continent and some of the 'Stans. But their poverty is the result of bad government, nothing else].

As a result of increasing wealth, growth in the human population is peaking and will soon turn down decisively. China already has a one child policy. [The real demographic time bomb is the lopsided male/female ratio in China and India, where they routinely abort/kill females.]

Let's look at the "overpopulation" facts:

We'll assume 6ft x 2ft x 1.5ft per person [there are bigger people, but there are a lot more smaller ones, so go with it. This is 18 cubic feet. Multiplying by 6.5 billion = 117 billion cubic feet of Soylent Green potential.

A cubic mile = 5280' cubed. This is 5280 x 5280 x 5280 cubic feet, or 147.2 billion cubic feet. Therefore, humanity occupies less than one cubic mile. For comparison, ants and termites alone are estimated to occupy about ten cubic miles.

The entire human race could be put in downtown Reno, with plenty of room to spare.

Naturally, this college kid knows that obama's national "force" is the answer.

My counter-proposal: raise the voting age to 45.
7.23.2008 10:11pm
EPluribusMoney (mail):
I once calculated that if the entire population lived in the density of Toronto all 6 billion people could live in New Mexico, or something like that.
7.23.2008 11:33pm
Andy Freeman (mail):
>>If cleaning up a park is "community service", why isn't working on my yard?

> There is a difference between ability to pay and willingness to pay. A social service can provide a great amount of utility, even if a person is unable to pay for it.

However, the argument is that the volunteers will benefit, a benefit that doesn't depend on pay. If it's good for them, why shouldn't they be allowed to make a buck doing it?

And, my front yard provides more "public good" than an abandoned park that no one even drives by, so there's public benefit as well.

Which reminds me - cheaper delivery (unpaid delivery folk) is a public benefit to the pizza-eaters. Just as the park is available to all who choose to visit, pizza delivery is available to all who choose to buy. Why shouldn't the public coerce folks into making delivered pizza cheaper just as it coerces folks into making parks nicer?
7.23.2008 11:51pm
autolykos:

However, the argument is that the volunteers will benefit, a benefit that doesn't depend on pay. If it's good for them, why shouldn't they be allowed to make a buck doing it?

And, my front yard provides more "public good" than an abandoned park that no one even drives by, so there's public benefit as well.

Which reminds me - cheaper delivery (unpaid delivery folk) is a public benefit to the pizza-eaters. Just as the park is available to all who choose to visit, pizza delivery is available to all who choose to buy. Why shouldn't the public coerce folks into making delivered pizza cheaper just as it coerces folks into making parks nicer?


Well you've hit on a couple good points. Basically, the reason for these types of programs is little more than a massive redistribution scheme. While the program is ridiculously inefficient, it still produces benefits to certain individuals. But since the labor is forced, the person providing the labor receives less of the benefit than they otherwise would (not unlike slavery). The main difference between this program and slavery is that the government compels that a larger portion of the benefits accrue to a specific interest group. I agree though, there's no functional difference between forcing a person to dig an irrigation canel in a poor country and forcing them to deliver pizzas. It's just a matter of who the people are receiving the benefit.
7.24.2008 12:30am
David Warner:
"If big government liberals really want a source of free labor, why don't they make this kind of compulsory service a prerequisite to receiving unemployment benefits or other types of welfare (not relating to disability)."

No, they've clearly stated that they want to turn on the "justice nerve" of those serving. The purpose is clearly (and opening) moral formation. As a libertarian, I don't think this is the proper role of Government (to put it mildly).

I (as a non-lawyer) wonder if there might be cause for an Establishment Clause action here?

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."

- Milton, On His Blindness
7.24.2008 2:42am
David Warner:
"opening" should read "openly"
7.24.2008 2:44am
Anonymous #349:
Emphasis mine
. . . . since we got to "Nazis!" within 20 comments (paging M. Godwin!) we're long out of the rational discussion realm, and into invective, so here's my thought:
So anything that resembles Germany's National Socialism can not be called on it? I guess you're right, you've made efforts to de-rationalize discussion; but you're not doing a very good job at it.
7.24.2008 5:02am