Wednesday, April 01, 2009


This should scare the hell out of everyone:
On March 18, the House of Representatives voted 321-105 to pass the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act, and the Senate is expected quickly to follow suit. The GIVE Act more than triples the number of slots for AmeriCorps members from 75,000 to 250,000. And it takes a giant step toward expanding Washington’s power to make “service” compulsory for all young Americans.

The GIVE act calls for the appointment of a Congressional Commission on Civic Service, raising the obvious question of whether congressmen deserve vastly more power over other Americans. But in Washington logic, since volunteering is a good thing, everybody should be forced to do it.

The commission will examine “the effect on the nation ... if all individuals in the United States ... were required to perform a certain amount of national service” and “whether a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people could be developed.” It will also consider whether tacitly repealing the 13th Amendment prohibition on involuntary servitude “would strengthen the social fabric of the Nation and overcome civic challenges by bringing together people from diverse economic, ethnic, and educational backgrounds.”

The GIVE Act views military-style regimentation as a model for the nation. Its National Civil Community Corps would seek to “combine the best practices of civilian service with the best aspects of military service.” This reminds some critics of Obama’s declaration last July: “We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that is just as powerful, just as strong, just as well funded as the military.”

This is in character with Obama’s liberalism. Shortly after his election victory last November, the website announced the new president’s call for “developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.” The wording was later changed to “setting a goal” for service. (Some states have already imposed such requirements on students as a condition for graduation.)
This is worrying for so many reasons. First off, we can guarantee that this will be just another wasteful government program, flushing tax dollars down the drain for little return. Indeed, examples of the silliness of the AmeriCorps program are documented in the article such as tasking AmeriCorps employees with mediating playground disputes. But that's not what bothers me the most. After all, in the scheme of things these expenditures count as mere pocket change.

More fundamentally we need to remember that the U.S. government is not a charitable organization. It isn't a big civic group. It exists to fund activities that can't be accomplished by any other means such as police, the military, foreign affairs, printing currency, etc. Charity and volunteerism should be handled by...charities and volunteer organizations.

When we blend and conflate the public and private spheres we loosen the bonds with our fellow man. When government is tasked with acts of charity and goodwill then people simply believe that their taxes count as sufficient contribution to society and no longer see the need to involve themselves.

This isn't purely theoretical, just look at the inverse relationship between the strength of civil society and government movements towards collectivism throughout history. While people on the left like to resort to mantras such as "it takes a village" to justify expanded government actions we should remember that the village best thrives when government takes a minimal role. Recall Alex de Tocqueville's description of the U.S. during his travels to the country in the early 1800s:
"Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations...In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others."
Americans, in other words, would form various community organizations without government direction. And really, isn't the formation of such bonds without government coercion a purer form of community?

Also look at the difference between charitable contributions in the U.S. and Europe, where government plays a larger role in everyday life (although the gap is shrinking):
In truth, 70 percent of Americans give to charity each year, and do so at far higher levels than people in other developed nations: three times as much as the British, four times as much as the French, and seven times as much as the Germans.
Again, if the government plays this role then there is less need to involve yourself.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the notion of mandatory community service is antithetical to the philosophical underpinnings of this country. The citizens of the United States are not instruments of government to be used as our politicians see fit. We do not exist to carry out their schemes and wishes.

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