What’s Wrong and How to Fix It, Part 11: National Service
Published on: February 7, 2013
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  • Pave Low John

    Sound like a great idea to me. The devil is obviously in the details (I personally think it might need to be administered at the state or regional level to keep it from collapsing under its own bureacratic dead weight). There are probably a whole category of incentives that could be used besides the strictly monetary, but that could probably take up a whole post in itself.

    And kudos for avoiding the call for a new draft, I have believed that conscription would solve more problems than it would create. If you think military budgets are big now, try cramming an extra 5 to 10 million untrained bodies into the DoD and see what happens to personnel costs. Plus, who wants to serve in the military with people that don’t want to be there? That’s why some folks volunteer for special operations and other selective branches, they want to be around highly motivated people who don’t require an excessive amount of micromanaging to get things done.

  • Alozsie

    A very interesting idea, but I doubt the military would have much use for the youngsters.

  • Anthony

    The future is up for grabs and the young have the most to live for; yet, they as we all face huge imponderables. Your national service/baby bond idea speaks to generational change and by implication the long-term play. This longer time horizon aptly positions the young referenced in essay to both benefit from your thoughtful proposal and subtly better meet challenges (education, diversity, social trust, environment, globalization, etc.) in decades ahead. Short term navigating can be difficult. Your proposal steers citizenry towards long term prize.

  • This is absolutely wonderful stuff and the single best idea of the many terrific ideas you have laid out in this series. Having lived for several years in Israel I can personally attest that the social cohesion produced by a culture of national service is no abstract thing, but something you feel on a day-to-day basis, on the bus, on the street or just anywhere.

  • Brian Stahl

    Dr. Garfinkle, I’m skeptical of several aspects of this. First of all, many of the programs you mention already pay something. The Peace Corps, TeachForAmerica, and the Military all pay, and many “broken windows” programs and other similar things offer some kind of stipend. So why do you think that people would be inclined to join them with this extra little bit of money?

    There is a pretty good deal of research to suggest that people are highly averse to loss — meaning that they are more afraid of losing something than they are attracted to gain. So maybe the idea that the 20k would be theirs and that they would be incurring a loss would be attractive enough to entice people into service.

    Even so, I have my doubts. TeachforAmerica and the Peacecorps require college degrees,and unless a person is otherwise attracted to doing service, I’m not sure that many would put off a lucrative career on Wall Street, or wait to begin the long slog of professional school, to go put a little extra money in the piggy bank.

    I feel like this might entice a few more people into service, but primarily just offer an extra reward for most people who would already be doing it on their own. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with that necessarily, but doesn’t extra compensation take away from the self-sacrifice, initiative, and genuine empathy that underlies a person’s decision to do service? I feel like a pecuniary reward cheapens it in a way, and might lead to less of a transformative, positive experience for many young kids who decide to put off their careers to do some good.

    There’s also a more strictly practical issue at stake here. How would you monitor the programs to insure that some of these kids are putting their best foot forward? A kid without much of a future might be inclined to join a broken windows program, but if they pick up a piece of trash every half-hour, and get rewarded with a 20k check, taxpayers aren’t going to be happy-with good reason. The federal government is not exactly known for its attention to detail, and over time the ability of a centralized program to monitor service is going to get worse and worse.

    If you don’t think that people would abuse the system, I’d encourage you to go spend some time at your local high school. Plenty of the narcisstic punks that I knew back in the day would happily take advantage of a program like this.

    Ultimately, I fear that this program, if implemented, would succumb to many of the shortcomings that other “social engineering” type programs do. (That term “social engineering” isn’t meant to be insulting in this case. After all, trying to engineer better hearts and minds is by no means a bad thing, but of course these programs often fail to live up to expectations). Anyway, I fear that if this program were implented it would be widely abused, and fail to motivate many of the people you’re targeting.

    But that’s just my two cents. Any response would be appreciated.

  • Brendan Doran

    Sir, you are attempting to rescusitate the corpse of the New Deal, forgetting it died of syphilis. Give the youth over to the Fannie/Freddie crowd? Our government is pervasively corrupt, this will simply spread it to the young. Something the educational system does already and if it doesn’t take they are made debt slaves for college degrees they are told they must have – not utterly without accuracy. Not to mention this would be a El Dorado of electoral corruption. If you’re going to cement one party rule, the PRI is not the model.

    The government as we know it must end Sir.

    National Service is not a fix. People don’t view a career in government as National Service, they view it as money and power for themselves. Pushing everyone into their corrupt maws is not an answer.

    Do keep at it though, for the most part this is a valuable effort.

  • Brendan Doran



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