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Somin on Mandatory National Service

"Mandatory national service, which would require young people to do government-mandated work...is pretty clearly involuntary servitude under any reasonable definition of the word," Professor Ilya Somin stated in an article appearing in The New American.

Responding to the question of whether universal national service violates the 13th Amendment's prohibition of "involuntary servitude," Somin said, "I think that the answer is pretty clearly 'yes,' especially if you take the text of the Constitution seriously...Note that the Amendment forbids not only 'slavery' but also 'involuntary servitude,' a provision deliberately inserted to prevent state governments from, in effect, reenslaving blacks by imposing 'temporary' forced labor systems."

The article examines claims by proponents that a system of universal national service that it would unify Americans in a spirit of service and contrasts those claims with arguments that national service would be a costly and inefficient exercise that might actually damage the practice of voluntary service.

At Uncle Sam's Service, The New American, January 23, 2009. By Patrick Krey.

Excerpt:
"Research has shown that believers in big government do not put much stock in private charity. Syracuse University Professor Arthur Brooks, author of Who Really Cares, did research to see who gives more to charity between liberals and conservatives. 'When you look at the data, it turns out the conservatives give about 30 percent more. And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money.... You find that people who believe it's the government's job to make incomes more equal, are far less likely to give their money away.' (Emphasis added.) If those trends continue, this huge national-service initiative could have a similar effect. People who volunteer through government programs will forgo volunteering through private organizations. As more people believe that charity is the responsibility of government, private charity and willful volunteerism will decline.

"In addition, by mandating volunteerism at such an early age, universal national service might have the effect of discouraging future community service. According to a research article published in the journal of the American Psychological Society, 'Students who are not willing or not ready to volunteer — but who are required to by their school — may be less likely to volunteer again in the future.'

"The reality is that present government policies are obstacles to private volunteerism. Former special assistant to the Reagan administration Doug Bandow, in testimony to Congress on national-service programs, said that while much 'worthwhile service work remains to be done across the country ... government often stands in the way of private individuals and groups who want to help. Such barriers should be stripped away, yet [federal national-service programs] may divert attention from the ways the government hinders private provision of important social services.... Restrictions on paratransit operations limit private transportation for the disabled. Regulations also harm other forms of volunteerism. Health regulations prevent restaurants in Los Angeles and elsewhere from donating food to the hungry, for instance. In short, in many cases important needs are unmet precisely because of perverse government policy.'"

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