In Service To The State


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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72 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Certainly mandatory service feels wrong. Service as a customary thing after high school that

    1. Accomplishes something worthwhile
    2. Builds useful skills, both personal ones like leadership and specific ones like carpentry
    3. Means that kids starting in college or a trade have seen more of the country or the world than their home and have had experiences outside the cloister of school

    would be awesome, I think. I have no idea how to get there from here.Report

  2. Avatar greginak says:

    Most people believe in some sort of societal obligation although liberals, moderates, undefined peeps and conservatives disagree on what those are. As a liberal i’d certainly agree that people should contribute to the society we all benefit from. However, i might be different in that i’d say none of us have any absolute obligation to contribute to society other than to follow the law. You can be a selfish person who goes out of their way to never give back anything. I’d think that person would likely be a miserable SOB, but that is their choice.

    I have trouble with the logic of, if liberals say their is some obligation than that means it is bottomless. Partially that is slippery slope logic but it is also imparting a belief that liberals aren’t suggesting. If i say their is some obligation but it is limited than telling me i’m for an unlimited obligation really isn’t a rebuttal at all. It may be hard to draw a line at where the oblations ends because we disagree, but that doesn’t imply there is no obligation or a line. That have trouble agreeing on that line is the issue and the reason we have a democracy, but it isn’t a reason to toss the entire idea of an oblation or dispute the idea of an obligation. Its arguing against something else. There really isn’t anybody suggesting a bottomless obligation except in the case of draft during a war where somebody might get killed.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I disagree very strongly with the first paragraph. A lot of people born into wealthy, first-world democracies still live lives of unimaginable pain for a wide variety of reasons. Its not very moral to down play the suffering endured by these people. Its real to them even if somebody from a less prosperous place would do anything to trade places ith them and thats good enough reason for sympathy and empathy for me.

    That being said, I can see value with instituting two-years of civillian or military national service for everybody. It can be used to teach skills, bring people of different backgrounds together, increase societal cohesian, and maybe even install some civic virtue. The problem with the United States is that a lot of people are going to oppose it for various reasons and that the number of young people we have is so large that we really don’t have enough meaningful work for all of them for two years.Report

    • Avatar dhex in reply to LeeEsq says:

      “A lot of people born into wealthy, first-world democracies still live lives of unimaginable pain for a wide variety of reasons. Its not very moral to down play the suffering endured by these people.”

      that’s not the point. though i disagree with the essayist to say the least – the national service types make me physically ill – it’s hard to argue that your average schmoe isn’t better off being born in a place like this than not.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I disagree with the 1st paragraph for the opposite reason. Technically the sperm that impregnated the egg won the real lottery at the point of insemination, beating out tens of millions of less worthy or at least less fortunate competitors.

      Let’s be real… The lucky ones are those that were fertilized, were born (not aborted), were born in the 21st C rather than any prior era, were born in the US. Life isn’t fair, we are all the super duper lucky ones.Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    All such talk is rot. If some child acquires citizenship in a well-run nation, we may thank those who believe in the power of government. The engines of capitalism are running everywhere, in every nation, well-run or not. Children wander through the marketplaces of this badly-run world, selling cups of tea and Bic pens and candy from little trays.

    I’ve known badly-run countries and well-run countries. If folks in well-run nations have access to technology and decent health care, someone paid for all that stuff. Our military has precious little to do with our prosperity. It has become an expensive burden and this is what it produces, a 22 BN USD graveyard — and that’s just the US Air Force.

    Eisenhower in 1961:

    This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

    In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

    We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

    We do not need a goddamn period of mandatory government service. Every job worth doing is worth paying a worker to do: unless there’s a strategic or tactical need for a job such as a field artillery forward observer or an infantryman, every other such job only takes one job from the civilian sector.

    And the very last thing this nation needs or wants is a draft. I saw the product of the draft. Among those men were a few decent soldiers but the vast majority of them were recalcitrant, untrainable and wretched troops whose only motivation for being in uniform was to stay out of prison. Anyone who works for the government ought to volunteer. The last thing a line infantryman needs is some unreliable, malingering jackass on his flank who won’t shoulder his share of the burden. If this nation needs soldiers, it needs professionals.

    The military leadership knows all this, has fought long and hard to keep up standards. The bloated military-industrial complex is their enemy, operating at cross-purposes to the military’s goals, building weapons systems the military does not need and has specifically said it does not want. Blame Congress for that.

    We are not the servants of society. We are members in full. Those who “serve” exist in their own realm, both legally and philosophically. They are not protected by the full Constitution but under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. We must never, ever allow Statist Jackasses to tell us we have obligations to this society: we are free men and women, all of us.Report

    • Avatar DavidTC in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I will be okay with the draft the minute we have a constitutional requirement for the nation as a whole to vote it in. A country does, in fact, have the ‘right’ to send its citizens off to war…but by ‘a country’, I mean ‘the actual majority of people in the country’. It’s way too important for the representatives we normally let decide things to be able to decide.

      (In fact, I think we shouldn’t be able to go to war _at all_ without a nation-wide vote, period. All armed conflicts should be limited to fighting off invasions of US soil until a vote of the population is taken. The Founding Fathers, I suspect, agreed with me, and hence their assignment of creating an army theoretically resting on the House, the closest to direct democracy we had back then. This system has entirely broken down.)Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to DavidTC says:

        Mind you any such requirement would be moot since the US government doesn’t actually bother declaring war any more.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James K says:

          “Kinetic Foreign Service”Report

        • Avatar DavidTC in reply to James K says:

          That’s why I said ‘All armed conflicts should be limited to fighting off invasions of US soil until a vote of the population is taken.’ instead of ‘war’.

          The term ‘war’ is easy to manipulate. _No soldier should ever fire a weapon_ outside the US until we, as a nation, have voted. (With some sort of reasonable exemption for fighting off invaders. I’m okay for some sort of ‘Canada has already invaded so we can preemptively shoot their soldiers even if they’re standing over the border’ rule.)

          I don’t know what sort of percentage should be required, or if we should use the electoral college or house districts or what. Hell, I’d argue it should follow law rules…let’s require both a majority of house districts vote for it, and a majority of states to represent senators.

          Regardless, all I do know is not only should there have to be a vote, it _shouldn’t_ be by the people we elected to run our government normally, especially if we had no idea there would be the option of a war when we did the election.

          War is too important. And it’s treated like it’s not.

          And, yes, there are a lot of people calling for a draft to try to make this point, but that’s nonsense. We don’t need a draft so the country will take a war seriously…we just need to _ask_ the country, which already _does_ take wars seriously. It’s the goddamn media and politicians who don’t take it seriously.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DavidTC says:

            Voting on war is awfully tricksy. The Lumpenprole has a taste for war, for all the same reasons the politicians do — he likes the taste of blood and it’s a team sport. Team America. A nasty, vicious little primate is mankind and war is his natural state of affairs. The early days of the American Civil War, WW1 and all those earnest patriotic ditties, WW2, same wretched story — folks just loves them some waaaar.

            Crisis is the rallying cry of the tyrant and the proles are so easily swept up in these things — it’s always been true, going back to Deus Vult and other such criminal enterprises, whipped up by mad priests and Austrian corporals. Nossir, I do not want the proles voting on going to war.Report

  5. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    I can already hear Jason saying that a person could do more good by getting a high-paying job and donating money earned than by engaging in national service. (I don’t entirely agree with Hypothetical Jason, because I see some fundamental value in living and working among people whose lives are different from and harder than your own. It broadens our understanding and enables us to move from “This is what I think [x group of people] want” to “I’ve talked with lots of people in [x group], these are the things they identify as problems, these are the ideas where there is widespread disagreement, these are the issues where opinions vary widely”. It helps move us from being patronizing to something closer to a partnership led by the party who actually know what their needs are and what kind of assistance they’d benefit from).

    I’m uncomfortable with the rationale given for national service. There’s maybe one war in history – WWII – that falls within the definition of “you have freedom and a good life because other people fought for it”.[1] (Even that’s debatable for the US and Canada; if the US had stuck to sending supplies and not soldiers, the Nazis and Soviets might have still worn each other out sufficiently that the Nazis settled for Europe and never headed to the Americas.) It excessively glorifies the military. We don’t have a long lifespan because of soldiers; we have it because of doctors and researchers who discovered things like antibiotics and vaccines and concepts like hygiene. We have a public education system (i.e.: we have widespread literacy and knowledge) because of politicians, civil servants, and teachers who believed that public education was a worthwhile endeavour. We have technology that eases our lives and makes jobs other than manual labour open to us because of numerous technological innovations (some, though far from all, of which did benefit from funding for military purposes). We’ve also got a ton of wars – World War I, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and I think I’m willing to throw Afghanistan into that category too now, though I wasn’t when it started – that served no such purpose, and we’d be just as free, and a lot of suffering and death would have been averted, if they had never been fought. And even in WWII, there’s a lot of battles fought that didn’t particularly contribute to the cause of human freedom (see: the entire Italian campaign). The number of soldiers who “died for my freedom” is a small fraction of all the ones who died in all the wars of the 20th century – an even smaller fraction if we go back further in history than that – most of them needlessly. There are wars that had positive secondary effects despite being deeply destructive and needless – e.g., WWI contributing to women’s suffrage – but that’s a far cry from the idea of “soldiers dying for our freedom”.

    The rationale behind a draft – at least the one that makes sense to me – isn’t some kind of duty to posterity, but a very urgent “if we don’t have enough people to fight in this war, our country will be conquered/destroyed by an enemy”. Any threat short of that nature doesn’t justify a military draft.

    If we’re going to talk about service as something “owed”, it’s not something we owe to our predecessors. It’s something we owe to people who are living now, by simple virtue of their being human and capable of being benefitted by our actions. And I don’t think it should be mandatory – not only because it feels like a strong infringement on personal freedom, but because people are going to be better volunteers if they actually want to be where they are and because, as noted above, the benefits of such a program are at least as much in what we learn as what we do. People who are only present because they’re required to be are unlikely to learn as much.

    Tangentially, national service also shouldn’t generally be about use of things like “carpentry” that Mike refers to, because there are plenty of people in poor countries who are capable of doing such things and are badly in need of work; sending untrained first-worlders over there to do their jobs for free doesn’t benefit them. There’s a great deal of good to be done by volunteering overseas, but it has to be contributing something, some knowledge or skill, that isn’t being contributed by the locals. If there’s one thing the third world isn’t short of, it’s unskilled labour.

    [1.] Two wars if you’re black.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to KatherineMW says:

      I’m really not all that surprised about your preferred version of WWII. Allowing Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire any sort of victory would have been a disaster for the entire world. The suffering caused would be immense and the lives lost countless.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Yes, it would have been. I was merely pointing out that it may not be strictly true to say WWII soldiers preserved America’s (or Canada’s) freedom as we can’t know that the war would have gotten this far. The Soviets were a pretty hard fight for the Nazis all by themselves, and Japan’s priority was to prevent the US from interfering with their Asian empire, not to invade the US itself.

        Things would have been pretty awful for the rest of the world, though.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to KatherineMW says:

      I can already hear Jason saying that a person could do more good by getting a high-paying job and donating money earned than by engaging in national service


      Rather than a peacetime draft, the government would do better to tax all of us and then use the money to hire specialized laborers.

      There are two benefits to this approach that make it better than a peacetime draft.

      The first is that those laborers will be making a better use of their time than just about all peacetime conscripts. Specialists will be more productive to the government because of their skills. If amateurs really could out-compete them, then their profession would have died out already. The fact that it hasn’t indicates that, for those tasks, they are the ones who should be hired. Not unskilled draftees.

      To say the same thing in a slightly different light: The specialists are supporting themselves at the task that is, for them, the first-best choice. By contrast, conscripts will probably have other things they would prefer to be doing with their time, at which they would derive more utility than they get from competing (badly) with specialists.

      The second reason to prefer levying money is that taxation in money is always more favorable to liberty than taxation in kind. When you tax people in hours of forced labor, as opposed to making them pay money, you have not only taken the value of the tax — you’ve also taken away their power of choice in how to supply the tax.

      Taxes aren’t great, but they are less of an affront to liberty than demanding a forced specific performance.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Taxes aren’t great, but they are less of an affront to liberty than demanding a forced specific performance.

        This is why I find it almost surreal when libertarians seem in favor of national service, considering how many of them seem to regard taxes as some horrible thing.

        I wonder if this is some sort of weird Heinlein crossover, considering how many libertarians seem to think Heinlein was a libertarian and thus something he wrote about must be a good idea. (1)

        In my opinion, people have a requirement to fund the system they were born in in an amount proportional to their ability to fund it. I.e., you don’t get to be the _last_ generation born into this wealth.

        But as for whether or not the government can make you work, I have to say yes…in _exceptional_ circumstances. Very exceptional. Like the country is being invaded, or there’s a meteor about to wipe out the planet and we need someone to pound nails into the launch tower for the rocket to blow it up. Existentially-risky circumstances. Beyond that, no.

        And I find it surreal that so many libertarians think otherwise to the second thing, while so many other libertarians don’t even agree with me about the _first_ thing.

        And at a certain point, an unpleasant fact enters me mind, that _the poor_ can do national service, but can’t pay more taxes in money (As they have no money). Likewise, everyone has to do the _same_ national service….during which, of course, rich people could continue to earn other money (via investments and whatnot) whereas poor people could not.

        And I suddenly realize that libertarians have glommed onto the idea of national service because it is the _most regressive tax_ imaginable. And I wonder how libertarians would feel if the way national service worked is that you had to work a month for each million dollars you inherited. (I mean, if the premise is that you have to pay for the world that was handed to you…)

        Now, I do understand why liberals like it, I do understand the appeal of making people of different socio-economic levels ‘mingle’ for a year, but surely there are actually other ways we could do that. I can’t think of any at this exact moment, but I’m sure there are.

        1) Heinlein was not actually a libertarian, and really just liked coming up with different political, and social, systems and seeing how they worked. And, hilarious, the closest thing to a libertarian world he created is a libertarian world under ‘The Covenant’ (Basically, you can do anything you want as long as you don’t hurt others. Even things explicitly illegal, as long as you can prove they didn’t hurt anyone.) and a guy who think he’s not free enough there and will be better off without any rules at all…and learns he’s is an idiot. I.e., his most ‘libertarian’ world exists to show that…libertarians are being silly and there will always be people loudly demanding freedom even if they have near absolute freedom already. So, uh, yeah.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to DavidTC says:

          How many libertarians are actually in favor of national service? Seems anathema to those I know.Report

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman says:

            Oh, I’m not trying to imply that a lot of them are. I’m sorry if it read that way. Almost no libertarians support that.

            But the article cited here making the case _against_ libertarians supporting national service does exist for a reason. It is a real phenomenon. A completely, utterly baffling phenomenon.

            ..baffling, at least, until you remember the ‘resenting the poor’ libertarians. The ones who are libertarians because they don’t want to support the ‘lazy poor’…and here is a way to actually make those good-for-nothing people work! (I have no idea what _actual_ percentage of libertarians think like this, but when I discuss things long enough with libertarians online, I generally find this about 1/10th of them will just come out and say that. But that’s a very self-selecting poll of people, namely, people who debate on the internet…and I have no idea how many of those people would support mandatory national service anyway. I’m just saying the ones who _do_ support that are that sort of libertarian.)

            The irony, of course, is assuming that this national service paid people (and it wouldn’t really work if it didn’t.) and it was required to accept everyone and couldn’t kick them out (which, again, is required for it to be ‘mandatory’), the ‘lazy poor’ would be signing up for this left and right _without_ it being mandatory. Because it would be a _job_.

            And the libertarians would be calling it ‘large government’ and ‘make work’.Report

            • Avatar roger in reply to DavidTC says:

              Not sure where to start. First, I am pretty sure the number is closer to nine out of ten (not one out of ten) of us do expect able bodied people to work if they can, and we would be very reluctant to create dependency on the old government teat.

              If you want to end unemployment and virtually guarantee income for all adults, I recommend something as such;


              • Avatar greginak in reply to roger says:

                My first, second and third thoughts about anybody who claims they have, all by themselves, figured out how to solve a dozen social problems with no downsides and is sure it will work is they have let their ego and ideology run off the deep end.Report

              • Avatar roger in reply to greginak says:

                Care to be more specific with what is wrong with the suggestion, other than an excess of hubris?

                I haven’t actually read it lately, but I am pretty sure he suggests experimenting with this solution. Starting locally, seeing how it works and learning from experience.

                You game, Greg?Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to roger says:

                What i mean is that, leaving aside any policy details, if i read a post that says: I have a solution to many seemingly intractable problems, that has to be done my way, deals with people who try to game teh system, will make the economy much better and generally improve life for everybody. I’m really x100 skeptical of it since i think most serious social problems are difficulty to solve and aren’t solved easily. So if someone says they have this nifty solution to all these problems should be treated with utmost skepticism since its unlikely he is the Einstein of social policy.

                Also i might add that every plan has unintended consequences and nothing works as well as people wish it will.Report

              • Avatar roger in reply to greginak says:

                Agreed, but what do you think of the idea?

                These indents suck.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to greginak says:

                Yes these indents are troublesome. We clearly need the blog to be made over.

                The idea itself. I can wrap my head around a guaranteed income and think that part has potential. I can not imagine any way to really figure out how his plan would affect the job market, employers and employers. He has this nice and tidy explanation for how it works super smooth. But frankly anything like that would have mega-huge affects all over the economy. I’d really want to hear from a whole host of people like economist and employers to see what they think. I just can’t imagine all the possible ramifications and clusterfish points. Apparently neither can he since he really didn’t discuss them.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to DavidTC says:

              But the article cited here making the case _against_ libertarians supporting national service does exist for a reason.

              That’s not what the article says. The author, who explicitly says he’s not a libertarian, is objecting to a libertarian argument against compulsory national service.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DavidTC says:

          I don’t think you will find very many libertarians who support national service. Virtually none of them do.

          But anyway. I agree with you that compulsory labor is among the most regressive taxes around. It was also among the most hated feudal obligations of Old Regime France.

          So what does it tell you when lots of so-called progressives clearly support it?Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Lots of progressives support compulsory labor???Report

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            So what does it tell you when lots of so-called progressives clearly support it?

            Assuming that ‘lots’ of progressives do support it, which I don’t think is accurate, it tells me that those progressive supporters have not actually thought it through.

            There’s a difference between progressives, who are usually fine with most taxes, wanting to add a new one without thinking it though. Vs. libertarians, who often wish to remove most taxes and claim forcing people to do things is the _only_ thing the government should stop…suddenly start hoping the government will force people to do things.

            People who support a stupid version of a thing that is _like_ what they normally support are just ignorant. People who support a stupid version of a thing that _they normally hate and is completely opposite every principle they hold_…something else is going on there.

            You carry a cake past me every day, and one day you try to carry a giant unbalanced wedding cake and it falls on me…well, that was a stupid accident. You hate cakes, claim they are fattening and taste bad, and how you’d never eat one, and no one should ever carry one around…and then, one time, you buy a giant ‘unbalanced’ wedding cake and carry it past me and it ‘falls on me’…yeah, right.

            And this is, again, assuming that progressives actually support a _mandatory_ year of service. I’ve heard plenty of progressives talk about how national service would be awesome as something we expect of people, but heard very little talk about how it should be _required_. The _required_ talk all appears to be coming from right-ward.Report

        • Avatar DavidTC in reply to DavidTC says:

          And I wonder how libertarians would feel if the way national service worked is that you had to work a month for each million dollars you inherited. (I mean, if the premise is that you have to pay for the world that was handed to you…)

          I was about to post a correction, saying, to make it fair, let’s say ‘Every million dollars not earned’. So, yes, people on welfare and whatnot would have to do national also…for like a week, once.

          But I realized ‘not earned’ is a bit silly to start with, and easy to game (Instead of my kid inheriting my money, I will pay him a million dollars an hour to carry my golf clubs!) so my new proposal is:

          Everyone has to work a month (Or, rather, 160 hours) at national service for every million dollars of income they gain via _any_ means. Income, tax rebates, welfare, anything. (Need some way to exempt things that just ‘borrowed’ their money and gave it back, like unemployment insurance, but whatever)

          They can do this in advance, or, if they have not, the money is withheld by the government until they do so. (It does, however, end up in their estate no matter what.) And, a system is set up where almost all high school students give a month each year (after-school programs, volunteer days, a week or two over the summer), for a total of four months, so that more than covers anyone who makes less than median pay. And colleges also do the same sort of thing for high-paying college majors to add a few more months in there.

          How do you feel about that one, libertarians?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DavidTC says:

            I would argue that the guy who made a million bucks has already done more good than the national service person chosen to, say, rip out unauthorized flowers from the Metro.

            Or maybe I’m unclear as to what will and what won’t constitute “National Service”.

            “Stuff the government wants done but can’t get anybody but an intern-type to do”?Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

              I would include:
              – military
              – fire
              – police
              – schools
              – post office
              – DPW

              Problem is, as Jason points out, most of those jobs are better left to the professionals. And the cost of training people to become professionals isn’t zero.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

                Just one example:

                Go to the neighborhood school, pick up all the trash, give it a fresh coat of paint, refurbish and/or replace the basketball hoops, mow and weed the overgrown field and turn it into a baseball diamond. Yes, you can argue the school district should do this themselves, but many can’t find the money.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Yeah thats nice but can that match the overall goodness that is done when one person is as greedy and money hungry as possible. So okay Bernie Madoff made some mistakes, he avoided some bureaucrats but all that money he made for so many people must have been better than anything some hospice volunteer or paramedic every did.Report

            • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Jaybird says:

              I am sometimes not as obviously funny as I think I am.

              I am not _actually_ proposing this, because the entire idea of National Service is silly. As Kazzy pointed out, there are really no jobs it makes sense.

              And in jobs where it _does_ make sense, we’d be better off giving those jobs to the unemployed instead of forcing random people to do it. Seriously, that would be rather assholish of us. ‘Yes, I know you’re unemployed and you _want_ to be paid $10 an hour to remove unauthorized flowers from the Metro, but instead we’re going to force this rich idiot to do it’.

              I was just pointing out how to not make such a tax regressive.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to DavidTC says:

            Libertarians often get accused of hating the poor. But really, the worst you can honestly say about libertarians is that some are indifferent to the poor, and even that doesn’t really follow from an objection to forced transfer payments.

            This is what you do when you actually hate another group of people. You don’t ignore them—you look for ways to actively harm them. Bonus points if it has no plausible rationale other than making sure the right ox gets gored.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Jason needs to write the libertarian version of Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven.

        I’d love to visit with Mother Theresa, if I could.

        I can’t help you there.

        I understand. Everyone in heaven must be asking to visit that dear woman.

        It’s not that. The problem is that she’s in the Other Place.

        That must be some other Theresa. This woman was a saint. She devoted her whole life to helping poor people.

        And did she? With the energy and ability He gave that woman, she could have built businesses that lifted hundreds of thousands out of poverty. Instead of that, she just made their poverty a bit more comfortable. Terrible case of Original Sin.

        But she was a very devout nun! I’m sure she didn’t …

        I don’t know why you humans are so obsessed with that. Do you really think He would torture you by creating something that wonderful and then saying “No, you mustn’t!”? Your real Original Sin is self-regard. She preferred to act like she was helping the poor and be called a saint for it than to actually help them.

  6. Avatar Kim says:

    There are enough places that do have compulsory military service, absent an existential threat.Report

  7. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I think that when people call for “compulsory military service” or some kind of national service, what they are looking for is a unifying common experience despite race, ethnicity, gender, and especially class/socio-economic status.

    A lot of people are openly concerned about the wide rifts between the rich and the poor and I think many more people privately fret over it while not speaking or railing against the “1 percent” openly. It goes beyond the 1 percent. My life as growing up in an upper-middle class professional suburb gave me a lot more advantages than someone who grew up in a more modest suburb or blue-collar area. It was almost absolutely certain that I would go to college/university and be able to graduate in four years instead of five or six. We’ve discussed this numerous times.

    What compulsory service (military or not) does (theoretically) is give (almost) everyone a common experience. The kid who went to a fancy boarding school and is almost destined for a career on Wall Street will also know what it is like to be yelled at by a tough-as-nails Marine and need to do something unpleasant like clean a floor with a truth brush. I think a lot of people are concerned about how the military, at least at the enlistee level, is almost exclusively filled with the poor. No one from my high school signed up for the military after graduation (as far as I know). There was one kid who applied for West Point but did not get in. However, I have read lots of stories where kids grow up in an area where the options are the military or a life in fast food. There was one story in the Times about a guy who joined the military because of this reason. He later drowned in a training accident because he never learned how to swim as a child or something like that.

    Liberals like the national service option because it feels less miserable/cruel than having everyone deal with boot camp but still provides the “shared, common experience”Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

      Liberals also have another incentive. Namely, that they have more cultural muscles to flex and would be far more influential in the culture of such a national service program, and everybody would go through it. Another foot in the door, so to speak.

      The popular conception lopsided representation of the economics of the military has been demonstrated to be exaggerated, any time I have seen actual numbers. It seems to be regional and cultural influence as much as anything. It’s rather fascinating to see, because it contradicts my experience entirely.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

        1. I’m really not sure about this one. It sounds a bit on the fantasy-side. There is a liberal backlash against many Teach for America type programs because it hurts the poor. The one thing that poor students often lack are schools with long-term teaching staff. A lot of liberals are against the fact that poor students are in schools which are staffed for a year or two with idealistic Teach for America types with little training.

        2. Elaborate please. I can see why there would be a regional or cultural influence even in blue-cities. You see a lot more people in military uniforms on the NYC subway than in San Francisco and not just during fleet week. I did not say that the military was completely loopsided economically. I said that people who enlist right out of high school are possibly overwhelmingly working-class or worse off. People who do ROTC and the various military universities like West Point are probably more likely to come from an middle-class or above strata.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

          I probably should have left the first paragraph out, as it isn’t quite fair of me to bring it up and then not have the time or inclination to elaborate. My bad.

          Regarding the second, I was referring to enlisteds. Heritage compiled the numbers. Yes, it’s Heritage, but they get the numbers from good sources. Last time I mentioned them, someone pointed to statistics that was suggested to refute those, and yet even those statistics suggested that military participation drops off in the top quartile, but among the other three enlistment rates are similar. (The report dances around this with really curious wording.)

          I cannot find good statistics to support the notion that enlistment is disproportionately among the financially strapped, howevermuch it seems intuitively true to me that it would be the case.Report

          • BTW, California’s enlistment numbers are pretty solid, if I recall. And Mississippi’s were very low (as were Utah and I think South Dakota). So it’s not just red versus blue. There is another cultural element at work.Report

  8. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Why is my comment awaiting moderation? I did not put in any links. Is this a new system?Report

  9. Avatar George Turner says:

    The argument I would make for compulsory national service is that it could be used to shift government work from life-long union members (devoted to constant expansion, increasing power, and ever-bigger pensions) to people who are “temps.” One of the problems with the current system is that government employees have become one of the government’s largest vested interests, making decision based on benefiting their own department, their status within the department, and their perks instead of doing a job because we’ve tasked them to do it for a while to help out their non-government fellows (aka society).

    For a pre-WW-II comparison (because everyone compares national service to WW-II), the WPA was a temporary jobs program, not a career path for everyone who signed up. It didn’t become its own permanent lobby.Report

    • For a pre-WW-II comparison (because everyone compares national service to WW-II), the WPA was a temporary jobs program, not a career path for everyone who signed up. It didn’t become its own permanent lobby.

      That’s one of my hesitations, to be honest. Which is to say that I don’t think it would work out that way if we did it today. Rather, I think that it would not take long before people would agitate to make a career out of service. Then there’d want to be unionization with government pension packages. The government unions would (understandably) not want the competition (see America, Teach For). There’d be questions about why we can’t have good, unionized government employees doing whatever it is that we have these young people doing. It’s a question for which I have an answer, but not a question for which there is an answer that would necessarily be considered satisfactory.

      I have the same concern about a Bill Mitchell Full Employment plan. Jobs for everyone – even government jobs – would be great right up until they become an entrenched entity and it is no longer the employer of last resort, but rather something people choose for the security and pension plan (and maybe salary, in some cases).Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to George Turner says:

      Always going for the crazy cup, George!Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I was actually thinking about this recently and I find the PEG piece, or at least the section quoted here, fascinating.

    In essence, it seems to be asking whether we are born with a lien against us because of the work of those who came before us? It is suggested that liberals think yes and conservatives think no.

    What stands out to me is that conservative seems far more comfortable punishing people for the sins of those who came before. The cycle of poverty, the impact of parental involvement on educational outcomes, etc. are all issues that can at least somewhat be addressed via a more robust social welfare program and, dare I say, a certain redistribution of wealth. But such is verboten for conservatives.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

      I think conservatives, like liberals, are more than happy to use to notion of debt when they can define the terms. PEG’s piece is more aimed at libertarians, who don’t.

      I think a part of the disconnect here is the use of government, and beneficiaries versus recipients. A libertarian or conservative might look at it like “Advocating reparations (for example) is yet another example of the government assigning debt. “You, Mr. White Person, owe something to Mr. Black Person, because of the privilege that you have incurred as a result of past racism and policies.” Rather than looking at it, as you do, where without such policies the debt is incurred by non-whites. They look at it in the form of the higher taxes they would have to pay for something they personally did not do. They don’t consider themselves to personally punishing them. They were punished, but by a bunch of people mostly old and dead.

      This is not flawless logic, in that I think it does overlook much, but I can get the gist of it. (Note: the movers should be arriving today, so my ability to engage may be limited.)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

        (No worries re: engagement level)

        For what it is worth, and I should have specified this, I was referring more to the people who respond with a, “Tough nuts, you lose” attitude. “It’s not my fault that kid’s mom was poor or drug addicted or didn’t care about his education. Why should I have to pay higher taxes that go to additional services at school to support him?”

        Besides the fact that supporting that kid likely will benefit the person by hopefully making him a productive member of society, the idea that kids should suffer for the sins of their parents is uncomfortable. And addressing it doesn’t even necessarily require litigating generations old issues. I understand there is a limit… even rich kids are sometimes the victims of their own parents nuttiness (something I witness first hand)… and we can’t correct for every incidence of a parent doing wrong by a kid, but people who continually advocate that schools be funded by local taxes and local taxes only just make me want to start swinging sometimes.Report

        • Avatar roger in reply to Kazzy says:

          I read somewhere that ugly people make substantially less over their lifetimes than attractive people. Same trend occurs for short people.

          If so, why aren’t short ugly people in some kind of protected class?

          I am serious. What makes some disadvantaged classes better than others?Report

          • Avatar NewDealer in reply to roger says:

            Ugliness is subjective.

            This is a somewhat serious answer. You can generally tell when someone is in a protected class (except religion possibly) or being discriminated against for not following traditional gender norms (which might or might not be a proxy for sexuality).

            Things like ugliness and shortness might be easier to prove on an economics paper but very hard to prove in court.Report

            • Avatar roger in reply to NewDealer says:

              So if ugliness was more objective should it be considered a protected class?

              Shortness is much more objective than race, so what makes it less in need of protected status in your opinion?

              I’m not trying to pretend I am Jaybird (League Socrates), I am just asking. I am not sure what various people think makes something a legitimate protected class.Report

  11. Avatar roger says:

    ” if … you were born in one of those countries, the only reason you enjoy this incredible, unimaginable privilege is because people who lived before you sacrificed, and toiled, and gave their lives so that you would have it. They fought wars and they gave their blood and their lives so that a certain political community to which you belong shall not perish from the Earth so that you could enjoy this.”

    I agree with Will in spirit but must make a few clarifications.  First, I reject the underlying premise that our privileged position comes about via SACRIFICE.  In general it comes about via voluntary interactions of mutual gain. Granted, there can be calls for sacrifice in existential threats. When the Mongols surround your city, for example.  Not much of this in my reading of American history though.  Certainly not enough to justify reorganizing society around. 

    On the case of military service, there is little reason, outside of said Mongolian hordes, to think military service (or fire or police work) requires anything approaching sacrifice. It is a job. A voluntary exchange for mutual gain.  We don’t owe them anything other than a valid paycheck and whatever agreed upon benefits they signed up for. And yes, my son just returned from service in Iraq and would agree completely.  

    If throwing parades for the returning “heroes” makes them or us feel better, so be it. But seriously….

    “PEG truly makes a good case that we are the beneficiaries of a society and there is an obligation associated with that. ”

    Here I agree, but in a way which takes the conversation in a totally different direction.  We are the beneficiaries of PROGRESS and CREATIVE DESTRUCTION.  We are blessed and extremely lucky that those that came before us were not selfish and greedy enough to throw sands in the gears of progress and rising prosperity. Creative destruction and change are inherent in rising prosperity, and each of us gains most by cheating at the game. The rational and greedy way to optimize our personal outcome is for every one else to play by the rules of free enterprise, but to carve out a special position of privilege for ourselves. Everyone wants to defect on the prisoners dilemma.  

    Luckily for us, most of those that came before us in America refrained from cheating at the game by carving out privileged positions exempt from competition.

    This is what we owe back. We owe a similar sense of fairness to those that come after us — to rise up and refuse to seek privilege (aka rent seeking).  Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to roger says:

      Here, “First, I reject the underlying premise that our privileged position comes about via SACRIFICE. In general it comes about via voluntary interactions of mutual gain.” and here, “Here I agree, but in a way which takes the conversation in a totally different direction. We are the beneficiaries of PROGRESS and CREATIVE DESTRUCTION….”

      How do you account for the dispossessed? For instance, the experiences of African-Americans and Native Americans seem absent. “Rising prosperity” for whom? Looking at the crosstabs, it appears prosperity for the already well off is a safe bet.

      “Luckily for us, most of those that came before us in America refrained from cheating at the game by carving out privileged positions exempt from competition.”

      My same questions apply: the dispossessed? and cui bono? We’re still dealing with the consequences of the pretty clearly carved out privileged positions from America’s past. Balzac comes to mind, “Behind every great fortune there is a great crime” (maybe better rendering, “The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out, because it was properly executed.”, from “Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu’ il a été proprement fait.”)Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Creon Critic says:

        By our privileged position I am speaking inclusively of pretty much anyone living in the west today (actually anywhere with a history of relatively free markets). I am talking about people being born with modern medicine, a standard of living ten to thirty times that of our ancestors, with double the life span and substantially more freedom, health and education. This applies to hispanics, blacks, Indians and even to the Irish.

        If you think our current standards of living in the west came from crime or theft, then we will have to disagree. Bottom line, a stream of zero sum actions in an entropic universe leads inevitably and brutally to negative sum results. In other words, it destroys utility.

        We owe nothing collectively to theft and exploitation. Our obligation is to resist these actions and encourage productive and voluntary exchange.

        Creon, you really need to think through how value is created. Worldwide prosperity can’t be stolen. It must be created.

        Perhaps I would grasp the truth though if I could do math in French.Report

        • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to roger says:

          If you think our current standards of living in the west came from crime or theft, then we will have to disagree

          Past crimes and thefts made substantial contributions to the West’s wealth: Imperialism? King Leopold’s Ghost? A stroll through the British Museum’s antiquities collections (particularly those that don’t originate in the British Isles)? Where does one begin in calculating the value of slave labor to the US? Or the value of lands seized from Native Americans and distributed to settlers? And it isn’t like mismanagement and abuses didn’t continue long after the initial dispossessions (e.g., NYT, U.S. Will Settle Indian Lawsuit for $3.4 Billion).

          We owe nothing collectively to theft and exploitation.

          Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying here, but it is like several centuries of crimes and exploitation are swept away. A spectacular kind of self-absolution only a sovereign can undertake – and with so little scrutiny and such impunity. The United States solemnly undertakes to forgive itself for its various crimes – crimes too numerous to give an impressionistic account of. And you accept this self-absolution?

          Aren’t we living the in the wake of the theft and exploitation that already took place to the great benefit of some of us? You mention voluntary interactions, but this structure is of relatively recent vintage (for the sake of argument conceding that voluntarism is what exists today). I don’t see how the past crimes are reconciled (or acknowledged) with your heavy emphasis on the present with nary a thought as to how the present wealth distributions came to be.Report

          • Avatar roger in reply to Creon Critic says:

            My point is that average per capita wealth of the world does not come from robbing Peter to pay Paul. That destroys wealth, it does not create it.

            We owe it to our descendants to continue to add to to worldwide prosperity. That is the obligation I see.

            I am not apologizing for the past or present exploitations of the human race, or primates in general. I believe all are dysfunctional and lead to a worse world. Leopold didn’t make the world a better place. He destroyed lives. He killed Peter and sold his bones. The prosperity of modernity didn’t come from the captures of antiquities or the destructive, monopolistic, coercive antics of the East India Company, or the VOC.

            We have created wealth. A lot of wealth and a lot of human utility. We owe to the future not to form little brown shirt service armies, but to continue the path to prosperity.Report

  12. Avatar Murali says:

    About the only thing that really over-rides the presumption of liberty in this case is if a country would not be able to defend itself without conscription. In principle, a set of rules is not an acceptable set of rules if widespread adoption of those rules by society precludes the persistence of those rules over time. This means that a rule which prevents a society from being able to defend itself from aggressors who would likely restrict its people’s liberties is not a valid rule. Of course, those conditions are certainly not satisfied in the case of the US as it has plenty of troops even on a purely voluntary basis to engage in aggressive wars.Report

  13. Avatar Gorgias says:

    The draft is slavery. Sometimes slavery is the least of the evils presented to you; I don’t deny its justice in WWII or even Korea. But the diminution of liberty experienced by draftees is a grave evil that can only be outweighed by a commensurate gain. Compulsory peacetime labor service doesn’t come anywhere close.Report

  14. Avatar j@m3z Aitch. says:

    I disagree with the premise of PEG’s argument. What makes life so privileged and livable today is not simply, or even primarily, the social service of people in previous generations, but the self-interested actions of entrepreneurs and businessmen who came up with ideas that made people’s lives better, so that people eagerly bought their stuff. The insulation and air conditioning that made my house bearable in the last few days of 90+ heat and 90% plus humidity were not created by individuals called into the service of their society. The medicines and surgical techniques that saved my life were not the product of any national service scheme. Etc. Etc.

    Add in some government programs to provide clean water, sanitation, and basic education, and you have most of what has created our good life.

    Voluntary service? A good thing, but operating mostly at the margins to help those on the social periphery. As to war, when America is actually threatened, people still put on uniforms. If we have to draft people into service to fight a war, then it’s a war we damn well shouldn’t be fighting.Report

  15. I’m not going to comment much on the national service issue as others have already covered it well (my basic take would be serving your community/fellow citizens/other people is good – suggesting that we all do that is good – assuming that means some sort of National Service is a stolen base).

    One thing that stood out to me is the use of the term “sperm lottery”. I get what PEG’s saying, but it’s interesting he didn’t say the “ovum lottery” or the “womb lottery” or the “uterus lottery” or the “birth canal lottery”. He went with the one tiny aspect of conception, pregnancy and birth that is supplied by the male. I think this, inadvertently, actually says something.Report