Massive Campaign to Bring Back Indentured Servitude

On several occasions I have have lamented the declining standard of activism:

Activist:  A person who believes so strongly that a
problem needs to be remedied that she dedicates substantial time to ...
getting other people to fix the problem.   It used to be that activists
sought voluntary help for their pet problem, and thus retained some
semblance of honor.  However, our self-styled elite became frustrated
at some point in the past that despite their Ivy League masters degrees
in sociology, other people did not seem to respect their ideas nor were
they particularly interested in the activist's pet issues.  So
activists sought out the double shortcut of spending their time not
solving the problem themselves, and not convincing other people to
help, but convincing the government it should compel others to fix the
supposed problem.  This fascism of good intentions usually consists of
government taking money from the populace to throw at the activist's
issue, but can also take the form of government-compelled labor and/or
government limitations on choice.

It seems that there is a surprisingly large coalition ready to take this to its logical extreme:  A group called Service Nation is set to spend a ton of money lobbying the government to create a program to force every young person into servitude by 2020.

Not satisfied with taking 20-40% of our income to spend as they see fit, the government hopes also to be able to order around the labor of millions of young adults.   I feel like I am reading some bizarre historical re-enactment of the Soviet or Chinese youth programs.  This whole program, which I am tentatively going to label "happy face fascism," makes me so sick I can't even address it further tonight.  More later.

PS:  This is, not coincidentally, exactly the idea Obama has been pushing (here and here).  I say not coincidentally, because this is how one skirts stupid campaign finance laws - you get your supporters to take your top campaign planks and run with them as "independent" efforts that are not subject to campaign finance restrictions.

PPS: Just to head off an argument that came up last time in the comments, I have been a consistent opponent of the military draft as well.

Update:  I know the allusion is over-used, but we are in 1984-land when people keep using the term "voluntary universal national service" as do the leaders of this effort.  By universal, they mean that everyone has to do it.  So they are calling for "national service that everyone is required by law to perform but is voluntary." I do not think that word means what you think it means.

The solution is to develop a system of voluntary universal national
service for our country and for the world. To call upon all young
adults to take at least one year to learn the hard and rugged skills of
practicing idealism.

Yes, lets teach them the "hard and rugged skills" of being forced to do labor that no one is willing to pay for voluntarily, so must be performed by slaves instead.

Another thought:  TJIC made a relevant observation to this the other day:

I'm seeing more and more grudging praise for the efficiency of the Chinese dictatorship these days.

It tends to go something like this:

Sure, sure, they're horrible, and democracy is better, but if they
decide that they need to put in { more mass transit | a factory | a new
canal | an Olympic village }, they just tell everyone in the village
"move!", and the job gets done.

I get the same impression.  Service Nation is the end result of such thinking.

Clarification:  Service Nation denies they support mandatory service, and have removed the word "universal" from their site.  However, it should be noted that many of the prominent supporters and board members of Service Nation have individually advocated for mandatory service.  Also, no denial that they are seeking to create a new, massive government beauracracy.


  1. Les:

    In a free market democracy of course if you can't convince someone to do something for you by paying them a fair wage, it probably didn't need doing in the first place.

    This talk about teaching youth the hard and rugged skills of 'Idealism' raises a disturbing point, whose ideals?

    At the risk of being Godwin'd, Hitler-Youth much?

  2. nicole:

    Great post. Yesterday I was in line to get a coffee and the guy in front of me was chatting with the cashier, who apparently was originally from New Orleans. He was saying he had been in Europe during Hurricane Katrina and had been so embarrassed to be from the US because people were just horrified at what had happened. Okay. But then he said something about how well China had recently done in evacuating people and saving them from the recent earthquake, and how they were just so good at mobilizing enormous numbers of people extremely quickly, and if only we could be more like that but it's all because we don't care about poor people. I was horrified.

  3. rxc:

    I am willing to stick up my hand as one person who would be willing to see "national service" be required, for everyone. I was subject to the draft, and I thought that it was a good way to make sure that the society did not get too stratified. Sure, some people, like VP Cheney, managed to avoid it, but this really proves my point - he might have turned out differently if he had cleaned some latrines.

    But this sort of service has to be truely "national". No deferments, for ANYONE. The disabled and women have called for equality, so they should be given the chance to show that they can perform equally well. Those with limited physical strength can perform less stressful jobs - there are LOTS of those jobs around. Those who are willing to perform jobs that put them in physical danger can be rewarded more. No doubt there will be political tinkering, but if you make it clear that no one will be excepted, unless they are actually comatose, then maybe more people will support it.

  4. Sameer Parekh:

    I think they use the word "voluntary" to mean "unpaid," not "optional."

  5. Mark Alger:

    But ya know... Filing your income tax return is "voluntary," too.

    Voluntary but coerced.



  6. Sameer Parekh:

    Heh you know rxc, I like that idea, "those willing to perform jobs that put them in physical danger can be rewarded more." Hey, how about we reward more the jobs that are more boring or require more training? That might be a good idea. I wonder if anyone has ever done that before. It's like a breakthrough. Wait, I think I remember a time when people used to do that. It was called the free market! Ever heard of it? You might want to look in your history books for a reference.

  7. jt:

    Naturally, all those voluntary national service employees will become union members.

  8. James Howe:

    If we are going to force anything upon young people it should be to require that they start and attempt to run a successful small business. That way they could learn first hand the detrimental effects of most government laws and regulations. They might even learn some basic economics which would allow them to ignore the economic nonsense spouted by politicians. If we're going to have 'voluntary' servitude, at least make it a really useful learning experience.

    (Actually I don't think we should force this on young people, instead I think we should make this a requirement for running for national public office! It seems to have done wonders for people like George McGovern)

  9. Chris Yeh:

    It boggles the mind that the same people who want to make "voluntary national service" compulsory for the good of "the kids" then turn around and block things that would actually help children like school vouchers and educational reform.

    I'd much rather see people base education around solving real world problems than force bright young people to dig ditches in some misguided attempt to "build character."

  10. Matt:

    Ugh. We all know what will happen. As soon as social welfare program gets sponsored by the government, everyone instantly feels it's an Unalienable Right. So before you know it, you have community activists complaining that they aren't getting their fair share of "volunteer" labor. And probably they would find a way to bring some kind of discrimination allegations into the mix.

  11. ArtD0dger:

    You know, we already fought one civil war over this. Why do these people think it will be passively accepted this time?

  12. clouse:

    The National Service Act, in a nut shell, create free government labor where every one must participate.

    From the Manifesto of The Communist Party:

    “ 7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
    8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.”

    (Keep in mind, this was written in the 1840’s)

  13. Foxfier:


    Part of my choice to go Navy was because I couldn't stand the idea of bragging about the volunteer stuff I did-- I use to help out at the library when I wasn't working.

    The folks *really* trying to get into the Good Schools couldn't get jobs, because they had to spend too much time "involved" in things. (interestingly, when it came time for working on class fundraisers, I noticed they were too busy being "involved" to be useful)


  14. SuperMike:

    "the hard and rugged skills of practicing idealism"

    Wow, you really can't make this stuff up. Whatever happened to "hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man"? Who will look out for the right of our young people to be cynical or merely realistic? Why should they be forced to practice idealism against their will?

  15. Dr. T:

    People like rxc disgust me. They hate the fact that some people are more fortunate or more successful or more intelligent than others, so they push for increasingly progressive taxes, the military draft, or a universal military/non-military draft. They think these practices will make life fairer and make people equal. Most supporters of these schemes are fools or failures who cannot attain success, so they try to drag down the successful. Others are opportunists who seek power or wealth from these service programs. And a few are totalitarians who seek domination over the rest of us. A pox on them all.

  16. Methinks:

    He was saying he had been in Europe during Hurricane Katrina and had been so embarrassed to be from the US because people were just horrified at what had happened.

    Funnily enough, the Europeans don't seem to be horrified by the tens of thousands of Europeans who died during a heatwave in 2003. The French authorities were having trouble getting people to come home from vacation to collect the bodies of their dead elderly relatives. Americans get embarrassed when a bowl is flooded by a category five hurricane. Truly amazing.

    This whole "voluntary national service" idea reminds me of the Soviet Union, which depended on slave labour. When can we expect the grand opening of our first voluntary national gulag?

  17. John Moore:

    I think it would be great if everyone did a stint in the military. My time in the Navy let me experience firsts hand a society where the government provided all the services, and told me what to do, or else. Nothing like seeing that in action to give you an idea what government can really do to screw things up.

    On the other hand, there is no justification for forcing people into service. I went in during the Vietnam War, which required a draft, and lots of people had to serve (but none of my friends did).

    Barring national defense needs, a draft is a terrible idea. And government service outside the military is even worse.

  18. TDK:

    The problem is that most statists do not understand the Broken Windows Fallacy and are thus incapable of understanding conscription schemes will destroy more value than they create. Happily, this means that their solutions contain the seeds of their own destruction. Unhappily it seems to take three or more generations before such economies collapse, which means neither I nor my children will live out the green madness (if they get their way).

  19. rxc:

    Dr(PhH, MD, or just a handle?). T

    "People like rxc disgust me. They hate the fact that some people are more fortunate or more successful or more intelligent than others, so they push for increasingly progressive taxes, the military draft, or a universal military/non-military draft."

    I really don't think you know me very well. I really don't like the idea of increasingly progressive taxes, since I am in one of those income groups that pays the largest portion of revenues to the US. The people I really envy are the ones who would actually pay money to o the jobs that they do, because it is so much fun - airplane pilots come to mind. You really need to re-read my comments about why I support the draft. I think it helps to prevent the society from becoming too stratified, which is a good thing. When I was in the Navy, I had enlisted people working for me who were quite well educated(with real PhDs), and the discussions we used to have were quite stimulating. We worked together very well, even though they hated the life of an enlisted man (it is NOT pleasant).

    "They think these practices will make life fairer and make people equal."

    Now my feelings at all. Life is unfair, and nothing the government is going to do is going to make me a great writer, or an NBA basketball player, or a great musician, or "equal" to anyone else. I have no desire to be "equal" to anyone else, except with regards to civil rights matters, where I am considered to be a member of the only remaining "unprotected" class - old, overweight white male, not yet 65.

    "Most supporters of these schemes are fools or failures who cannot attain success, so they try to drag down the successful."

    Not me at all. I completely disagree with attempts to create "equality" by leveling down the most successful - they made it and they should be allowed to keep it. I am quite happy with my financial situation, having saved considerable amounts in order to support me in my retirement.

    "Others are opportunists who seek power or wealth from these service programs."

    Wrong here, too. I worked for the government for 30 years, and am now retired with a nice pension, but I never aspired to be a high mucky-muck in the government - I just wanted to do my job well, and have some fun doing it. In general, I was successful. I would have stayed longer, but I don't agree with the latest fad that government should be run like a business. It is a different organization, with very different constraints, and very different responsibilities and powers, from any business. Sure, you can draw some parallels, but there is no business I know that has the RIGHT to take away your life, liberty, or the source of your happiness.

    "And a few are totalitarians who seek domination over the rest of us."

    Not me. I just want to live my life the way I want to, and not have to deal with people who are a pain in the ass.

    "A pox on them all."

    Thank you very much.

  20. Big D:

    What a great idea! Let's call it the Civilian Conservation Corps Program... or CCCP for short!

  21. Methinks:


    I don't understand why you think the military is that different today. I was under the same impression as you - that only those with no other choice joined up. I was put straight by my friend's husband - a naval officer. He himself happens to have a genius IQ and multiple degrees in math and finance. He chooses the navy because they make it attractive for him. Others enlist because they feel strongly about serving their country. You don't have to rob people of liberty to have a good mix in the military.

    The idea that we have to force people into slavery in order to remake society is Marxist to the core. The Soviet Union implemented re-education camps and gulags precisely to remake man and society. Unfortunately, each new generation was born with the same basic human "faults" of acquisitiveness and self-interest and had to be re-educated all over again. The experiment to remake man and society has already been tried. It was a failure. Why do it again?

  22. Ilya:

    I am against any sort of blanket mandatory service. I can't see any good coming out of it. Such a thing would probably actually hurt kids from poor backgrounds whose time would be diverted from much needed income from employment.
    However, I am in favour of military draft. The military is there in part to protect a nation's wealth, so those who benefit from that arrangement should also have to pay for it. It's easy to call for war if you know only other people's kids can be sent, but if there's a chance your's can too you might be a little more cautious about sabre-rattling.

  23. Leonard Huff III:

    I have filled out a few United States Income Tax Returns (individuals, partnerships, corporate, ect. ) before in my short career as a accountant in a Medium size accounting firm in Midland, Texas.

    Alot of compliance and forms for a simple problem.

    SINCE JESUS was walking around the Desert in the middle east , TAXIATION OF THE PEOPLE (slaves, lower class, middle class, upper class, but not kings!) has taken place. The UNITED STATES didn't start until the early 20th century with the intention of taxing ONLY the upper, upper class (super wealthy people).

    What happen? to bring us to the current 5,000,000 million IRS codes that we operated under today.

    Simple: TAXIATION WITHOUT REPRESENATIVE!!!!!!! Execept for lobbyists who live within the beltway(Washington D.C.)


    One (1)Form to fill out ONCE a year! Have W-2, 1099, a few other income reporting forms in front of you necessary to complete your ANNUAL REPORTING AND PAYEMENT TO UNITED STATES GOVERMENT.





    WHY IT WON'T HAPPEN! TOO SIMPLE!!!!!!! for "WE THE PEOPLE" US (the taxpayers) represenativties to UNDERSTAND! (Pelosis, Reid, ect. and Dem. nominated canditate, ect.)


    Follow the money.

    That what I learned as a auditor.

    Have a nice day!

    Got to go, Drilling Rigs are being pull back up today and will TURNING TO RIGHT BY SIX OR TEN TONIGHT today after our litte storm (Dolly) came through. Must have made Al Gore cried since Corpus Christi, Brownsville Texas wasn't under six feet of water for two weeks. (GLOBAL WARMING) IDIOTS!!

  24. Tribal elder:

    Had a (now-late) neighbor who had fled from Cold War Romania. He said he was about to end up doing HIS national service on a road crew. He fled to the US, spent six years in USMC - he said he was treated better than he would have been back home.

    George became a citizen and stayed, never to return.

    At last report, his son was an Army dentist.

  25. improbable:

    I haven't read the articles, and agree that using people on road crews etc is illiberal and a waste. (Not sure where I stand on conscription, umm, the draft you call it.)

    But there is one kind of voluntary youth service I have heard proposed, and support. This is for a greatly enlarged peace corps type programme.

    The reason I support this is not that I think it's an economically useful use of people's time, but because it would have all sorts of soft benefits. One is for America's image in the world, which does matter - more smiling schoolkids and less hummers & limos. An even bigger one is for the education of American voters: a year in Ghana is going to change your view on the world, both foreign and local. (You will forever laugh when people mention poverty and airconditioning in the same breath.) (Note that I haven't claimed it would be a useful form of aid for the receiving countries, because I'm not convinced it is.)

    As long as it's voluntary, this sort of thing seems worth the money it would cost to run. (For the volunteers, it's like a gap year with more structure and less drinking, rather than like emplyment.)

    This foreign aspect is the most promising part of the Obama presidency. I think perhaps Coyote underestimates the degree to which Iraq and Guantanamo have damaged America's claim to be a beacon of hope, and thus to sell freedom and democracy around the world. Restoring this is important.