Readers Speak Out On National Service

January 31, 2009

I would make two points in response to Dan Rodricks' thoughtful endorsement of expanding national service programs and opportunities ("Americans poised to heed Obama's call to service," Commentary, Jan. 25).

Mr. Rodricks writes that President Barack Obama should include increased funds for national service programs such as AmeriCorps in the economy recovery plan.

The House of Representatives has anticipated Mr. Rodricks' idea and included $200 million for 16,000 additional AmeriCorps members to meet the needs of vulnerable populations during the recession in the stimulus bill it passed.

My second point should be especially appealing to Mr. Rodricks, given his long-standing and effective advocacy on behalf of disadvantaged, low-income and other people: An expanded AmeriCorps program can also provide opportunities for at-risk youth, school dropouts, the formerly incarcerated and others to be active participants in service to their communities, and thereby to Maryland and America.

National service enables Americans who have been left out or need a second chance to reconnect and have a stake in their communities.

They will find new personal success by virtue of being a part of something bigger than themselves - service to others.

Don Mathis, Washington

The writer is president and CEO of the Community Action Partnership and a former chairman of the Maryland Governor's Commission on Service and Volunteerism.

Dan Rodricks wants to promote "national service," and he believes that the nation's current infatuation with President Barack Obama provides an ideal opportunity to implement such a program it.

Let's put aside the mistaken premise that each of us "serves" only when we work in government programs and ask this question: How will Uncle Sam know how best to use all the conscripted labor at his disposal?

And what earthly reason is there to suppose that he will deploy such labor according to reasonably objective criteria rather than according to political fads, partisan emotions and interest-group influences?

Sadly, Mr. Rodricks utterly ignores practical questions such as these. His essay is evidence of the truth of what Thomas Sowell observes in a recent column: "Politics is about evoking emotions, not examining specifics."

Donald J. Boudreaux, Fairfax, Va.

The writer is chairman of the Department of Economics at George Mason University.

Dan Rodricks' column "Americans poised to heed Obama's call to service" advocates national service. He favors not just voluntary service but paid service - that is, a government jobs program in which bureaucrats decide how to spend even more of our tax dollars.

That's bad enough. But then Mr. Rodricks goes the extra step and suggests that the national service program should be mandatory.

Forced labor is slavery, whether the slaves are paid with room and board or with money.

Let's not pretend mandatory national service is anything but a sanitized form of slavery.

It's a shameful idea in a country that's supposed to stand for freedom.

David Page, Baltimore

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