Dylan T. Culfogienis
Woodgrove High School
Grand Prize Winner
The Futility of Mandatory Public Service
The question of mandatory public service is one of how to balance the great economic strain temporary employment of every single citizen with potential societal benefits. Any implementation would be dangerously expensive given that for each and every citizen born there is a very real and tangible cost that our taxpayers would need to pay. While moral gain is a potential result, a similar potential for moral backfire also exists: where the plan, seen as indentured servitude, generates civil unrest and disillusionment with the already questionable government given the diverse populous. In order to completely analyze this law, one must look at the economic costs, whether or not this is worth the moral benefit, and lastly how the law affects society as a whole.
The economic cost of a public service act is significant not because of the upfront cost - though the cost does makes the plan unrealistic. For any skilled job or volunteer service part of the US government, 4-62 weeks (bearing in mind that there are 52.1 weeks in a year) of training are needed, and the cost of training new employees for any job is expensive; costing anywhere from ?-? of the employee’s salary for sub-$50k salaries, and rising up to 213% of salary for executive employees. Even if 10% of all those who were trained remained in their public sector jobs (by all regards a ridiculously large figure), it would entail massive ballooning of the already large US public sector, which already consumes 20% of the US labor market. Those that don’t remain in their mandated positions can be considered a loss; that is a 90% loss in terms of investment with regards to capita. It is a loss-loss situation: if the bill results in a high retention rate for recruits, taxes or debt increase explosively to pay salaries; this effect can be seen after every single war with a draft, including the Civil War (200% increase in standing national debt), both World Wars (1000% and 400% increases respectively) and the Vietnam War (200%). This law would produce similar results, except that the increase would be constant, instead of in (relatively) short bouts of wartime. If recruits leave after their mandatory 1 year, all of the time and money spent on instruction are lost, both for the individual and for the government, due to the nature of training employees. Furthermore, any return is similarly dwarfed by the expenditure; gains on part of the government or the citizenry is purely abstract, entirely moral. The loss-loss nature of the system ensures this. Any tangible or quantitative returns in the form of a further bolstered armed forces (which is already the 2nd largest in the world) or an influx of unwilling “volunteers” into organizations such as the Peace Corps (which require genuine passion and self-motivation) would simply result in a dilution of those organizations with hastily trained, jaded, and very possibly disillusioned individuals who are just there to get it over with. The cost is obstructive, not because of the cost itself, but because it is unjustified by nature of it being a sinkhole for taxpayer dollars.
With the conclusion that such an act would have little worldly benefit, we can now look at moral benefit. Firstly, it is important to bear in mind that impressment into service can have actual negative moral impact. Mandatory public service is effectively a draft, while not carrying the same weight of time or mortal risk, drafts have never sat well with the American people. Between the New York Draft Riots during the Civil War, the protests against the Vietnam War Draft Lottery and modern-day conscription in Israel, teaching children the virtues of democracy and republicanism before enforcing any sort of compulsory act always generates violently sour reaction. Our nation is founded on a principle of being auxiliary to society, not the other way around. That being said, the moral benefit of serving a greater cause is hard to deny. This is especially true for the unemployed and the unfortunate citizenry in the US, who are liable to receive the most benefit from a mandatory service bill - it may open up a potential avenues for people who would otherwise be entirely without applicable skills. With regards to building ethics, organizations such as AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, were founded to provide assistance and constructive efforts inside of and beyond the borders respectively. Likely the largest chunk of government organizations that will benefit from mandatory service are the armed forces - the Coast Guard, Navy and Army just to name a few - and outside of wartime, serving a tour builds character, camaraderie, reliability and health. It is additionally an excellent opportunity to learn about the world and its many peoples, both inside the country and otherwise. Explicitly within the borders, volunteer services such as those provided by the US Army Corps of Engineers, national park service and others fulfill the public service requirement while providing an introduction to engineering and the environmental sciences respectively. By their nature of requiring people to cast aside selfish needs and think about what is good for not only the environment and the world as a whole, but also the average family and the individual people less fortunate than themselves.
Especially as we modernize further and further, the morals that may be taught by service are needed more and more. The issue is far darker and more expansive than I can even hope to relay in this essay, but concepts such as “pro-suicide” and “burning time” being part of modern society are only the tip of the iceberg. We are approaching a sea-change in the way we perceive the world, where the first generation exposed to both the virtues and vices of a world interconnected through the Internet will soon grow up to take positions of importance and power. Uprightness and self-motivation are needed more now than ever in order to keep our already strained race from slipping into a society of vice. A rift has grown that separates the real world from the world of fantasy, and the split has become noticeable enough that some young people are picking sides. The amount of individuals who live in the world of fantasy and anonymity, buffered from the harsh but rewarding nature of reality, but destined grow up into that harsh world is growing day by day. Many don’t understand the true meaning of self-reliance, thanks in part to an education system which provides both the means and the ends, while in the job market one is commonly provided with an end but no means; and often neither. I see people like this every day, I fear for them, and I fear that I may be one of them. These are problems that need solving within our generation, and mandatory public service is not the way to do it.
With those two primary aspects expounded upon - cost and benefit - I make the conclusion that mandatory public service is not an unnecessary government intrusion, but rather an infeasible government solution. At first I thought the idea of requiring citizens to undergo public service was ridiculous; with further research and some discussion, I no longer consider the idea ridiculous but simply unrealistic. The idea, like many, is noble, but doomed to poor execution by its nature. However, the question at hand - whether or not mandatory public service is a necessity - is still valid. But it cannot be looked at as a solution, but rather many problems disguised as a solution. I conclude that the real question, the greater picture this question fits into, is the question of how we should teach morals in a changing world, along with the secondary question of whether or not the government should play a role in shaping these morals. Forcing people into other forms of service will only result in attempts to evade their duties, generating dissent. The best solution to this problem must encourage people to be virtuous, if that be through public service or some other means, so be it. But attempting to contort people, even using the vast and flexible array of jobs available in the public sector as a mold, to conform to a certain view of morality is morally wrong in and of itself. The cost, both economically and emotionally, is too great. Forming good morals is part of one’s journey through life, it cannot be taught in such a paucity of time as one year. Rather than attempting to push people into an environment which may or may not encourage good morals, we need to change the natural environment people live in, our homes and our country, into a culture that allows one’s ethics to flourish and grow. And the person that builds this culture will be among the greats.
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