Mandatory national service is a terrible idea

I don’t often find myself quoting former President Ronald Reagan, but he was entirely correct in condemning compulsory national service for its “assumption that your kids belong to the state. If we buy that assumption then it is for the state — not for parents, the community, the religious institutions, or teachers — to decide who shall have what values and who shall do what work, when, where, and how in our society.”

That question of what work should be done by our youthful conscripts is equally worth consideration. It does not take much imagination to realize what national service kids would be doing right now if such a program existed. In our present state of so-called national emergency, they would almost certainly be sent to southern Texas for construction work, and President Trump’s border wall construction would be proceeding at a rather faster pace than it is now.

If the wall doesn’t bother you, it should not be difficult to imagine a presidential project that would. What might former President Barack Obama have done with the labor of several million young Americans at his disposal? Or former President George W. Bush? For anyone who really wants to involve Washington in their community service, more targeted options without such risk of executive misuse — like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, VISTA, and USA Freedom Corps — already abound.