What exactly is meant by ‘National Public Service’? Any service whose impact is beneficial to the community at large within the country is deemed as National Service. This service is the primary function of the government to ensure betterment of the lives of people under its jurisdiction. Public services extend opportunities to all strata of society, protect the vulnerable, and improve everyone’s quality of life. They are essential to the economic development and prosperity of any country.
Compulsory public service by the citizens of a country is not a new concept. Several countries across the globe make it mandatory to participate in some form of public service or another. In total, about seventy-five countries have some form of mandatory service. These could include learning first aid, tutoring or serving in the military for a certain period of time, and many such more activities.
Compulsory National Service in the United States
The United States, however, has not made it obligatory for its citizens to take part in National Service to prove their effective role in society. The only law that exists regarding this is that men aged 18 to 25 are required to register with the Selective Service System, to be potentially called for mandatory military service during war.
In recent times though, what has been debated time and again is whether mandatory service should be introduced in the country. A federal panel has been put in place to figure out whether such a program is necessary and feasible. Joe Heck, chairman of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service said that the overarching goal of the commission is to “create a universal expectation of service” in which every American is “inspired and eager to serve.”
Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of compulsory public service here:
Pros of Compulsory Public Service
1. A Constructive Use Of Time for the Youth and Senior Citizens
Over 28% of millennials reported volunteering in 2017. This is a clear indication that if opportunities are made easily accessible, lots of youngsters would step up to contribute towards the growth of the country. They are a huge untapped potential and so are citizens above the age of 65 who have retired from their professional lives but are still healthy to carry out multiple tasks. These tasks do not need to be military in nature; it could be keeping the neighborhood clean, teaching in low-income areas, delivering goods to the old and the sick, maintaining public parks etc. A fixed period of compulsory service would boost the morale of these people as they would feel important to the country. It will give them a sense of achievement and specially in the case of senior citizens, as they will not feel like they are an unnecessary burden to their country.
2. It Would Unify People across Race, Gender, Class
A consistent problem with today’s society is the us vs. them divide that we simply cannot seem to get over with. Even after years of activism and civil struggle, racism is a persistent plague. So is gender inequality and class disparity. When two people from diverse backgrounds come together for a common cause, it could help in building long-term relationships. It would enable people to see that the ‘others’ are not so different from them and that they could all come together to truly make the country great again.
3. It would Save the Government plenty of Money
For every penny the government would spend in organizing public service projects, it would save three times by getting jobs done for free that would require taxpayer’s money otherwise. A simple example is the maintenance of public parks. Instead of paying agencies to carry out regular cleaning, youngsters in the locality could be given a roster whereby they use their free time once or twice a week to maintain the park. A report from the Centre for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education found that youth national service programs in the United States cost a total of $1.7 billion annually and returned a value of $6.5 billion, creating a social benefit of 3.95 times more than the cost.
Cons of Compulsory Public Service
Source: The Conversation
1. Obligatory Tasks will Never be of the Same Quality as Voluntary Service
While it is true that 28% of youngsters in the U.S. have shown interest in contributing to the society through service, making this service mandatory would be counter-productive. They would be doing it out of fear of repercussions and not out of genuine patriotism. As a result, the quality of the work cannot be guaranteed. Specially in sensitive tasks like taking care of the elderly or teaching poor children, it is necessary that the task is done with earnestness and utmost respect. Similarly for military service, do we really want our country to be defended by youngsters who have no zeal for their job and has simply been pushed into the battlefield?
2. Lack of Choice
The founding pillar of any democracy is the freedom of choice. Making anything mandatory to move ahead in life is against this basic principle. Every job, if done well, contributes to the smooth running of the economy. So, if a young student wants to open a start-up or continue with his/her university education or play a sport professionally, he/she should be allowed to devote his/her entire time to that. We surely don’t want to live in an Orwellian dystopia where our actions are controlled and dictated by the powers above. Mandatory service is a punishment and should be confined to prisons only.
3. Burden to the Organizations where they Work
Disinterested candidates can be a nightmare for NGOs and Public service providers. They will only make a smoothly running organization go through unnecessary hiccups. Firstly, they might not have the necessary skills needed for the job. Spending resources to train them for a skill they would not use in future is a waste of time for organizations. Moreover, there are higher chances of errors and negligence which would affect the organization’s reputation. Specially in the case of military, where if a young man wounds himself fatally, it would tarnish the image of the institution and children who genuinely want to join the military might be put off.
Every new policy needs to be looked at from several angles before being brought into practice. Mandatory national service is one such issue and hopefully the federal panel, as and when they give their verdict, will bear in mind both the aspects of legality and ethicality of such services.