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Obama Transition Site Gets Stealth Edit

Last week I quoted from the Obama transition site:

The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

Now, it says this:

Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free.

Ben Smith and others argue that Obama never said it was mandatory.  Fortunately, I got a screen shot of the "require" language before the Obama department of Truth got to the page (click for full size):


Thanks to Walter Olson for bringing the swap to my attention.

Postscript:  100 hours for $4000 is a pretty good deal.  Not many private sector employers offering $40 an hour to recent high school grads.  Everyone out there OK with the government paying the equivalent of $80,000 a year salaries to 18-year-olds for sorting food at the food bank?

Refresher:  It seems that some basic definitions are in order.  If one is required to work at a certain task, he is not a volunteer.  If one is paid $4000 for 100 hours of labor, he is not a volunteer.  A volunteer is someone who works of his or her own free will without monetary compensation, solely for the satisfaction of helping out.

Posted on November 10, 2008 at 10:13 AM | Permalink


Even better, it's effectively $40/hour *tax-free* (since apparently the recipient gets a $4,000 direct credit against tuition). Not bad for government make-work.

Posted by: jt | Nov 10, 2008 11:02:30 AM

Thanks for your help in preserving the truth against the Ministry of Truth.

Posted by: Greg | Nov 10, 2008 11:24:56 AM

"Not many private sector employers offering $40 an hour to recent high school grads."

Not many private sector employers offering even *$15* an hour to recent high school grads, even to the smart ones. Almost every college student will participate in this program, effectively creating a nightmarish, government-run state corps of youth at the beck and call of the Fatherland.

Posted by: Ari | Nov 10, 2008 1:31:56 PM

The whole thing stinks but first of all I wonder how many students would actually participate in this kind of thing, assuming it's not mandatory? Judging from what I've seen maybe not that many but then I'm looking at some of the sad sack students in my town's third-rate college. And as JT points out 'make work' may be the operative term and it has to be managed no matter how inconsequential it may be, thus adding an additional cost. This does smack of old-style city politics; e.g. giving away jobs to political cronies and I'm sure participating students would feel great to keep on voting for the Dems seeing as how they've subsidized their education.

Posted by: Rocky Mountain | Nov 10, 2008 4:39:54 PM

I'm hoping that these plans end up giving us a more libertarian set of 'youth voters' in the near future.

Posted by: David | Nov 10, 2008 6:48:34 PM

Obama knows the $4,000 college credit will never be approved by Congress. Congress will modify it by lowering the credit or indexing it to hours worked (eg: 400 h = $4,000 and 100 h = $1,000). Despite the unaffordability of the proposal, Obama gets to look like the good guy who really tried to make college more affordable.

We know that the progam will not benefit students or parents. A secondary effect of the proposed program will be that college tuitions will rise by more than $4,000. Tuitions increased sharply after each new grant, scholarship, subsidy, or tax break from the federal government.

Posted by: Dr. T | Nov 10, 2008 6:51:04 PM


It's likely to create even more Obama fans; if he's promising me $40 an hour when I can otherwise only get $10, sign me up.

@Dr. T

Wait wait wait, you're expecting politicians to understand basic supply and demand rules? Preposterous! Oh I know...we'll just outlaw tuition increases! Yeah! We've outsmarted the markets!

Posted by: James | Nov 10, 2008 9:17:40 PM

Is it 100 hours in total, or 100 hours/year? If it's the latter, the hourly wage is $10 - which still seems excessive for a high-school student, but a bit more reasonable. As Dr. T points out, though, the $4,000 will disappear pretty quickly into the pockets of university staff and administrators.

I'm a little fuzzy on the economic theory here, though - if the funds intended for this tuition were instead distributed as direct subsidies to the community organizations, who then used the funds to hire the students who should save most of it for tuition, would that also be eaten up by tuition increases? Or is the potential for alternate uses of those funds sufficient to restrict universities' ability to capture the additional funds?

Posted by: Ken King | King Marketing | Nov 10, 2008 9:49:53 PM

@ Rocky Mountain - The province of Ontario in Canada created a similar mandatory community service program in 1999, requiring 40 "volunteer" hours in order to graduate from high school. Some academic research on the results is supposed to be released soon (if you can access academic journals, search for "Mandated Community Service in High School and Subsequent Civic Engagement") that suggests that 81% of kids would have (or had already) volunteered anyway. Of the remaining 19%, only about a third continued with similar community service after fulfilling the requirement, while 80% of the actual volunteers continued.

With regard to Radley Balko's question about who will determine appropriate service, in Ontario the school boards have been given the task of preparing their own list of approved activities. Anything outside of those lists is subject to the principal's approval. One school board's list is linked below and most of its content seems pretty unobjectionable to me (although there are a few nanny-state restrictions at the provincial level). The third party they refer to (Volunteer Centre of Toronto) recognizes a broad range of organizations, and I expect that if Toronto had a not-for-profit libertarian organization they would be on the list.


Lest the above is unclear, I disagree with the program, this comment is just about bringing some facts to the discussion.

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