National service, national dividend
Steven Pearlstein wrote this piece for The Washington Post. July 5th 2020 G2
The greatest threat to American capitalism and American democracy is the erosion of our social capital, the trust and responsibility we feel for each other and for the institutions that hold society together.
One way to begin rebuilding social capital would be to require all citizens to devote two or three years to national service sometime during their lifetime. Service could be performed when people are young, or after they retire, or sometime between. It could be provided through government programs such as the military, the Peace Corps or a reinvented Civilian Conservation Corps, or through an authorized nonprofit entity such as Teach for America, a local homeless shelter or arts group. Not only would such service improve the lives of our fellow citizens, but it also would give all of us a chance to meet, work with and live among people who are different from ourselves.
National service would reinforce the idea that we all have obligations to and responsibility for the country and each other. But it could also reinforce the idea that each of us has an equal claim on the nation’s bounty, tying national service to a national dividend that every citizen would receive. One way to do that would be for the government to set up a trust fund for every child born in the United States, to which it would contribute $2,000 every year until the child reaches 18. The money would be invested in a broad portfolio of U.S. stocks and bonds, so that by the time they set out in life, every young American would have around $50,000 that could be used to pay for college, start a business or put a down payment on a house.
I realize that at a moment when our politics is so polarized and the legislative process so dysfunctional, it sounds positively naive to imagine something so communitarian as national service tied to a national dividend — or for that matter, any of the other ideas on this list. But that is precisely why they would be so politically appealing, tapping into the deep craving among voters for initiatives that are practical and unifying and offer hope for the future. The administrative and financial details can be worked out later. For Biden, the more immediate challenge is to drag the political conversation out of an unsatisfying and unproductive rut by offering a set of bold, fresh ideas that promote equality and reinforce the feeling that we are all in this together.
Steven Pearlstein wrote this piece for The Washington Post.