During his address to Congress this week, President Obama indicated that in exchange for a year of community service he would have the federal government provide financial assistance to people struggling to pay for college or other educational choices.
First, this form of social engineering - government picking winners and losers based on government's judgment on what is good for America - is economically inefficient and morally lacking in legitimacy.
Let's say you are a student majoring in chemical engineering with a desire to leave school in four years and then pursue a paying job making environmentally-friendly fertilizers for some large corporation. You have decided - pursuant to your self-interest - that you would be able to best serve your fellowman in this fashion. Yet, to President Obama, this service - that might ultimately lead to less pollution from farm runoff - is not a form of "community service" because you got paid and your company is a profit-seeker.
To Mr. Obama, you would only qualify for greater tuition tax credits or direct taxpayer aid if you took your degree and then "volunteered" to help farmers in Alabama or Africa learn more about low-impact agriculture. By volunteering you have stepped into a morally superior (to the socialist) form of community service. One untouched by Adam Smith's treatise on self-love.
Since when did government officials become the final arbiters of what is moral or good? Why is your love of self - and money for your services - that leads to improving the lives of your fellow man a less noble pursuit than doing something for no money? Why does Mr. Obama get to say who deserves a tax break and who does not? When did government become the best judge of where engineers or accountants or hairdressers spend their time?
Community service is a wonderful thing, if pursued without the arm of government using the tax code to reward or punish. Community service can also come with a paycheck and profits.
Perhaps President Obama would serve our communities best by allocating his time to things that government is supposed to do rather than lecturing us on what we should be doing.