A few days ago, Atanu Dey from Berkeley wrote about his concept of the Compulsory National Service :
It is my belief that a country is poor when welfare improving exchanges, or trades, do not take place… I believe that the answer to India’s problems must necessarily include compulsary military service…
Imagine India requires two years of military duty upon finishing high school or reaching the age of 19, whichever comes first. In these two years, every able bodied 19 year old is taught, among other things, discipline, hard work (both manual and intellectual), taught to live in a standard of material wellbeing that is common to all irrespective of how rich or poor their parents are, and so on. Imagine that after a couple of months of boot camp, they are assigned to work in all parts of India—mainly rural. Those who are literate, are assigned tasks that involve teaching the illiterates. Those who are from a farming background, teach urban kids how to work in a farm. All kids are given some physical training, sports training. All the camps are mixed in terms of language and economic status of the participants.
Each batch could take up some project or the other. It could be irrigation canal building, or road building, or some other infrastructure project. You could involve volunteers of all ages to associate themselves… At the end of these two years, some valuable lessons can be expected to be learnt by all… Once they finish their 2 years, they can go off and do whatever they were to do – go to engineering schools, medical schools, work in farms, or go back to their villages.
In Part II of his writing, he clarifies that it is not meant to be a proposal for a police state :
Volunteerism is the answer to many of India’s problem. Some people have resources, others don’t. The former could spare some of their resources to help the latter. This exchange or trade would in time benefit those who receive and those who give as well.
How does it feel to be a farmer? What is it like to live in a little mud hut and work hard in the fields the whole day long? How does it feel to have to draw your water before you can have a wash? How does it feel to be hungry for two whole days? How does one manage without access to phones and electricity?
Is there any value in experiencing the things that we would not normally experience? I believe that there is value. It is that of gaining an appreciation of the problems of others. It builds empathy. It has the capacity to move us to do things that could be welfare improving.
Tarun could learn pottery for a few months before moving on to wood-working, all the while teaching arithmetic and basic algebra to children of the village. BossLady could be learning vegetable farming and carpet weaving while teaching word processing to the teenagers. John could be learning the flute, and helping with primary health care. While doing this they would all be learning how 600 million of their compatriots live. When later on in their lives they have to make decisions that affect others, they would have the empathy to look beyond their own noses and see their actions as affecting others.
I agree with Atanu whole-heartedly. I think it makes a lot of sense.