Long after his political career had ended, the unsuccessful presidential candidate George Romney, father of the unsuccessful Republican candidate Mitt, became an advocate for national service. He often said that “national service should be as visible as the Post Office.” George Romney wanted national service in various forms—not just military service, but also elder care, child care, conservation of natural resources, and rebuilding of the national infrastructure—to become part of our culture, integral to the American way of life. I think it’s time to take another look at this idea, which could revitalize the country and relieve the economic pressure on its youth.
Everyone knows there was compulsory military service during the Second World War. In exchange for each month spent in the military, veterans of that war were entitled to two months of higher or vocational education—tuition, fees, and books—in independent or public institutions of their choice, paid for by the federal government. This was the so-called GI Bill of Rights, enacted into law because members of Congress feared that there would be widespread unemployment when the veterans of World War II retuned to civilian life. It turned out to be the greatest investment in human capital ever made in this country. And the return to Treasury—the higher taxes paid because of the higher incomes earned as a result of a more educated workforce—has been enormous. In effect, the program proved over the long run to be...
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About the Author
William J. Byron, SJ, is university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He is an Army veteran of World War II and received his college education on the GI Bill.