Update: Over the weekend, without comment, the Obama team pulled down the language below and put up new, vaguer language without the "required." Discussion and a screen shot of the original is here.
How do you tax people with who have no money? Why, you take their labor by force. It worked when we dragged Africans over here against their will in the 19th century, and it can work today. 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.
So what was that about no tax increase for people making under $250,000? Because my guess is that most high school and college kids made close to zero, but here is Obama seeking to expropriate 50-100 hours of their labor. Sure looks like a tax to me. By law, high school kids, by DOL rules, can work up to 1200 hours per year. For kid that works every hour she can, this is about a 4% tax. Kids that work less pay a higher effective tax rate, up to infinite for kids not working at all (hey, this tax is even regressive). Also, richer kids trying to get into top colleges will be the least affected, as they are already volunteering at a level close to this, so most of the burden of this tax will fall on the poor.
I remember when I was slammed by Obama supporters during the election when I said that his call for "universal" community service meant that he was going to mandate it. Carefully avoiding being clearer about what he meant before the election, Obama sure has not wasted any time making sure everyone understands he is talking about government coercion here, not volunteerism.
PS- I thought this site was fake, because it was amazing to me to see Obama's intentions stated so baldly after he so strenuously avoided clarifying his position during the election. But the Huffpo and other sites link to this site as if it is real, so I will treat it as such.
PPS - Here is Obama's pledge on taxes from the same site:
Middle class families will see their taxes cut "“ and no family making less than $250,000 will see their taxes increase. The typical middle class family will receive well over $1,000 in tax relief under the Obama plan, and will pay tax rates that are 20% lower than they faced under President Reagan. According to the Tax Policy Center, the Obama plan provides three times as much tax relief for middle class families as the McCain plan.
OK, we are not going to take more money, we are just going to take your labor directly.
Update: Radley Balko adds the chilling speech implications of such a program:
So who gets to decide what constitutes "community service"? Who gets to decide which causes and organizations will be credit-worthy, and which ones won't?
Something tells me that you'd be more likely to get one of Obama's vouchers by going door to door for one of ACORN's living wage campaigns than, say, volunteering for a libertarian nonprofit organization that advocates against things like government-mandated community service.
Obama supporters will say, no problem, we trust Obama. Hmm. The folks who wrote our Constitution designed our government assuming all politicians would be knaves. Writing laws that depend on the good intentions, fairness, correct incentives, and intellectual capacity of the government folks who run it are doomed to failure. Would Democrats have been happy to have GWB deciding what community service their kids were forced to endure? I doubt it. Well, we don't live in an autarky, and sooner or later GWB's party will be back and making exactly those decisions under such a program.