Belated Gipper Birthday Post

Reading Time: 13 minutes

I re-read Ronald Reagan’s announcement speech the other day.

Delivered November 13, 1979, these are the words that launched the greatest presidency of my lifetime.

Notice the natural humanity in Reagan’s words. He didn’t browbeat people with abstract concepts like the Constitution or liberty. Instead, he spoke about the real lives of ordinary Americans. And the everyday life of an America that lived up to its ideal. And notice the complete lack of pomposity, vanity, and vulgarity so prevalent in the frontrunners of 2016.

I wish our Republican candidates for president–at least one–could speak in tones that resonate with everyone the way the Gipper could. Well, one candidate captures Reagan’s humble vision, but he’s buried deep in the mist.

Notice, too, that so many of the problems that moved Reagan to run are still with us, or are they have returned.

Enjoy. Happy birthday, Ron. Your country misses you.


Good evening. I am here tonight to announce my intention to seek the Republican nomination for President of the United States.
I’m sure that each of us has seen our country from a number of viewpoints depending on where we’ve lived and what we’ve done. For me it has been as a boy growing up in several small towns in Illinois. As a young man in Iowa trying to get a start in the years of the Great Depression and later in California for most of my adult life.

I’ve seen America from the stadium press box as a sportscaster, as an actor, officer of my labor union, soldier, officeholder and as both a Democrat and Republican. I’ve lived in America where those who often had too little to eat outnumbered those who had enough. There have been four wars in my lifetime and I’ve seen our country face financial ruin in the Depression. I have also seen the great strength of this nation as it pulled itself up from that ruin to become the dominant force in the world.
To me our country is a living, breathing presence, unimpressed by what others say is impossible, proud of its own success, generous, yes and naive, sometimes wrong, never mean and always impatient to provide a better life for its people in a framework of a basic fairness and freedom.
Someone once said that the difference between an American and any other kind of person is that an American lives in anticipation of the future because he knows it will be a great place. Other people fear the future as just a repetition of past failures. There’s a lot of truth in that. If there is one thing we are sure of it is that history need not be relived; that nothing is impossible, and that man is capable of improving his circumstances beyond what we are told is fact.
There are those in our land today, however, who would have us believe that the United States, like other great civilizations of the past, has reached the zenith of its power; that we are weak and fearful, reduced to bickering with each other and no longer possessed of the will to cope with our problems.

Much of this talk has come from leaders who claim that our problems are too difficult to handle. We are supposed to meekly accept their failures as the most which humanly can be done. They tell us we must learn to live with less, and teach our children that their lives will be less full and prosperous than ours have been; that the America of the coming years will be a place where–because of our past excesses–it will be impossible to dream and make those dreams come true.

I don’t believe that. And, I don’t believe you do either. That is why I am seeking the presidency. I cannot and will not stand by and see this great country destroy itself. Our leaders attempt to blame their failures on circumstances beyond their control, on false estimates by unknown, unidentifiable experts who rewrite modern history in an attempt to convince us our high standard of living, the result of thrift and hard work, is somehow selfish extravagance which we must renounce as we join in sharing scarcity. I don’t agree that our nation must resign itself to inevitable decline, yielding its proud position to other hands. I am totally unwilling to see this country fail in its obligation to itself and to the other free peoples of the world.
The crisis we face is not the result of any failure of the American spirit; it is failure of our leaders to establish rational goals and give our people something to order their lives by. If I am elected, I shall regard my election as proof that the people of the United States have decided to set a new agenda and have recognized that the human spirit thrives best when goals are set and progress can be measured in their achievement.

During the next year I shall discuss in detail a wide variety of problems which a new administration must address. Tonight I shall mention only a few.
No problem that we face today can compare with the need to restore the health of the American economy and the strength of the American dollar. Double-digit inflation has robbed you and your family of the ability to plan. It has destroyed the confidence to buy and it threatens the very structure of family life itself as more and more wives are forced to work in order to help meet the ever-increasing cost of living. At the same time, the lack of real growth in the economy has introduced the justifiable fear in the minds of working men and women who are already overextended that soon there will be fewer jobs and no money to pay for even the necessities of life. And tragically as the cost of living keeps going up, the standard of living which has been our great pride keeps going down.

The people have not created this disaster in our economy; the federal government has. It has overspent, overestimated, and over-regulated. It has failed to deliver services within the revenues it should be allowed to raise from taxes. In the 34 years since the end of World War II, it has spent $448 billion more than it has collected in taxes–$448 billion of printing-press money, which has made every dollar you earn worth less and less. At the same time, the federal government has cynically told us that high taxes on business will in some way “solve” the problem and allow the average taxpayer to pay less. Well, business is not a taxpayer; it is a tax collector. Business has to pass its tax burden on to the customer as part of the cost of doing business. You and I pay taxes imposed on business every time we go to the store. Only people pay taxes and it is political demagoguery or economic illiteracy to try and tell us otherwise.
The key to restoring the health of the economy lies in cutting taxes. At the same time, we need to get the waste out of federal spending. This does not mean sacrificing essential services, nor do we need to destroy the system of benefits which flow to the poor, elderly, the sick and the handicapped. We have long since committed ourselves, as a people, to help those among us who cannot take care of themselves. But the federal government has proven to be the costliest and most inefficient provider of such help we could possibly have.
We must put an end to the arrogance of a federal establishment which accepts no blame for our condition, cannot be relied upon to give us a fair estimate of our situation and utterly refuses to live within its means. I will not accept the supposed “wisdom” which has it that the federal bureaucracy has become so powerful that it can no longer be changed or controlled by any administration. As President I would use every power at my command to make the federal establishment respond to the will and the collective wishes of the people.

We must force the entire federal bureaucracy to live in the real world of reduced spending, streamlined function and accountability to the people it serves. We must review the function of the federal government to determine which of those are the proper province of levels of government closer to the people.

The 10th article of the Bill of Rights is explicit in pointing out that the federal government should do only those things specifically called for in the Constitution. All others shall remain with the states or the people. We haven’t been observing that 10th article of late. The federal government has taken on functions it was never intended to perform and which it does not perform well. There should be a planned, orderly transfer of such functions to states and communities and a transfer with them of the sources of taxation to pay for them.

The savings in administrative overhead would be considerable and certainly there would be increased efficiency and less bureaucracy.

By reducing federal tax rates where they discourage individual initiative–especially personal income tax rates–we can restore incentives, invite greater economic growth and at the same time help give us better government instead of bigger government. Proposals such as the Kemp-Roth bill would bring about this kind of realistic reductions in tax rates.

In short, a punitive tax system must be replaced by one that restores incentive for the worker and for industry; a system that rewards initiative and effort and encourages thrift.

All these things are possible; none of them will be easy. But the choice is clear. We can go on letting the country slip over the brink to financial ruin with the disaster that it means for the individual or we can find the will to work together to restore confidence in ourselves and to regain the confidence of the world. I have lived through one Depression. I carry with me the memory of a Christmas Eve when my brother and I and our parents exchanged our modest gifts–there was no lighted tree as there has been on Christmases past. I remember watching my father open what he thought was a greeting from his employer. We all watched and yes, we were hoping it was a bonus check. It was notice that he no longer had a job. And in those days the government ran the radio announcements telling workers not to leave home looking for jobs–there were no jobs. I’ll carry with me always the memory of my father sitting there holding that envelope, unable to look at us. I cannot and will not stand by while inflation and joblessness destroy the dignity of our people.
Another serious problem which must be discussed tonight is our energy situation. Our country was built on cheap energy. Today, energy is not cheap and we face the prospect that some forms of energy may soon not be available at all.

Last summer you probably spent hours sitting in gasoline lines. This winter, some will be without heat and everyone will be paying much more simply to keep home and family warm. If you ever had any doubt of the government’s inability to provide for the needs of the people, just look at the utter fiasco we now call “the energy crisis.” Not one straight answer nor any realistic hope of relief has come from the present administration in almost three years of federal treatment of the problem. As gas lines grew, the administration again panicked and now has proposed to put the country on a wartime footing; but for this “war” there is no victory in sight. And, as always, when the federal bureaucracy fails, all it can suggest is more of the same. This time it’s another bureau to untangle the mess by the ones we already have.

But, this just won’t work. Solving the energy crisis will not be easy, but it can be done. First we must decide that “less” is not enough. Next, we must remove government obstacles to energy production. And, we must make use of those technological advantages we still possess.

It is no program simply to say “use less energy.” Of course waste must be eliminated and efficiently promoted, but for the government simply to tell people to conserve is not an energy policy. At best it means we will run out of energy a little more slowly. But a day will come when the lights will dim and the wheels of industry will turn more slowly and finally stop. As President I will not endorse any course which has this as its principal objective.

We need more energy and that means diversifying our sources of supply away from the OPEC countries. Yes, it means more efficient automobiles. But it also means more exploration and development of oil and natural gas here in our own country. The only way to free ourselves from the monopoly pricing power of OPEC is to be less dependent on outside sources of fuel.

The answer, obvious to anyone except those in the administration it seems, is more domestic production of oil and gas. We must also have wider use of nuclear power within strict safety rules, of course. There must be more spending by the energy industries on research and development of substitutes for fossil fuels.

In years to come solar energy may provide much of the answer but for the next two or three decades we must do such things as master the chemistry of coal. Putting the market system to work for these objectives is an essential first step for their achievement. Additional multi-billion-dollar federal bureaus and programs are not the answer.

In recent weeks there has been much talk about “excess” oil company profits. I don’t believe we’ve been given all the information we need to make a judgment about this. We should have that information. Government exists to protect us from each other. It is not government’s function to allocate fuel or impose unnecessary restrictions on the marketplace. It is government’s function to determine whether we are being unfairly exploited and if so to take immediate and appropriate action. As President I would do exactly that.
On the foreign front, the decade of the 1980s will place severe pressures upon the United States and its allies. We can expect to be tested in ways calculated to try our patience, to confound our resolve and to erode our belief in ourselves. During a time when the Soviet Union may enjoy nuclear superiority over this country, we must never waiver in our commitment to our allies nor accept any negotiation which is not clearly in the national interest. We must judge carefully. Though we should leave no initiative untried in our pursuit of peace, we must be clear voiced in our resolve to resist any unpeaceful act wherever it may occur. Negotiation with the Soviet Union must never become appeasement.

For the most of the last 40 years, we have been preoccupied with the global struggle–the competition–with the Soviet Union and with our responsibilities to our allies. But too often in recent times we have just drifted along with events, responding as if we thought of ourselves as a nation in decline. To our allies we seem to appear to be a nation unable to make decisions in its own interests, let alone in the common interest. Since the Second World War we have spent large amounts of money and much of our time protecting and defending freedom all over the world. We must continue this, for if we do not accept the responsibilities of leadership, who will? And if no one will, how will we survive?

The 1970s have taught us the foolhardiness of not having a long-range diplomatic strategy of our own. The world has become a place where, in order to survive, our country needs more than just allies–it needs real friends. Yet, in recent times we often seem not to have recognized who our friends are. This must change. It is now time to take stock of our own house and to resupply its strength.

Part of that process involves taking stock of our relationship with Puerto Rico. I favor statehood for Puerto Rico and if the people of Puerto Rico vote for statehood in their coming referendum I would, as President, initiate the enabling legislation to make this a reality.
We live on a continent whose three countries possess the assets to make it the strongest, most prosperous and self-sufficient area on Earth. Within the borders of this North American continent are the food, resources, technology and undeveloped territory which, properly managed, could dramatically improve the quality of life of all its inhabitants.

It is no accident that this unmatched potential for progress and prosperity exists in three countries with such long-standing heritages of free government. A developing closeness among Canada, Mexico and the United States–a North American accord–would permit achievement of that potential in each country beyond that which I believe any of them–strong as they are–could accomplish in the absence of such cooperation. In fact, the key to our own future security may lie in both Mexico and Canada becoming much stronger countries than they are today.

No one can say at this point precisely what form future cooperation among our three countries will take. But if I am elected President, I would be willing to invite each of our neighbors to send a special representative to our government to sit in on high level planning sessions with us, as partners, mutually concerned about the future of our continent. First, I would immediately seek the views and ideas of Canadian and Mexican leaders on this issue, and work tirelessly with them to develop closer ties among our peoples. It is time we stopped thinking of our nearest neighbors as foreigners.

By developing methods of working closely together, we will lay the foundations for future cooperation on a broader and more significant scale. We will put to rest any doubts of those cynical enough to believe that the United States would seek to dominate any relationship among our three countries, or foolish enough to think that the governments and peoples of Canada and Mexico would ever permit such domination to occur. I for one, am confident that we can show the world by example that the nations of North America are ready, within the context of an unswerving commitment to freedom, to see new forms of accommodation to meet a changing world. A developing closeness between the United States, Canada and Mexico would serve notice on friends and foe alike that we were prepared for a long haul, looking outward again and confident of our future; that together we are going to create jobs, to generate new fortunes of wealth for many and provide a legacy for the children of each of our countries. Two hundred years ago, we taught the world that a new form of government, created out of the genius of man to cope with his circumstances, could succeed in bringing a measure of quality to human life previously thought impossible.

Now let us work toward the goal of using the assets of this continent, its resources, technology, and foodstuffs in the most efficient ways possible for the common good of all its people. It may take the next 100 years but we can dare to dream that at some future date a map of the world might show the North American continent as one in which the people’s commerce of its three strong countries flow more freely across their present borders than they do today.
In recent months leaders in our government have told us that, we, the people, have lost confidence in ourselves; that we must regain our spirit and our will to achieve our national goals. Well, it is true there is a lack of confidence, an unease with things the way they are. But the confidence we have lost is confidence in our government’s policies. Our unease can almost be called bewilderment at how our defense strength has deteriorated. The great productivity of our industry is now surpassed by virtually all the major nations who compete with us for world markets. And, our currency is no longer the stable measure of value it once was.

But there remains the greatness of our people, our capacity for dreaming up fantastic deeds and bringing them off to the surprise of an unbelieving world. When Washington’s men were freezing at Valley Forge, Tom Paine told his fellow Americans: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again,” we still have that power.

We–today’s living Americans–have in our lifetime fought harder, paid a higher price for freedom and done more to advance the dignity of man than any people who have ever lived on this Earth. The citizens of this great nation want leadership–yes–but not a “man on a white horse” demanding obedience to his commands. They want someone who believes they can “begin the world over again.” A leader who will unleash their great strength and remove the roadblocks government has put in their way. I want to do that more than anything I’ve ever wanted. And it’s something that I believe with God’s help I can do.

I believe this nation hungers for a spiritual revival; hungers to once again see honor placed above political expediency; to see government once again the protector of our liberties, not the distributor of gifts and privilege. Government should uphold and not undermine those institutions which are custodians of the very values upon which civilization is founded–religion, education and, above all, family. Government cannot be clergyman, teacher and patriot. It is our servant, beholden to us.

We who are privileged to be Americans have had a rendezvous with destiny since the moment in 1630 when John Winthrop, standing on the deck of the tiny Arbella off the coast of Massachusetts, told the little band of Pilgrims, “We shall be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.”

A troubled and afflicted mankind looks to us, pleading for us to keep our rendezvous with destiny; that we will uphold the principles of self-reliance, self-discipline, morality, and–above all–responsible liberty for every individual that we will become that shining city on a hill.

I believe that you and I together can keep this rendezvous with destiny.

Here’s Why New York Drops the Ball at Midnight

Reading Time: 1

Once upon a time, in the days of sundials and pendulum clocks, people needed a way to agree on the time. For instance, if my watch says 11:13 and your watch says 1:32, who’s right?

One way to coordinate time in a city or a sea port was a time ball placed somewhere highly visible. People could use the ball to set their pocket watches, and use their pocket watches to set their other clocks.

Here’s how time balls worked, from the Cincinnati Observatory:

Precisely 15 minutes before noon, the ball was raised, using a windlass, to half-mast, and, at 5 minutes to noon, the ball was lifted to the top, providing viewers with 15-minute and 5-minute advance notices. At astronomical noon in Cincinnati, the ball dropped free- fall style. A hand-operated Prony friction brake allowed the ball to stop gently before the end of its 30-foot travel.

Set your pocket watch to precisely noon with the stem out. When the ball drops, drop the stem. If you kept your watch wound, you’d have fairly accurate time for a few months.

New York City used the ball-drop method of time coordination to ring the new year and to promote Edison’s lightbulbs. Since the whole point of the ball drop was visibility, there’d be no value to a midnight ball-drop unless the ball was lighted.

The first NYC New Year’s ball was covered in 100 lightbulbs. You could set your watch by it.

Now, here’s the 10 Most Popular Posts of 2015


Learning to be wrong

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I am wrong a lot.

When I was 25, I was wrong a lot, too.

The difference between 1988 and 2015 is not that I’m particularly smarter now, but that I’m used to being wrong. Somewhere along life’s journey, I realized two things:

  1. Being wrong isn’t the end of the world.
  2. Being wrong is the beginning of learning.

When I was 25, I refused to admit being wrong about anything. Now, I assume I might be wrong about everything. Recognizing–even embracing–our own fallibility seems rare, to me at least, among young people of any era, any culture, and generation. School teaches us that being wrong is bad and that learning is the overcoming of ignorance. On these two points, education is wrong.

Politico Was Wrong

The discredited Politico hit piece on Dr. Ben Carson smacks of the folly of youthful mindset. Politico was wrong and has since changed its false headline and slanderous lede without admitting its error.

Politico’s Kyle Cheney wrote the piece. Cheney graduated from Boston University in 2007 making him about 30 years old. I know little about Mr. Cheney, but he seems to display what psychologist Carol Dweck calls “a fixed mindset.” People with a fixed mindset are more concerned with demonstrating their infallibility than in learning and growing. And, having managed young people most of my life, fixed mindset seems a particular malady of men in their late teens through their early thirties.

Learning Begins With Error

Learning begins, not with a blank slate, but with recognition of error. The entire scientific method depends on error. A theory emerges only when the scientist fails to falsify his own assumptions. As the great Richard Feynman said:

If your guess disagrees with experiment, it is wrong. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is, how smart you are, who made the guess, or what their name is… it is wrong.

Without the guess there is no experiment; without experiment there is no learning.

Mr. Cheney might learn from his error now that the experiment disagrees with his guess. Or he might hold onto his fixed mindset, trying to prove that the experiment was wrong, not his guess. Not that he should ask me for advice, but I would offer this: always assume you might be wrong.

For more on Being Wrong, see this TED talk by journalist Kathryn Schultz:

Farewell, Joe LeGrand

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Once upon a time I didn’t like Joe LeGrand.

It was 3rd grade. I was in the Epiphany Toppers Drum and Bugle Corps, and Joe was a bugler who stood right in front of me. He kept turning around and giving me dirty looks. So I decided right then and there that I didn’t like him.

Joe was a year ahead of me in school. While our lives intersected a lot, we weren’t really close. We ran in different circles in grade school and high school.

But he started working at Binder’s Market in St. Louis Hills, and my mom and dad went in there a lot, so I ran into him now and then. Those encounters–about 1989–were confusing. He’d smile when he recognized me–like he’d been waiting for me to walk in because he had a great story to tell me. Just me, no one else.

He usually did.

Joe and his brothers eventually bought Binder’s and renamed it LeGrand’s. The store didn’t accept food stamps, but the LeGrand generosity was unlimited. They donated everything, including their time and their infinite spirit. And their endless smiles.

I like all the LeGrands, but Joe ended up being one of the people I admired most. He gave my nephew a job when my nephew was very young. Taught him more about customer service than all the MBAs graduated in the last 40 years will ever know. Not that Scottie doesn’t have a natural talent for sales and getting customers what they want–he does. But Joe LeGrand exposed that talent and helped teach Scottie how to let it shine. And Scottie wasn’t the only student of Joe LeGrand’s customer service school.

LeGrand’s served simply the best sandwiches, brats, barbecue, and meats in South St. Louis for 30 years. And no one ever went in and out of LeGrand’s without feeling they’d just spent time with good friends. Here’s what Joe told Feast Magazine about knowing his customers:

“We know ‘em by name,” LeGrand says with conviction. “When they hit the door, we’re making their sandwich. I have customers who come in and we change the radio station. I’ll put on some Dean Martin. We know these customers that well.”

Yeah. Hear that, BoA? (Is the Deano for Scottie?)

Joe LeGrand passed away last week. He was only 52–one year older than me.

Joe’s death leaves a big hole in this world, especially in South St. Louis. We can take some solace in the fact that Joe taught a lot of young people how to serve the public, how to give more to customers than customers expected for their dollar, and how to smile no matter how bad you hurt.

And he taught me a lesson I need to learn over and over again: when you decide you don’t like someone, you’re probably wrong.

I was wrong in 3rd grade. Joe LeGrand was a stand-up man who would change the world for many people.

Eternal rest grant unto him, Lord, and let the the perpetual light shine upon him.

How the chippies will miss him.

More reactions:

Riverfront Times:

Who is going to replace LeGrand at the market? “Nobody is going to replace him. We’re still trying to decide what is going to happen,” said Perry.

Instead of flowers, the family asked that memorial donations be made in LeGrand’s name to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. We also suggest you have a great sandwich to honor him. His favorite was the “LeGrand Special” — roast beef, turkey, corned beef, cheddar, lettuce and tomato.

Ted Drewes

The South St. Louis Community lost a very dear friend this past week. Joe LeGrand’s pride and passion for providing us…

Posted by Ted Drewes Inc. on Monday, August 3, 2015

Joe serves an excellent steak. Image clipped from

A Conservative Missouri Service Program–Part 5

Reading Time: 6 minutes

We’ve reached the end.

On Monday, we corrected disinformation about The Franklin Project.

Next, we looked at the historical conservative framework for national service.

Wednesday was a dissection of The Franklin Project’s Plan of Action (as distinguished from the group’s vision.)

Yesterday, we examined the consequences of ignoring the call for national service.

Today, we offer an oversimplified proposal for Missouri’s version of a national-service program. While inadequate, it is a start.

The Conservative Approach

Because William F. Buckley was the lone voice crying out for increased sense of duty and sacrifice and appreciation through ubiquitous national service, let’s begin with him.

National service doesn’t lend itself to conventional analysis. For this reason it pays to stress and re-stress that the market has only a tangential role, if any, in sugginsting vectors of national service concern. The idea, as viewed through the conservative looking glass, is to arouse a desire which is uniquely one’s own to help a society.

Buckley goes on to lay down a challenge:

Opponents of national service must establish, to make their case, that national service, unlike state militia or jury service, or military conscription in times of emergency, is distinctively hostile to a free society.

He points out that our philosophical and political founders were fond of the idea:

Adam Smith admired Rome and the Greek republics in which ‘every free citizen was instructed, under the direction of the public magistrate, in gymnastic exercises and in music.’ These had their purpose to ‘humanize the mind, to soften the temper, and to dispose it for performing all the social and moral duties both of public and private life.’

Buckley goes on to mention that Lincoln, Hamilton, Jefferson, and others worried about America’s ability to regenerate virtue in succeeding generations. Washington argued for universal military service for men, in part, because military service and sacrifice “heightened individual disposition in loyalty, to involvement in civic affairs, and to the identification of one’s own interests with those of the community.”

The benefit of federalism is that Missouri needs no one’s permission to take the lead in service. We can show the way. We will stumble, no doubt. Many will resist. But the benefits of beginning a program of service in Missouri will soon bear fruit. Our young people will enter careers more aware of their place in the world, more appreciative of their heritage, their freedom, their opportunity, and–yes–of their own, soft bed.

The responsible conservative solution to America’s lack of appreciation for itself will not be fixed in schools or in offices. My friends Gretchen Logue and and Ann Gassel at Missouri Education Watchdog fight tirelessly for education reform. But a new threat emerges before they can subdue the last. I applaud and encourage their work, but they need help. And a service program can provide that help.

This simple plan, as I say, is a start, not an end. If you cannot pick it apart and find its flaws, you simply are not looking very hard. Find flaws in the plan, though, does not relieve conservatives of the duty to “induce a virtuous citizenry (Buckley, 1990).”

How It Works

Volunteers would work with existing charity missions in the state, plus a few state-operated programs. While the projects would work to ease needs that the market does not address, the real purpose of the program is to instill a sense of gratitude and service in the volunteers. As Buckley wrote:

While acknowledging the good can that be done to the various beneficiaries, we reiterate that we have primarily in mind the good that is done to the volunteers themselves.

Many models exist for Missouri to follow. The Mission Continues pairs veterans with charities and service organizations, sponsoring the veterans for a time. Our program could do the same for non-veterans. The Mission Continues works with host organizations including Junior Achievement, American Red Cross, YMCA, AmVets, Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, and dozens of other local and national organizations.

The Missouri program should focus efforts on work in our state. Ferguson is still a wreck almost a year after the first riots. Volunteers could serve there to clean up the debris and beautify the streets.

Were I to try to document all the opportunities for volunteers in Missouri, this post would never end. Look around. What can we do that the market is not doing? There is the opportunity to serve.

Who Chooses Projects

Milton Friedman made a big deal out of a small issue. This is a Missouri program, and Missouri’s legislature can produce the guidelines for qualifying organizations. The legislature handles far more difficult problems every day.

I would hope the enabling legislation provides limits to administrative discretion in approving or rejecting organizations and projects. As Buckley said, we probably don’t want people watching television 10 hours a day to find incidents of latent sexism. At the same time, the law should restrain the administration from rejecting an organization simply because the foundation’s aims irritate a Jefferson City bureaucrat.

What Qualifies as a Service Year and Who May Serve

I would like to see provisions for certain activities to qualify for a service year beyond the more traditional method of working 12 consecutive months for a charitable organization. For example, many people work as volunteer firefighters and EMTs while working toward placement on a fire department. Efforts like that should earn points toward fulfillment of the certification.

Military service under honorable conditions of more than one year would certainly qualify.

Beyond that and a few other exceptions, the service year should be sacrosanct. The young person works full time for little pay, living in a host home, hostel, or dormitory. Most meals are communal. Basic equipment and clothing is provided, along with a small stipend. A one-week vacation and accommodations for worship would be provided, as would accommodations for disabilities.

My impulse is to allow application to any Missouri resident between the ages of 18 and, say, 28. If they have dependents, they must solve that problem themselves. Volunteers may apply to a specific program, or they may apply for best fit. The administration will make final assignments, and no one will be assured of admission to a particular charity or corps.

Volunteers who drop out of their own accord may not reapply. They must simply live with the stigma of having failed to serve. Hardship cases can be handled the way the military handles them.

How to Pay For It

In 2014, Missouri generated $48.4 billion in federal taxes.

In 1968, Ronald Reagan, then California Governor, proposed to the National Conference of Governors, that states should keep a mere 2 percent of federal taxes raised in the state.

Suppose Congress were to allow states to keep that 2 percent. Remember, there’s no change in taxes. Just 2 percent of federal taxes raised in Missouri stay in Missouri.

That would be a windfall of $968,264,940 for Missouri.

If Missouri applied one-third of that amount to a service program, that would allow $19,000 per volunteer for up to 20,000 Missourians annually. In 10 years, 200,000 Missourians could complete a service year. (There are, coincidentally, about 800,000 Missourians 18-28, so this formula would accommodate 25 percent.)

That $19,000 figure includes both cost of operating the program and providing humble living arrangements and a small stipend to volunteers. No one would consider this volunteer service year a job. The stipend would be minimal.

This funding method is part of the process of keeping more money in the states. Like the Transportation Empowerment Act, it’s a small first step toward checking Washington’s growth.


I am far less conscientious now than I was when I left the Navy 20 years ago. Perhaps it’s the effect of aging. I suspect, though, that it has  more to do with service. The Navy instills conscientiousness in its sailors, as the Army does in its soldiers, the Marines in Marines, the Air Force in airmen. Conscientious, unit pride, fixing problems are all side-effects of the military.

Sure, some people are immune. Some people enter the service jerks and leave the same way. Pointing out an exception doesn’t debunk the case; it points out an exception.

Our form of government depends on virtuous, informed citizens with a strong sense of purpose for their communities, not just for their individual lives. Service might instill that ethos. The faithful young whose church sends them on missions returned different. They are both more human and more connected to their world, their community, their family, and their faith.

A year of service will fix a few problems, sure, or give temporary relief. But the problems the volunteers work on will return. Problems always do. As Eric Greitens wrote to his buddy Zach in Resilience:

There’s no point at which you’ve cleaned yourself so well that you never have to shower again.

The point of service is not to end social problems; it’s to reverse spiritual problems. Our lack of gratitude for America, for Western Civilization, for great music, for the Constitution–symptoms of a spiritual deficit enabled and aggrevated by a society that’s developed an unhealthy and depraved appetite for distraction, isolation, and independence. We detached from our community, and government has filled the void.

Alexis de Tocqueville saw our isolated emptiness 200 years ago.

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Tocqueville wrote those words in 1838. They could have been written yesterday. We can prove Tocqueville wrong, and service is a way.

Thank you for following this journey.