Friday, September 18, 2009

Bring Back the Draft!

I posted earlier tonight about the myths of free markets. I was reminded about an example in an economics textbook that shows that a volunteer army is more economically efficient than a drafted army. Uwe Rheinhardt put it well when he wrote this in the Washington Post in 2006:

Here, for example, is how University of Rochester economics professor Steven E. Landsburg made the case for the volunteer army in his textbook "Price Theory and Applications." Under a military draft, he writes, "the Selective Service Board will draft young people who are potentially brilliant brain surgeons, inventors and economists -- young people with high opportunity costs of entering the service -- and will leave undrafted some young people with much lower opportunity costs. The social loss is avoided under a voluntary system, in which precisely those with the lowest costs will volunteer."

Only slightly more crudely put, the central idea underlying this theorem of what economists call "social welfare economics" is that if a nation must use human bodies to stop bullets and shrapnel, it ought to use relatively "low-cost" bodies -- that is, predominantly those who would otherwise not have produced much gross domestic product, the main component of what economists call "social opportunity costs." On this rationale, economists certify the all-volunteer army as efficient and thus good.

Here is a market working more or less as it's designed and still coming up with an outcome that many people could only charitably describe as flawed. I'll remind you again what Peter Schiff says:

The solution to health care is the same solution to anything -- the same way we have a solution to clothing or food. It's the free market

Here is a market that produces what at first glance seems to be an "efficient" outcome. It sends poor people to war, and makes sure that the educated or socially connected stay out of harm's way. And while this may seem cruel, this is what free marketers have in mind for us. It is, after all, an efficient outcome, right?

Actually, no.

Even if you believe that maximizing production is more important than all of the us taking equal responsibility for our national defense, this "market" has a flaw that is completely overlooked by the simplistic analysis that Rheinhardt describes above. And that flaw is that it ignores the fact that a country which is run by people who are not personally affected by the tragedies of war are far more likely to engage in it, and all those wars will come with huge costs-human lives, suffering, and erosion of national security. Not to mention the enormous financial cost of war. These costs can easily outweigh the benefits of keeping the Bush twins out of Bagdad, but they won't even be mentioned in the analysis of the volunteer army.

In fact, a country that might draft the Bush girls probably would not have killed hundreds of thousand of people, spent trillions of dollars, and destroyed every ounce of international goodwill in the pursuit of two unjustified wars.


  1. In my country,they have introduced a voluntary army already for several years.Personally, I am happy for it and so are many of my countrymen.Let him go to the army who wants.Ok,the country should have a professional army for defend.USA problem is that she represent (or she thinks that)some kind of the "world leader" and she has created too many enemies,and now has to pay attention to all sides.Enough of capitalism,making profit etc.more social sensitivity,health insurance for all poor people,let the rich pay more...

  2. I think that a draft in the United States would reduce our willingness to wage war. The people who make decisions would have to consider the fact that their own sons and daughters might killed. With a volunteer army, the people in power rarely have to think about his, as the children of the rich and connected are generally not in the military.

    Your country probably doesn't have a warlike culture, as ours does. And so a volunteer army makes more sense. But it is not a good thing here.

    Where do you live?