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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Why we don't want the draft

Some in Congress are hand-wringing that we need to reinstitute the draft. Milton Friedman led the charge to end the last draft, and there are lots of good reasons to have an all-volunteer army. However, one concern with the all-volunteer army is that politicians are too quick to engage in military action because their constituents (or their children) do not face the possibility of having to be involved. The thinking is that if constituents just hold their feet to the fire, Congress will be less likely to vote in favor of military action. This seems like convoluted logic. My solution would be to fully internalize the cost of decisions to commit to military action by drafting all children of Congressmen. Problem solved.

Second, the reason we don't want a draft now is that we don't need it. Regardless of the doom and gloom reports of not having enough troops, there is a simple solution to the troop-level concerns: increase the quotas that the armed services are able to recruit (from volunteers) and retain (from those mustering out). People are turned away from recruiting centers every day because of the Clinton-era reductions in HOW MANY PEOPLE THE ARMY IS ABLE TO HAVE. In other words, the worries about not having enough troops, even if they are justified, are creations of the vary laws passed by Congress itself. Why does the Congress insist on a draft before all volunteers have been recruited? Is it because the Dems want to scare the soccer moms into thinking that Bush's decision to invade Iraq is going to cost them their precious babies through conscription? How sad and unneccesary.

Finally, we don't want a draft because no matter what the politicians do or don't do after a draft is in place, the real issue is what the generals do with and without a draft. My theory is that a draft reduces the price of labor, an input to the waging of war (along with capital such as cannon). As we know from production theory, when the relative price of an input drops, firms tend to use more of that input. Therefore, the draft reduces the price of labor which, in turn, changes the tactics that the commanding officers employ. Upshot: in the "same" conflict there may be more casualties incurred by a drafted army than an all-volunteer force. This is partly because volunteer soldiers who are lkilled through sloppy tactics are costly to replace while drafted soldiers, the so-called cannon-fodder, are easy to replace.

All major conflicts in the twentieth century were fought with drafted armies - especially World War I during which casualty counts were unfathomable. However, the U.S. Civil War was initially fought with two volunteer armies, the South instituted the draft in April 1862, the North in June 1863. In theory, it is possible to test the casualties of the North and South during these periods.

You guessed it - I am working on it. My original motivation was Charlie Rangel's comments from last year, but economic research moves slow. Now that the draft is back in the news, I wish I had the project further along so that I could strike while the iron is hot. However, I have most of the data I need to perform preliminary tests and if things work out there should be a working paper in a few weeks - depending on the arrival of the little one.

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