Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A day late for Memorial Day

Remembering the sacrifices of those who served will hopefully make us less likely to rush into unnecessary wars.

Another way to share the sacrifice is to spread the risk around.  I'm somewhat sympathetic to calls for a renewed draft as a way to make sure every class and social group is represented, but the military doesn't need that many people.  Below I'm copying a 2007 post from my old blog, on how in the absence of prior national service - either military or volunteer work - virtually anyone of any working age could be subject to a lottery for draft military service.  I'm not expecting it to happen, but it would be a fairer way to go about things, and likely have more peaceful results.

Making mandatory national service a choice

My idea for national service is to give young people a choice:

Alternative #1. Before they turn 25, begin serving for a shorter period of time than Alternative 2 would require. I don't know how long; it would depend on the need and could be somewhere between 12 to 24 months.


Alternative #2. Do no mandatory service before 25, but if the national need arises at any age before their retirement, based on a proclaimed national emergency like Bush's War on Terror, those who did not serve earlier and are chosen by lottery will be required to serve twice as long a time period as Alternative 1. Almost no one who failed to serve earlier would be exempt from the lottery.

That's the basic idea, although improvements are possible - you can adjust the incentives so that right number of people sign up for military versus nonmilitary national service, or sign up right away versus taking a chance on the lottery. I recognize that you probably can't make a worthwhile modern soldier out of someone for a useful period out of a total period of 12 months, but special support roles that require less training could be developed.

The key issue is that almost no one who skips the initial service gets out of the lottery. No, a sedentary 55 year-old won't be fighting door to door under this system, but he could very well help with paperwork in Baghdad or Kabul and take his chances along with everyone else. And no exemptions at all based on the person being more valuable doing whatever she happens to be doing currently when her number's called. This is a new social compact we're talking about, and economic efficiency arguments get trumped.

The economic efficiency of not fighting Bush's Iraq War, or ending it much sooner than will otherwise happen, is pretty obvious and a likely benefit if the general and older population had a much closer connection to people being sent involuntarily to Iraq.


very1silent said...

Why should anybody believe that the rules won't be changed to exempt the super-rich and their children as soon as a national emergency happens? That's who controls the national political discourse, and who makes the rules...

Anonymous said...

Uh oh Brian we agree on something.

I liked Rangel's bill and idea.

I'll add this for those interested.


Thanks for this post.

Celery Eater

Anonymous said...

Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd.

interesting post. I actually believe it is factually true that exempting the super rich would make the military effort stronger. Please see the Civil War. During the Civil War, those who did not want to fight could pay an opt out fee, which we calculated in class. If I recall correctly, the opt out fee was the equivalent, or could pay for, 10 cannons.

So Eli could recruit 10 people, regardless of income, in the interest of fairness of course. I would allow a rich person to opt out and take the 10 cannons.

Jim Eager said...

Why am I not at all surprised that Dip Bar favors allowing the wealthy to purchase exemption for their offspring?

What he fails to mention is that the first income tax enacted in the US was imposed in 1861 to pay for the Union's prosecution of the Civil War and was in fact a measure to address the very real need to raise revenue for the war effort by selling such exemptions.

Anonymous said...

That 55-year-old draftee you send to Kabul will likely never get another job again after his tour of duty is done. Has to be something in back of this plan to take care of little things like that.

Anonymous said...

"That 55-year-old draftee you send to Kabul will likely never get another job again after his tour of duty is done." Then he may have to re-enlist another two years of service either way its a fair lesson for the next generation on the effects of procrastination or gambling.

Celery Eater

Brian said...

very1 - this is all dancing on the head of a pin, because the idea's not going to happen, but perversion of justice is always a risk. The question is whether this idea makes things better or worse than status quo.

Jay - if we fight one fewer war a century because of this, then it'll more than pay for the artillery.

Celery - maybe there should be some kind of accommodation for people whose career's been disrupted. Still, the 55 y.o. probably isn't doing as dangerous a service as some 19 y.o. on the front line.

Anonymous said...

I'm not referring to procrastination, CE. I am referring to those who get caught in the draft after they are long past it due to the lack of clarity in the law Brian proposes. Remember, we don't write these laws, some tosser in Washington does it. If Brian's idea were to be implemented in the next few years with no exceptions as he proposes, those who never served (does this include those who registered for the draft and were fortunate, like me?) would suddenly be available for the draft again. Many who have low-paying jobs would be essentially retired with little or no financial security after their service as no company would bother hiring them.

Brian said...

Anon - two responses.

1. Maybe it should only apply prospectively, starting with those who turn 18 in the year following passage. Kind of unfair, but less unfair than status quo.

2. Maybe it should apply to everybody now, and war is hell.
Those who get to come back and worry about retirement are the lucky ones. And if we recognize that war is hell, maybe we'll be careful about getting into one.

Anonymous said...


I prefer option 2. I thought about "on January 1, 20??" start date for those who are 18, but that removes responsibility for war choices/consequences from a majority of the population. It would take an entire generation for "a much closer connection" to war to set in.

Option 2 would have to some provisions in it. Those who have served are exempt. Those 55 and over at enactment are exempt. 6-12 month warning/time to prepare before induction, are a few thoughts.

I understand we are not going to nail all the details here but this should move forward as a serious national discussion.

Celery Eater