David R. Henderson  

How Economists Helped End the Draft

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This is the video of the talk I gave at Middle Tennessee State University Wednesday night. Thanks to Mike Hammock for doing a great job of recording and for inviting me. Mike has given me permission to post this video.

I note two mistakes:
1. Early in the talk, when I say that free-market economists were strongly against slavery, that's true, but I make it sound as if American economists were involved. Of course, it was British economists.
2. in the Q&A, I quoted Joe Biden's comment that Bill Clinton was "an unusually good liar." I realized later that the Senator who made that comment was Bob Kerrey.

If you want to see me sing, go to the 30:20 point.



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CATEGORIES: Labor Market , Regulation



COMMENTS (9 to date)
Ted Levy writes:

Your confusion was likely because Biden probably plagiarized Kerrey... ;-)

caltrek writes:

Hey, I've got an idea. Why don't we just not have any wars in the first place. How does that calculate out in terms of opportunity costs?

What, too idealistic for you?

Oh well.

The rich and powerful will oppose military adventurism. So they will be more opposed to pro-war policies. But, wait, they will work harder to avoid having their kids in the military.

Ya think?

What if they pursue both tracks? What if a substantial potion of the population pursues both tracks?

Hmmmm....

Doug writes:

Caltrek, your argument that we should have a draft because it discourages wars is like people that say clean needles should be prohibited because it encourages heroin use.

Technically yes, if you make the activity a lot more deadly people will avoid it more. But it certainly doesn't increase net human utility. Maybe we could ban seatbelts next so people wouldn't drive dangerously. How about adding strychtnine to every millionth sugar packet to discourage eating junk food.

caltrek writes:

My argument?

Excuse me. When did I argue that we should have a draft because it discourages wars?

I am against war, true.

I agree that if a draft is reimposed, many will try to make sure their kids don't get drawn up in it. True.

When did I then come to the conclusion that we should re-impose the draft? I did not.

Going to war isn't like deciding whether we should go to the park with the lake or the park with the ocean. It is a life or death decision. The more you asymetrically sanitize it, the less contact there is with that reality. To say that is not to jump to the conclusion that we ought to re-impose the draft.

Next argument/question please.

Mike in MD writes:

caltrek says, "Why don't we just not have any wars in the first place". How naive can one be?

Humans are violent creatures by nature. Have you ever watched 2-years olds playing in the sandbox with "limited resources", i.e., only one toy? Do they share? No...they fight over the toy until some adult makes them all play nicely together.

War is nothing more than conflict at the national level. Sure...it would be nice if humans all got along and behaved "like adults", but the reality is that national leaders are little different from 2-year olds, and there are no "adults" to make them play nicely together. UN you say? Ha! Imagine a committee of 2-year olds at the playground managing that situation. The UN is the same thing, but on a world scale.

Wars will no longer occcur when 2-year olds no longer fight over a toy in the sandbox, or until we all hold hands and sing kumbaya.

Conflicts between nations on this planet will become a thing of the past when we have a common external threat to our existance (i.e., when the Martians attack). Until then, we will always fight over limited resources.

caltrek writes:

@ Mike,

Oh gosh, now you just got me so depressed I really don't know what I'm going to do with myself.

Wait, there it is. You have got the answer. We all just need to hold our hands together and sing kumbaya. You even said so yourself.

...and if we don't...then your kids get to die in the next war. I know, I know, singing kumbaya would involve too many missed opportunity costs.

Oh well.

AS writes:

The idea that drafts will help stop military adventurism does raise an important point, however. The fact is that the people do not bear the full social cost of their decisions when favoring pro-war policies.

Doug says, "if you make the activity a lot more deadly people will avoid it more"

I was under the impression that this was the justification for the war on drugs.

Fralupo writes:

A problem with the belief that the draft will diminish war-mongering is that it didn't stop the major wars of the 20th century. How successful was conscription at stopping WWI? WWII? Korea? Vietnam?

If Europe relied on volunteers in 1914 instead of conscripts, would the war have been more or less likely? How about before every other war?

caltrek writes:

@ Fralupo,

Good point. However, I might argue that the draft did stop the war in Vietnam. It did not, however, avoid that war.

Let us go down the rest of the list:

WW I - imperialist powers fighting each other.

WW II - fascists as the enemy.

Korea - Communists as the enemy.

In the twenty first century we see the ascendancy of two ideologies both arguing that their camp is the best to ensure peace - democratic socialism and capitalism. Often, they co-exist in a democracy.

Democracies, it has been observed, do not wage war on each other. There is also the argument that contries that have McDonalds also do not wage war on each other. So things are changing.

Two year old mentalities are giving way to three year old mentalities. Gosh, maybe some day our leaders will make it to being five year olds.


"The fact is that the people do not bear the full social cost of their decisions when favoring pro-war policies."

Oh, let us not beat around the bush. It is not just "the people", it is "the people" who have the most to lose from missed opportunity costs of having to serve in the military. Free from that constraint, they can favor war without fear of their own having to pay the price. Especially in asymetrical situations where the enemy is perceived as not being able to strike back upon U.S. soil.

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