David R. Henderson  

Allen Wallis vs. David Henderson on Amnesty

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I was talking to a fellow academic economist today who is also a strong critic of military conscription. He had read my post in which I discussed my disagreement with the late W. Allen Wallis about amnesty for draft dodgers. He asked a question that might naturally occur to other readers of my post: Was Wallis a critic of the draft on narrow economic grounds alone or was he also a critic on moral grounds? I answered that it was the latter. I wrote about the depth of his opposition to the draft here and here.

Why, then, my friend asked, did Wallis think draft dodgers should not be granted amnesty? I told him that Wallis and I had discussed that. I called Wallis at his office from my office phone on the campus of the University of Rochester. Here, to the best of my memory, is our conversation over the phone in December 1976.

DRH: Hi, Allen. I'm calling because you're the most influential Republican I know and you're also a strong opponent of the draft. It looks as if Jimmy Carter will grant amnesty shortly after he takes office. I think it would be a coup if President Ford steals a march on Carter and does so before he leaves office. That would help the Republicans with young people and hopefully most other people would forget about it before the next election. [I was naive on this last point.]

Wallis: But you're assuming that I favor amnesty. I don't.

DRH: Why?

Wallis: Because those people who dodged the draft caused someone else to be drafted. So they're responsible in part for other innocent people being drafted.

DRH: I don't agree. The government was doing the drafting. It's the government that was responsible.

Wallis: But without their draft dodging, those other innocent people would not have been hurt.

DRH: True, but let me give you an analogy. You're driving along on the Thruway. [That was I-90, which was just south of Rochester.] An 18-wheeler crosses the median and is coming right at you. You know that if you don't dodge it, it will mow you down and kill you. You also know that if you do dodge it, it will mow down the guy in the car driving in the lane beside you and kill him. Are you responsible for his death? Should you purposely not dodge it because you're causing him to die?

Wallis [pausing and then chuckling]: I'm not sure. I'll think about it.

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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Dick White writes:

Given the loss of freedom as a consequence of my certain death from the oncoming truck, I am satisfied that I am morally justified to take the evasive action resulting in your death who is following behind my car.
Given the loss of freedom and possible, but not certain, death from the draft I don't believe the evasive course of action (draft dodging) is morally equivalent.
The ex ante behavior of the draft dodger in this case should not be excused by the ex post change in the law, in my opinion.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Dick White,
You have introduced two elements that distinguish the draft-dodging case from the truck-dodging case: (1) the fact that if you let yourself be drafted, you do not face certain death, and (2) the fact that draft dodging was illegal.
Question for you: are both of those changes important for your reaching your conclusion or is it mainly the first one?

Dick White writes:

I'm not following your complaint. I read your analogy as suggesting that an ex ante good faith action (swerving an auto lest one die or avoiding a perceived unjust law that restricts my liberty) is morally sound. Thus I understood your analogy to affirm that an ex post correction of the unjust law should reward the good faith ex ante action of the draft dodger with amnesty. That another dies because of the swerving auto or is conscripted to replace the draft dodger, is simply an accidental consequence (albeit tragic) of the original good faith actions and those consequences shouldn't penalize either dodger (truck or draft).

Now as to your observation (1): the draftee does not face certain death only a greater proximity to it. He does face a certain loss of liberty (and may wish to avoid likely increased proximity to harm). It's not clear to me what I've introduced to the original analogy. That is the state of nature for those actors.

As to (2) I do believe the analysis must be done contemporaneously with the act (draft dodging) when, of course, draft dodging was illegal.

As to retribution, i.e., continued loss of privileges one had before the "dodge', I would be lenient so that they could return and resume their lives here, akin to "documented aliens" (not literally but i think you get the idea).

David R. Henderson writes:

@Dick White,
I should have been more clear in my comment. I shouldn’t have said that you’re introducing two elements because, of course, you’re not. You’re simply pointing out two elements that are already in my setup of the analogy.
In any case, you’ve answered my question by specifying what for you is the key: the fact that draft-dodging was illegal. I actually think that was the key for Allen Wallis also. But because he always had a philosophical bent, he felt the need to justify his view beyond “It’s the law.” That’s why he went to the “someone else will be hurt if you break the law” justification. I think that’s part of why he chuckled: he saw the problem with that argument.

Dick White writes:

Amazing how you keep up with all these older blog comments and thank you for it.

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