David R. Henderson  

End Draft Registration

Betting Rules... It takes a regime change...
Many women's rights advocates hail the Department's decision as a step toward equality. In light of the policy change, many have also called for ending the exclusion of women from the selective service. In 1981, the Supreme Court ruled that because women were excluded from combat roles, they could not be compelled to register for selective service. We agree that now is the perfect opportunity to radically overhaul the system. But rather than risk subjecting women to the indignity of conscription in the name of equality, we should eliminate the selective service system for all in the name of freedom.
This is the second paragraph of David R. Henderson and Chad W. Seagren, "Time to End Draft Registration," Defining Ideas, February 10, 2016.

And my favorite paragraph:

Women's advocates who favor opening selective service for women are correct that doing so will result in more "equality" between the sexes. However, this is equality of oppression. It is as if, rather than argue for the total elimination of slavery in the name of freedom and equality, nineteenth-century abolitionists advocated extending slavery to whites. There is an alternative that serves both equality and freedom: end the selective service system altogether.

Coincidentally, I was in New York yesterday and scheduled to go on the Wall Street Journal's "Opinion Journal" show with Mary Kissel. So that's what we talked about. It's here from 6:56 to 9:35.

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CATEGORIES: Labor Market , Regulation

COMMENTS (8 to date)
John writes:

Just because WWII was a long time ago doesn't mean another major war can't happen. Relative to our current situation of continuing draft registration but never calling people up except in emergencies, what advantages does this policy have? It seems analogous to not supplying a large building with any fire extinguishers in order to cut costs. Sure, fires are less common than they once were, but the cost benefit analysis still holds up.

If Rome can fall, America can fall.


Jon Murphy writes:

Great article! I love the distinction you draw between "good" equality (being equal in freedom) and "bad" equality (being equal in oppression).

Kevin writes:

Eliminating the draft is a good idea.

However, allowing women in combat roles is going to result in men being killed so the whole conversation about these things continues to ignore the basic empiric reality, women are not equal to men in combat so allowing them into these roles is delusional and dangerous for men. I would not advise my sons serving knowing there is an increased chance they will die because someone favors equality over their lives.

Sieben writes:


Yes, if we were all training really hard then men would always come out ahead of women. But this is not what actually happens. Fitness standards for men are very low, and a woman who works hard can definitely surpass the top .1% of men. If someone is objectively combat-ready, I don't see why their gender should change anything.

I would not advise my sons serving knowing there is an increased chance they will die because someone favors equality over their lives.
But you could use the same argument against anything that doesn't maximize troop safety. Lack of titanium helmets, refusal to conscript professional athletes serve in the military, etc.
@Sieben writes:

Probably no woman who works hard can pass the top .1% of men. Maybe the 0.000001% of women could pass the .1% of men? Thats a wierd way to make policy decisions. Now, if you had said a woman who works really hard can pass the top 10% of men or 25% of men, that is much more likely. I think you are vastly underestimating the biological differences between men and woman in physical strength, stamina, etc.

There are many other reasons that men and women are not interchangeable units besides physical fitness. Troop dynamics etc.

The data strongly suggests average women are not ever combat ready compared to average men. Most the standards in the military have been reduced dramatically anticipating this event so when we say if they can pass the tests we are talking about tests 90% of men now can pass trivially and 10% of women can pass with training - the dilution of our fighting force in general.

Your final point is a good one, except that the penalty falls disproportionately on men. Everyone suffers if they have bad helmets, only men suffer if woman are in their combat unit.

Mark writes:

On grounds of fairness, one might argue that either no draft at all or draft for both men and women is preferable to drafting just one gender. I would dare say, though, that there is also a utilitarian argument for 'equality of oppression:' that the surest way to end this form of oppression is to subject women to it.

Society is generally more tolerant of death or injury to its men than its women; expanding the draft to women is likely the best way to motivate people to end the draft. And personally, as a male, I see no reason not to support expanding the draft to include women if it will increase the likelihood that gender activists will actually work to rid us of the draft for their own self-interest.

"If Rome can fall, America can fall."
Did Rome abolish conscription before it fell?

Postlibertarian writes:

There is no reason to have people register for a draft. We have an entirely volunteer army of professional fighters. In WW2 it may have been practical to get 18 year olds and toss them in basic training for 6 weeks to make them combat ready, but today that would be a terrible policy, reflective of no understanding of modern combat.

The most recent draft registration was instituted by Carter in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. At the time, people thought it might be the next Vietnam. But now, over 35 years later, I think we can rest assured the Soviets won't take over Afghanistan.

If there really was an existential threat that appeared, we could always re-institute the selective service, but there's no reason to have it now, because we have 0 infrastructure to take in and train conscripts on a wide scale anyway. We would literally have to spend 6 months setting up the infrastructure, by which time we could reinstitute the selective service to start drafting people a year on. Right now, with a draft simply not possible, it's a clear waste of a few hundred million dollars a year.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

If there is an "existential threat" to the US, we need nuclear warheads, not random people drafted into the military.

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