by William L. Anderson: The
Violence Against Women Act, and the Creation of South Park Nation
There are many
enduring myths about government that the "elites" of our
society continue to push upon one, and one of them is that those
of us who are not "elites" have a duty to serve them —
in the name of our "social contract" to the state, of
course. Now, such demands (and they are demands, make no mistake
about it) always are couched in terms of "service" to
"our country," and anyone who might challenge such thinking
immediately is labeled as "selfish" or "unwilling
this demand that we engage in servitude to the state and those who
run it is the everlasting Progressive belief that government can
do things without there being an opportunity cost. (Indeed, the
only time I ever see Progressives invoke the doctrine of opportunity
cost is when someone suggests that tax rates be cut. Suddenly, we
hear something like, "This country cannot afford to
have a cut in taxes.")
For many years
until the spring of 1973, the USA had military conscription, and
I remember taking my draft physical in December 1972 just a little
more than a month before the signing of the Paris Peace Accords
ending most U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. When the draft
ended and I realized I would not be going to Vietnam or anywhere
else the U.S. Armed Forces would choose to send me, I was relieved,
not just because I was not going to die in a war, but also because
I had my life back again.
for the past four decades, Americans have been harangued by Progressives,
both conservative and liberal, that some sort of conscription, be
it military or "national service," was necessary for all
of the "right" reasons. The young must learn to "serve,"
and the latest salvo comes via (What else?) the New York Times
editorial page in which Thomas E. Ricks, a fellow at the Center
for a New American Security, calls for yet another state scheme
to wring forced labor from young people.
Like a typical
policy wonk in Washington, Ricks is full of wonderful ideas on how
this scheme will revitalize America and in his mind, the possibilities
for greatness have no end:
draft, including both males and females, should include three
for new conscripts coming out of high school. Some could choose
18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service
benefits, including free college tuition. These conscripts would
not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at
great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting
barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally
doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don't have to.
If they want to stay, they could move into the professional force
and receive weapons training, higher pay and better benefits.
don't want to serve in the army could perform civilian national
service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching
in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure,
or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar
benefits like tuition aid.
But what if
someone objects to being essentially kidnapped by state authorities
to do work at low pay levels? Ricks has a snappy answer:
who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help
Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no
Medicare, no subsidized college loans
and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government
can have it.
Rick's statist mentality actually thinks this is a good argument
against libertarianism when, in fact, it only exposes the underlying
ignorance he and his ilk have about government. Notice that he does
not exempt the "libertarian" from paying for things
like subsidized loans, mortgage guarantees, or Medicare. No, what
he is saying is that anyone who objects to the government's scheme
of minimum-wage slavery at age 18 will be forced to live another
form of slavery for the rest of his or her life.
the person who objects to being conscripted no doubt will face harassment
from the authorities who will remind that "ungrateful"
citizen at every turn that one really cannot live life apart from
the harassment and interference that is the hallmark of statist
America. However, Ricks not only demonstrates his utter contempt
for anyone who might object to state-sponsored brutality; he also
proves that he is economically illiterate, which seems to be a characteristic
of the Washington policy wonk.
A new draft
that maintains the size and the quality of the current all-volunteer
force, saves the government
moneythrough civilian national service and frees professional
soldiers from performing menial tasks would appeal to many constituencies.
that the numbers don't add up. With an average cohort of about
four million 18-year-olds annually, they say, there is simply
no place to put all these people. But the government could use
this cheap labor in new ways, doing jobs
that governments do in other countries but which have been deemed
too expensive in this one, like providing universal free day care
or delivering meals to elderly shut-ins. And if too many people
applied for the 18-month military program, then a lottery system
could be devised — the opposite of the 1970s-era system where
being selected was hardly desirable. The rest could perform nonmilitary
is no limit to what one can do with what essentially is slave labor.
One only can imagine the quality of these services and the scandals
that would break out as government officials would discover that
they could make these kids do personal chores for those people who
are politically-connected. But the possibility of scandal or plain-awful
"free" services does not deter Ricks from really getting
revved up. He continues:
some of the civilian service programs would help save the government
money: Taking food to an elderly shut-in might keep that person
from having to move into a nursing home. It would be fairly cheap
to house conscript soldiers on closed military bases. Housing
civilian service members would be more expensive, but imaginative
use of existing assets could save money. For example, V.A. hospitals
might have space.
of cheap labor available to the federal government would broadly
lower its current personnel costs and its pension obligations
— especially if the law told federal managers to use the civilian
service as much as possible, and wherever plausible. The government
could also make this cheap labor available to states and cities.
Imagine how many local parks could be cleaned and how much could
be saved if a few hundred New York City school custodians were
19, energetic and making $15,000 plus room and board, instead
of 50, tired and making $106,329, the
top base salary for the city's public school custodians, before
Like the typical
Beltway statist, Ricks has no concept of opportunity cost. (Come
to think of it, neither do the famous economics faculty members
at Princeton. Maybe Ricks can get a job there teaching economics.)
In his view, if the government "saves money," then somehow
the whole country experiences "savings." Individuals who
are bearing the real costs don't count; after all, their entire
existence is to serve the state.
paints the picture of energetic young people who anxiously would
await their turn to serve the nation when, in reality, conscription
of this kind would create what involuntary servitude always creates:
sullen, bitter people who do what they have to do in order to survive
another day of tyranny.
I do find it
interesting that the New York Times, the same newspaper that
constantly excoriates the Old South because it (like a number of
northern states) had chattel slavery, is so anxious to feature someone
who advocates that America's young people essentially be sold into
the "peculiar institution." Yet, like all Progressives,
the editors of the NYT and those that buy into the mentality of
Statism believe that all Americans have the duty to "serve"
the state. That is, except for their own sons and daughters who
are much too important to be conscripted into servitude.
L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him
mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland,
and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig
von Mises Institute. He
also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit