Recently 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 to serve."
Coupled with 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.
Unfortunately, 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:
A revived draft, including both males and females, should include three options 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.
Those who 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:
And libertarians 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.
Someone of 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.
Furthermore, 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.
Others argue 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 national service.
Yes, there 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:
Similarly, 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.
The pool 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 overtime.
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.
Ricks 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.
July 13, 2012