Misery Loves Equality

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New at Reason: Julian Sanchez dodges the left-wing push for a military draft.

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  1. Julian tells us that support for a draft by liberals was “initially” a gotcha debating point, but slides into claiming that significant numbers of liberals actually want such a bill to pass. I gotta say, it still looks like a debating tactic to me.

    Also, the use of polling info by income is a poor stand in for “sons and daughters who could be in harm’s way,” because even most poor people don’t have family members in the service.

  2. One of the many reasons I’ve never been able to take the “we must all share the burdens of citizenship equally” crowd seriously is that they tend to mysteriously fall silent when someone suggests, say, replacing the income tax with a poll tax. Apparently we’re all supposed to share equally, but when it comes time to write that check to the IRS, some are supposed to share more equally than others.

    Nor have I ever been able to take seriously those who suggest that military volunteers aren’t aware they might actually end up in a war. They’re *all* aware of it. Some of them are just gambling it won’t happen during the couple of years they’re in — and, like all gamblers, sometimes they get burned.

  3. Reinstating a military draft to put more people’s necks “at risk” isn’t likely to have as much of a deterrent effect against going to war as it would in the past for one reason – technology.

    The fact is that – all the squawking from the press notwithstanding – the casualty rate in Iraq in lower than in prior wars such as WW2, Korea, the Civil War, etc. As technology and machines take over more of the fighting, our soldiers necks – be they volunteers or conscripts – are statistically less at risk than they’ve been in the past.

    Piloless fighter planes, “smart” weapons, combat robots – going foward human soldiers necks will be increasingly less at risk and the consequent deterrent effect for going to war will also be less.

    Who knows, 100 years from now, the combat infantry may consist almost entirely of terminator-like cyborgs.

    It’s a lot easier to send machines to fight for you than it is to go yourself.

  4. A few remarks:

    1) I think Julian is far too easy on this
    supposedly “liberal” advocates of slavery.
    A related point – can we please reclaim
    the word liberal at least on the Reason
    website?

    2) Conscription (like jury duty) can be thought
    of as a really inefficient tax. It is
    inefficient because it allocates resources
    stupidly. People who could generate a lot
    of value in the private sector are forced
    to be in the military. It is much better
    to collect taxes in money rather than in
    kind, and then hire people to be in the
    military who want to be there. Note that
    this implies not just selection on income
    in alternative occupations, but also
    selection on patriotism, utility from
    playing with things that explode and so on.
    You want the patriotic guys who like to play
    with guns and things that explode to be in
    the military. Because they get utility from
    aspects of the job, they will do it for less,
    and because they like it, they will probably
    do it better.

    3) Part of the reason the military has invested
    so heavily in technology is precisely
    because in a volunteer army, it is forced to
    value casualties more highly than under
    conscription, because casualties affect its
    recruiting goals. I think it is a good idea
    for the military to care about casualties
    and therefore, putting aside moral concerns
    about slavery and economist concerns about
    inefficient taxes, I strongly oppose
    conscription.

    Jeff

  5. The proposal to reinstate the draft was made with the sole reason to turn people against Bush.
    As one soldier whose serice was voluntairy, I oppose the draft. A nation defended by conscripts does not deserve to stand.

  6. “Who knows, 100 years from now, the combat infantry may consist almost entirely of terminator-like cyborgs”

    Or perhaps warfare will resemble that of the classic 1990 film “Robot Jox”

  7. I read Matt’s site pretty frequently, and he has another reason for supporting the draft that isn’t mentioned in Julian’s article. Matt thinks that forcing young people into the government service will make them more communitarian and less individualistic. He supports conscription partly because he thinks it will make people less libertarian.

  8. “Matt thinks that forcing young people into the government service will make them more communitarian and less individualistic. He supports conscription partly because he thinks it will make people less libertarian.”

    Another excellent reason to oppose reinstating the draft.

  9. “can we please reclaim
    the word liberal…”

    We can try! But words only mean what people understand them to mean. If you call yourself a liberal and people think you mean you’re a Howard Dean supporter, will it help that you know what you mean?

  10. Joe,

    Julian then goes on to cite three liberal commentators’ support for the draft. So yeah, maybe he was to some degree fishing for material to cite a bill that he acknowledged was symbolic, but you’re in denial if you think liberal backing for a draft is a myth. I can cite two specific examples of my diehard liberal father and Ted Kennedy. I don’t know if this stand is prevalent among liberals, but I’m sure it’s there.

  11. Any way you slice it, the draft is still “involuntary servitude.” Our Constitution kind of frowns on that sort of thing.

    Used to, anyway.

  12. The Supreme Court’s ruling that the military draft doesn’t violate the 13th amendment dates from World War I, a period when people were being jailed for criticizing the government. I’d be interested in seeing a lawyer’s take on it, but my own reading of the Supreme Court’s decision is that they said, in effect, “The defendant claims we’re making him do something involuntarily. Preposterous. Lock him up.”

  13. It also seems unlikely that Congress intended the 13th Amendment to apply to conscription, given that it had authorized conscription during the Civil War, including during the time when the Amendment was being considered.

    Of course, the Civil War conscription wasn’t, strictly speaking, involuntary, since you could buy your way out of it. In effect, it amounted to a random poll tax, payable in cash or military service — pretty clearly not forbidden by the 13th amendment. Of course, that form of conscription was considered extraordinarily unfair, and was therefore replaced with a more egalitarian (but arguably less Constitutional) draft during WW1.

  14. fyodor,

    I’ll believe these liberal Congressmen actually want to reinstate the draft, and aren’t just playing political football with the concept, when a bill hits the floor.

  15. Joe-

    So, you’ll believe that the Congressional Democrats stand for something when they actually make progress toward accomplishing something?

    You may be waiting a while… 🙂

  16. Garym,
    That’s more or less my understanding. I think you’re referring to Schenk, but the case at hand was whether Schenk’s 1st Amendment freedoms allowed him to send letters to possible conscripts, urging them to dodge the draft, on the basis that the 13th Amendment outlaws conscription. I think the decision was authored by Holmes, who said just what you said in so many words, but since the 13th Amendment wasn’t directly at issue, I don’t think Holmes’s derisive comments amount to any authoritative ruling on the matter.

    I do know that Holmes went on to author another infamous decision, Buck v. Bell, which said that the government had the right to force retarded people to be sterilized, and he cited conscription as an analogous matter – since ordinary men are sometimes required to die for their country, forcing retarded people to be sterilized is only fair – “Three generations of imbecilles are enough,” he wrote.

    Did I mention that I really hate Oliver Wendall Holmes? Possibly as bad as Roger Taney.

  17. If the problem is a lack of volunteers, the solution is simple. Defined and unalterable enlistment terms and, if that doesn’t work, 100% tax exempt status on a 1:5 ratio. In other words, serve two years in the big green, get ten years of tax freedom. Any takers?

  18. The leftists are right! Conscription discourages war.

    If only there had been a draft in 1950, I would not have dared go to war in Korea. After all, conscription would have forced people like Charles Rangel to go into the army, and the public wouldn’t have stood for it.

    You realize I’m being sarcastic, don’t you?

  19. koppelman,

    FWIW, if Julian said liberals want a draft to help fight in Iraq, I missed it, and I still can’t see it with a cursory skim. Can you point me to it? Either way, rest assured, most folks probably aren’t getting that mischaracterization from his piece.

    As for libertarian fire departments, I don’t quite understand option B, unless it’s based on the notion that a fire at one house endangers others. If that’s the case, then sure, there’d likely be pressure of some sort to get with the program. But libertarians would still feel that trusting the free market would net a more just and efficient outcome than trusting government bureaucracy. If those two outcomes don’t look radically different from each other in this particular case, that probably explains why we hear no vociferous call to privatize fire departements and why it’s not a major issue for libertarians.

  20. sm: People with college degrees tend to be officers. The study you linked to is only for enlisted members. Also, this wouldn’t include someone who goes into the military straight out of high school and then goes to college. It’s only looking at education levels while the person is in service.

  21. I know the officer corps is comprised almost entirely of college grads. It is not a common career path, however, for someone who already has a 4-year college degree to enlist in the volunteer military. How many of those college grads aren’t from the academies, ROTC, or otherwise educated on the DoD’s dime?

    Xavier, you’re correct that those stats only show those in the service and don’t show the vets who go on to college afterward. It’s not really relevant to any argument I’m making, unless we’re looking at how the GI Bill is part of the pay package that makes enlistment so appealing.. to (surprise!) high school grads who have no other sensible way to pay for a 4-year college education.

    I don’t think there are too many kids from the $200,000+ annual income households the Bush administration calls “working families” in its tax cut calculations who opt to enlist straight out of high school in order to get tuition paid later on at a state school. It doesn’t make economic sense, does it?

  22. “No winning the war IS the final objective – to stop those who are (or are trying to ) interfere with our lives, property and FINANCIAL interests.’

    Gil, look at this sentence. Do you see the word “to” that you wrote immediately after the hyphen? That word means “for the purpose of.” As in, I am writing the comment TO clear up your sloppy thinking. If we are fighting a war for the purpose of something, winning the war is not the final objective. Get it?

  23. “If we are fighting a war for the purpose of something, winning the war is not the final objective. Get it?”

    War is about killing people and destroying property. Winning the war IS the final objective.
    When you kill all the people who are trying to kill you, that’s all you need to do.

  24. koppelman,

    From the graph you referenced, looks like military personnel are significantly more likely to have high school diplomas or their equivalent but much less likely to have college experience compared to civilians aged 18 to 44. I add emphasis because it seems like not a fair comparison for the college experience when you consider that military personnel (especially enlisted personnel) are likely to be much younger than the average in the civilian comparison group. And as Xavier points out, limiting the comparison to enlisted personnel skews the results as well, no matter how you try to spin it otherwise.

    Anyway, none of this really matters. Might as well make us all have to have stints as janitors to share their burden since their plight can be associated with unequal life choices.

  25. Really interesting piece. This is an indication of how far in the authoritarian direction today’s liberals have come-way too authoritarian to have been informed much by John Rawls. I can’t imagine the liberals of the 60’s, even as ignorant about economic liberty as they were, pushing for conscription, or rolling over for the Patriot Act for that matter.

    These contemporary liberals don’t complain to loudly about the war. No way. How many cited in Julian’s piece advocate bringing the troops home now? Instead, these folks want to use the war as an occasion to do some social engineering.

    Individual liberty? Ha! What’s an individual? These liberals are concerned with aggregate demographic numbers. Individuals are to be forced into battle to make the figures add up right.

    Note Max Sawicky’s rational:

    You could argue that it’s wrong to force people to serve against their will.

    Yeah, because you could argue that slavery is wrong.

    Once you’re in, you are no longer a free agent.

    Here he pretends to dispose of the ethical problem by simply stating something obvious-When you have your liberty taken away you are no longer free. Oh sure, why didn’t I see that, that justifies a draft?

    A draft is more democratic because it subjects everyone to these constraints on individual choice

    “Democratic” is just a “nice nice” word he uses to divert attention from the reality of a universal system of coercion. Equal subjugation! That makes it ok.

    The class bias in recruitment of volunteers could not be more obvious.

    But see, for Sawicky there is an end that justifies his means of twisted, non sequitur argument. When people make voluntary choices about military service, they do so in ways that those damn numbers don’t come out to his liking.

    When liberals look at society as groups instead of as individuals all manner of state imposition can be justified.

  26. Tax cuts should be based on military service, you can pay a bundle to the government and save your skin, or sign up to dodge bullets at the Commander-in-Chiefs whim with a tax cut thrown in for a thank you.

    I am a liberal who thinks that those who benefit most owe the most, so put up or pay up I say. We’d then find out whether conservatives value tax cuts or military most.

  27. Liberals who are informed by John Rawls seem more reasonable and less statist. Sometimes I attend a philosophy discussion group where there is devotee of Rawls. We usually meander into politics from whatever the topic is, and when we do, the John Rawls fan spends as much time arguing with the other liberals as he does with the libertarians and conservatives.

    John Rawl’s idea of a “distributive justice” justification for government intervention (with bounds) is effectively challenged from a libertarian pov by Robert Nozick in his very interesting Anarchy State and Utopia which won the 1975 National Book Award.

    s.m. koppelman:

    “And as for Sawicky’s argument that a draft would be less coercive than stepped-up voluntary recruting….

    A draft can’t be less coercive than stepped-up voluntary recruiting because a draft is coercion and voluntary recruiting is…voluntary.

    “Certainly a lot of low-rung employment is coercive.”

    The characterization of low-rung employment as “coercive” only makes sense in that we are all “coerced” into having to eat. A person, even in a very low employment situation, has a vastly greater latitude of choice then does a person who has been conscripted, which really is a coercive state. Also, note that in Julian’s passage that sm quotes, Julian qualifies with, “If that were right..”

  28. garym
    Wal Mart, Boeing, et al benefit most from tax cuts, property tax relief, special legislation. They DEMAND special treatment. The CEO”s who can’t compete against corner grocer without government subsidies owe the most due to all the consideration theyu recieve, but they are too sexy to step up to the plate.

  29. “Not so fast, Fyodor. The summary of the DoD report on “Population Representation in the Armed Services” that Julian points to slices and dices the population on race and ethnicity, age and education level.

    But on wealth or recruits’ families’ income, the dimension that advocates of conscription really care about? Not a peep.

    Is there something you read deeper in the DoD report that addresses this?”

    Obviously, race and education can somewhat indicate wealth.

    At one point leading up to Gulf War 2, a big deal was made in some quarters about blacks being over represented in the military. Blacks are overrepresented, but not in combat positions. The closer you get to the tip of the spear, the more you find white boys: pilots, special forces, etc.

  30. “Wal Mart, Boeing, et al benefit most from tax cuts, property tax relief, special legislation. They DEMAND special treatment.”

    There is no such thing as a company that pays taxes. When a company is taxed, it MUST pass the taxes on to employees, consumers, or investors. So when the government taxes a company, what is happening is the government is USING the company as a TAX COLLECTOR. When a company gets a “tax cut”, what that means is it doesn’t have to collect taxes, and consequently it gains a competative advantage over companies that have to collect taxes.

  31. “I am a liberal who thinks that those who benefit most owe the most, so put up or pay up I say. We’d then find out whether conservatives value tax cuts or military most.”

    “Benefit” from what and “owe” the most to who?

    One’s income level or financial success is not a gift from or service provided by the federal government or “society” or “community” or any other collectivist nonsense.

  32. notaporchdog: Then are you advocating that government employees and welfare recipients should bear the brunt of taxes? After all, they’re the ones who “benefit most” from “liberal” policies.

  33. koppelman,

    All that duck quacking has you confused. Choice is choice and coercion is coercion, it’s simple common sense and not a matter of dogma. That no two people face the exact same alternatives in life does not negate the fact that a choice freely chosen without fear of punishment is just that and nothing but that. And amidst all those ducks quacking in your head, you fail to address Julian’s claim (backed by a link) that the armed services are really not so radically different from the US at large. It’s a sad but firmly unalterable fact of reality that not everyone faces the same life choices; putting a gun to people’s heads to do what they’re told wouldn’t exactly help the matter.

    As for Sawicky’s argument that conscription would bring peace, Harry Truman has a post on this thread that addresses that logic, and I’m sure Lyndon Johnson could add a few words as well. Kinda reminds me of Nader 2000 voters claiming that a Bush victory would get people mad and move the country towards the left. Good luck!

  34. Not so fast, Fyodor. The summary of the DoD report on “Population Representation in the Armed Services” that Julian points to slices and dices the population on race and ethnicity, age and education level.

    But on wealth or recruits’ families’ income, the dimension that advocates of conscription really care about? Not a peep.

    Is there something you read deeper in the DoD report that addresses this?

  35. Threatening a draft is a pretty transparent tactic by those who oppose the war. Bringing in a big gun like Rawls (who people only quote when they think he agrees with them anyway) to argue against them is really overdoing it.

    PS Just because those who passed the 13th Amendment also allowed a draft doesn’t mean it can’t be interpreted to disallow the draft–many things the men who passed the 14th amendment found acceptable are now strictly against due process and equal protection.

  36. koppelman,

    Well okay then, you finally addressed it! I only skimmed it so I’ll take your word for it that it doesn’t address income level. But you haven’t pointed to anything that does, and if education level isn’t so far off from the norm, should we expect income level to be? And even if it is, doesn’t education level more closely address your claim of quasi-coercion based on differential life choices?

    Anyway, none of that addresses the rest of what I said, which formed the bulk of my argument and which I stand by.

  37. Liberals, write this down:

    The purpose of the military is not be be”fair” or to “encourage national service” or to “equalize the rich and the poor.”

    The purpose of the military is to fight and win wars, and a draft is the WRONG way to do that.

  38. The right to vote should be dependant upon voluntary military service. That way, those willing to pay for freedom get to decide what to do with it.

  39. My point being, by the way, that Julian’s link counters arguments of racial imbalance in the military when Mr. Sawicky wasn’t talking about racial imbalance. He was talking about class imbalance.

  40. On the antiwar/prodraft issue: I don’t think I’m being disingenuous here, since I say very clearly that one prime motivation among modern-liberals who’ve raised this is the (hoped for) deterrent effect. But both poking around the web and personal conversations have convinced me that there really is a second strain to the argument, and there really are liberals who think that if we’re going to have a war, then a draft is a more fair way to “share the burden.” Go, Google, I swear I’m not making it up.

  41. “The purpose of the military is to fight and win wars…”

    Yes, but we limit and shape the way the military operates so that it is consistent with our values. Ultimately, winning wars is not the final objective, but a means to the final objective – the protection and advancement of our interests and values. Allowing our armed forces to violate those ideals they are supposed to enforce is pointless.

  42. Matt has a new post about his anti-libertarian draft agenda.

    http://www.matthewyglesias.com/archives/week_2004_05_02.html#003231#more

  43. …and I’m not saying that’s incorrect, Julian. It’s the rhetorical shift where you assert that some of the liberal writers you cite are simply in favor of a military draft in order to fight this war, full stop, that doesn’t fly.

    By the way, what is the line between choice and coercion? Libertarianism tells me we should abolish fire departments and the taxes that pay for them.

    Which is correct: (a) that the market would create private firefighting companies and property owners would make a free choice of the provider and subscription model they want, or (b) that the market would create private firefighting companies and the threat of lawsuits against free riders would coerce property owners to pay one or another of them for services?

    Is either one of these an incorrect characterization of a libertarian model? Are they different in any meaningful way?

  44. Julian does a pretty good job of misrepresenting the point of Max Sawicky’s arguments. Max sure as heck doesn’t want a draft for this war. He doesn’t want this war. He wants more people to be outraged by this war, and he thinks that the threat of a draft without financial, career or educational exemptions would be one path to galvanizing that outrage.

    And as for Sawicky’s argument that a draft would be less coercive than stepped-up voluntary recruting, the Simpsons metaphor is a pretty lazy attempt to avoid addressing Mr. Sawicky’s argument head-on. Indeed, in the next paragraph Julian does show comprehension of the argument he’d just ridiculed with strawman hyperbole:

    Any time a wage is offered for a job, the people who take it will tend to be those who don’t expect to make a great deal more doing something else. But if those with fewer options are “coerced” into taking (what they regard as) the best option available, then all employment, not just military service, is coercive. If that were right, it might constitute an argument for redistribution to relieve this “economic duress.” But it could scarcely be an argument for trying to even out representation in the armed forces, for trying to ensure that those who would choose military service as their best option, all things considered, stay home while the unwilling are shipped off to basic training.

    If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like said duck, maybe there’s a duck around here somewhere. If his argument’s logic works and the observed market behavior (i.e. that poor people with few or no other prospects for steady work tend to be the overwhelming takers for dangerous, badly-paying jobs) seems to match, maybe he’s on to something and maybe, just maybe, you should tae a more critical look at your own preferred dogma rather than inflate the argument to absurd extremes to make it seem more outrageous than it is. The real world is neither a Pure Marxist determinist hell, nor Virginia Postrel’s paradise of infinite possibilities.

    Certainly a lot of low-rung employment is coercive. In a bad economy, virtually all jobs pay less. That’s the nature of the market. When a full-time job at Wal-Mart pays so far below a subsistence wage that you receive food stamps, three square meals a day in the infantry in a hostile, chaotic Iraq sounds better than it might otherwise. So too, when your alternative involves living in a cardboard box and rummaging through garbage for food, a gig cleaning dive-bar toilets so you can afford to share a one-room apartment with four other people looks pretty good. Is taking a dangerous or otherwise undesirable job grim coercion or is it the glorious free exercise of a “choice” not to live on a sewer grate? Maybe it’s either one, depending on which lens you see the world through.

    And anyway, what sense does it make to argue that a bunch of people implacably against the Iraq war also truly want to draft hundreds of thousands more citizens into it? Arguing for universal national service, as some of these folks do, may be equally anathema to the libertarian creed, but it isn’t the same thing as arguing sincerely for a massive military expansion.

  45. “Ultimately, winning wars is not the final objective, but a means to the final objective – the protection and advancement of our interests and values. ”

    No winning the war IS the final objective – to stop those who are (or are trying to ) interfere with our lives, property and FINANCIAL interests.

  46. Fyodor:

    Here we go:

    http://www.defenselink.mil/prhome/poprep2001/chapter3/chapter3_5.htm

    Per the DoD study Julian lazily pointed to as evidence that the military is representative of America, the high school graduation rates of Army, Navy and Marine Corps enlisted members do exceed the general population. However, “college experience” stands at 10, 5.7 and 3.5% respectively compared to 56.2% of the general 18-44 population. College experience is a low bar that encompasses anything from signing up for a single class at a community college and dropping out of it.

  47. “Which is correct: (a) that the market would create private firefighting companies and property owners would make a free choice of the provider and subscription model they want, or (b) that the market would create private firefighting companies and the threat of lawsuits against free riders would coerce property owners to pay one or another of them for services? ”

    How could there be a “free rider” on a private firefighting company? If your neighor doesn’t subscribe and his house catches on fire, the private fire dept simply won’t show up to put out his fire.

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