In his Freakonomics blog, Steven Levitt ponders the Bush misadministration’s idea of reinstituting the draft. Is it a good idea? Well … “First, it puts the ‘wrong’ people in the military — people who are either uninterested in a military life, not well equipped for one, or who put a very high value on doing something else.” True, but there’s also a powerful economic argument against it:
It would be even better if the government was required to pay fair wages to soldiers during war time — i.e., if combat pay was market-determined and soldiers could opt to leave whenever they wanted, like most jobs. If that were the case, the cost to the government would skyrocket and more accurately reflect the true costs of war, leading to a truer assessment of whether the benefits of military action outweigh the costs.
I’m a big fan of transparency, since I (perhaps naively) believe that part of the problem with free-market economics is that people try to use it selectively and to their advantage, not universally. For example, “let the market take care of it” only works when the market accounts for the whole system. In many instances (such calculating all the costs of oil, or the other costs of shopping at Wal-Mart, the other costs don’t show up on a gas sign or a price tag.
But back to the draft. I’m of the notion that a draft might actually help speed an end to the war. How? Well, right now the war is something that is conducted largely by other people, those who sign up to fight, and take the risks (death, physical and psychological maiming, etc.) so we don’t have to. In other words, it’s a hidden cost. But if you instituted a draft, and your sons and daughters (or you!) suddenly faced the prospect of being shot or blown to bits, wouldn’t that make the true costs of war a little more real?