Economics and the Draft

I like economics. I find it always intellectually stimulating. I’d like to think it helps understand a little how some human affairs do work. I’d hope it sometimes gives insights on how human affairs should be managed. One area where it had an influence was the draft.

Not a lot of people know that economics and the arguments of economists played a part in end of the draft. Milton Friedman was a vocal opponent of the draft and had this exchange with the late General Westmoreland:

In his testimony before the commission, Mr. Westmoreland said he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. Mr. Friedman interrupted, “General, would you rather command an army of slaves?” Mr. Westmoreland replied, “I don’t like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves.” Mr. Friedman then retorted, “I don’t like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries. If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher.”

There’s more on the subject here.

I have opposed conscription both for it burden in taking talented people from valuable pursuits and because its an imposition on liberty. Now though I do wonder about the volunteer army making us less concerned about needless military adventures, and may have caused to go to war too lightly.

While Friedman’s volunteer army has fought the war in Iraq, Professor Friedman strongly opposed the Iraq war.


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