Wednesday, August 19, 2015


It was the late 1960s. Economist Milton Friedman was contracted to study the feasibility of an all-volunteer military. The draft was under attack. Liberals hated it because the wealthy and college bound found ways around having to serve. That it provided the war mongers with fresh bodies every year made it even less appealing. 

Conservatives didn't like it because it forced them to look for deferments. Worse, it had become a rallying point for the hated anti-Vietnam war protesters. 

In this environment, Milton Friedman was asked to look at anticipated budget costs for a volunteer military. He was told to determine the amount of money Congress would have to appropriate in order to entice our young men into the military. 

However, there was a problem. Friedman didn't want to use annual budget costs because he understood that PR and recruiting campaigns were much more expensive than simply drafting people. He also understood that the military would have to provide more incentives, more benefits, and more pay over time to induce people to enlist in an all-volunteer military. 

If Friedman was going to look only at budget costs, an all volunteer "market-based" military was going to be expensive. So he came up with another plan. 

Rather than simply use anticipated budget costs, with PR and pay incentives included, Friedman insisted on using economic costs in his analysis. At the risk of oversimplification, using economic costs allowed Friedman to calculate how much each drafted soldier lost in wages because they were not employed as, say, a doctor or a lawyer in the private sector.

Including how much a future medical doctor or lawyer might lose over their lifetime, because they were drafted and killed in battle, proved invaluable to Friedman. It allowed him to argue that the U.S. economy would be less efficient and much weaker in the future if we continued with the draft. 

Conversely, Friedman was also able to argue that our nation would be much better off if people who actually needed the money entered the military voluntarily. They would feel better about themselves. 

It didn't matter to Milton Friedman that race, ethnicity, and poverty play a big role in pushing kids to "volunteer" for the military. In Friedman's world, people with few choices in life don't have room to be picky. 

Focusing on economic costs also helped Friedman's larger cause - creating a market-based society built around people making rational economic decisions because of anticipated monetary gain. If Tyrone and Jose were the ones signing up to defend the empire it was because they were rational economic actors. 

Or, as the doctors and lawyers who avoided the military and went to college might understand, homo economicus would sustain Pax Americana

Best of all, as Friedman would argue in front of the Gates Commission (which was studying the issue at the time), the U.S. would no longer have to worry about “the output of the civilian economy” declining because of the "economic costs" associated with the draft. 

The draft was eliminated in 1973. America has had an all volunteer military since then.

There's more, but you get the point. The move to an all volunteer military was the first step in a rational, market-based, approach to war. The rise of private mercenary armies and outsourcing - or the privatization of war - is a logical extension of our all volunteer military. 

Because they no longer have to worry about their relatives being drafted, demonstrations on college campuses, or even a backlash at the polls the war mongers in America have become unbridled. At the same time, the younger chicken hawks of our world can now avoid pesky questions tied to draft dodging (because it's no longer relevant), while they conveniently push for the next war of the day. 

And why not? It's not like their kids have to go.

But here's another point many don't stop to think about.

Over the past decade, less than 1 percent of the American population has been on active military duty, compared with almost 9 percent during WWII. As we become less connected to the military we become less informed about the actual human costs of war. Over time we have become less informed and even cavalier about war because the people who fight them aren't part of our lives.

War in perpetuity is no longer a threat with a volunteer military and the privatization of war. It's fast becoming our reality. 

For those of you interested in reading more, check out Bernard Rostker's, I Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Force (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2006). 

- Mark

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