Friday, September 29, 2017


People are finally catching on. It was the Department of Defense - and not Colin Kaepernick - who started politicizing the national anthem before football games. Simply put, the military needs bodies for war, and decided that a good way to advertise and recruit was to associate the U.S. military with patriotic anthem displays and the National Football League. So the United States military began paying the NFL for anthem rights, and for signing off on patriotic displays around game time.

Testosterone, big hits, and nationalism all wrapped into one simple message: the military is for tough guys and real patriots. Be all you can be. Be one of us. Sign up after the game.

The real interesting point in this evolving story line is that most Americans have no clue why the military has to go schlepping across the country, forking out millions in advertising campaigns in order to attract enough bodies to send into our next military conflict.

It's a real simple story. And it's built around free market ideology run amok, and a good deal of academic deception on the part of Milton Friedman.

Much of what's posted below is borrowed from an earlier post, where I discussed the roots of perpetual war. 

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 their college bound kids always found ways around having to serve. That it provided the war mongers with fresh bodies every year made the draft even less appealing to liberals. 

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

In this environment, policy makers decided to ask free market guru, and economist extraordinaire, Milton Friedman to look into privatizing the military. The idea was to wrap military service around personal preference since, you know, we should all be "free to choose" our life path. As part of his charge, Friedman was also asked to look at the anticipated budget costs for implementing an all volunteer military. He was told to determine how much money Congress would have to appropriate in order to entice our young men into the military (instead of drafting them). 

Simple enough, right? 

Not so fast. There was a problem, according to Milton Friedman. 

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. 

Then there was the issue of nationalism being perceived as something that's for sale.

If Friedman was going to look only at budget costs, an all volunteer "market-based" military was going to be expensive. 

So Milton Friedman came up with another plan. 

Rather than simply use anticipated budget costs - which he knew PR and pay incentives would increase significantly - Friedman insisted on using economic costs in his analysis. 

At the risk of oversimplification, using economic costs - instead of just real budget 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

At the same time, Friedman also argued that our nation would be much better off if people who actually needed the money - especially the poor - entered the military voluntarily. They would feel better about themselves, as it were. Best of all, since they were poor to begin with, chances are they weren't going to make much money in the market to begin with.

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. 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. Why? Because markets would be stronger and more efficient because more doctors, engineers, and lawyers were able to avoid the draft, and could get to the business of making money. 

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 the logical extension of our all volunteer military. 

Because politicians and the wealthy no longer have to worry about (1) their relatives being drafted, (2) demonstrations on college campuses, or (3) a backlash at the polls, they and the war mongers in America have become unbridled when it comes to conflict and war. And why not? It's not like it's their kids that have to go and fight.

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

While our military budgets have soared, over the past decade, less than 1 percent of the American population has been on active military duty. This compares 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.

The result of all of this? War in perpetuity is fast becoming our reality because, in many ways, it doesn't really affect us. We've been at war in Afghanistan since 2001 (counting the "War on Terror") and had a military presence/war in Iraq since 2003. 

Worse, with the U.S. military forced to canvass the nation for recruits, the Department of Defense is now engaging in pay to play patriotism. Paying for anthem rights and "patriotic" displays make this clear. 

As the Department of Defense searches for more and more creative ways to inject themselves into the lives of our youth, the NFL became just one more brand to adopt. The national anthem was their tool of choice. 

Let me close with this. Colin Kaepernick didn't politicize the national anthem. The U.S. military did. And they did it because Milton Friedman helped put a price on both service, and patriotism. 

- Mark 

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). 

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