The Draft: Charles Rangel, Milton Friedman, and William Meckling

Charles Rangel appeared on Face the Nation just three days after the unfortunate passing of Milton Friedman and advocated the reinstatement of the military draft:

WASHINGTON (AP) – Americans would have to sign up for a new military draft after turning 18 if the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has his way. New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel said Sunday he sees his idea as a way to deter politicians from launching wars. He believes a draft would bolster U.S. troop levels that are currently insufficient to cover potential future action in Iran, North Korea and Iraq. “There’s no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft, and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm’s way,” Rangel said. Rangel, a veteran of the Korean War who has unsuccessfully sponsored legislation on conscription in the past, said he will propose a measure early next year. In 2003, he proposed a draft covering people age 18 to 26. This year, he offered a plan to mandate military service for men and women between age 18 and 42. It went nowhere in the Republican-led Congress. Democrats will control the House and Senate come January because of their victories in the November 7 mid-term election. At a time when some lawmakers are urging the military to send more troops to Iraq, “I don’t see how anyone can support the war and not support the draft,” said Rangel. He also proposed a draft in January 2003, before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

We could only wish that Milton Friedman could have renewed his infamous debate with General William Westmoreland as recalled by David Henderson:

Of course, Meckling wasn’t the only hero. Milton Friedman was very persuasive. One of Meckling’s favorite stories, which his widow, Becky, recalled in a recent interview, was of an exchange between Mr. Friedman and General William Westmoreland, then commander of all U.S. troops in Vietnam. 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.”

Look – I have tremendous represent for Charles Rangel as I understand his point. I guess Rangel might have coolly fired back that we pay our soldiers, but this is why I linked to David Henderson’s tribute to William Meckling:

Bill Meckling didn’t think that was right, and not just because the Vietnam War was so reckless. He had been drafted into the army in World War II and witnessed the government’s incredibly wasteful use of manpower when it could pay below-market wages. He tucked that lesson away and would use it 25 years later. Meckling went on to become an economist. In 1962 he was named the first dean of the University of Rochester’s new business school, where he continued until 1983. Meanwhile, a 31-year-old economist named Martin Anderson joined Richard Nixon’s campaign for president in 1967. One of Mr. Anderson’s main goals was to persuade Nixon to end the draft, and he wrote the antidraft campaign speech that Nixon gave in 1968. Mr. Anderson then worked, as one of the new president’s advisers, to end the draft. He helped put together the President’s Commission on an All-Volunteer Force, whose 15 members included 2 former generals; 3 economists (Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, and W. Allen Wallis); 2 civil rights leaders; 1 student; and some businessmen and university presidents. It was chaired by Thomas Gates, who had been secretary of defense under President Eisenhower. When the commission was created, in 1969, the members were not unanimous on ending the draft. In his recent coauthored book, Two Lucky People, Mr. Friedman writes that 5 of the 15 commissioners – including himself, Mr. Greenspan, and Mr. Wallis – were against the draft to begin with. Five members were undecided, and 5 were prodraft. Yet when the commission’s report came out less than a year later and became a paperback book, all 15 members favored ending the draft. What happened in between? That’s where Bill Meckling comes in.

Henderson continues with how the minority on the committee persuaded the rest of the committee to support its advocacy of ending the draft. Should we reinstate the draft given the apparent need to encourage more soldiers to join the military? I’m not sure which side I agree with but I do fear that budget cutting politicians would be all too tempted to use the draft to pay below market wages – even as I doubt that is not the intent of Charles Rangel.

Update: Richard Posner poses a possible rebuttal to Dr. Friedman:

The smaller the armed forces and the less risk of death or serious injury in military service, the more efficient a volunteer army is relative to a conscript one. These conditions are not satisfied in a general war in which a significant fraction of the young adult population is needed for the proper conduct of the war and the risk of death or serious injury is substantial – the situation in World War II. For then the government’s heavy demand for military labor, coupled with the high cost of military service to soldiers at significant risk, would drive the market wage rate for such service through the roof. Very heavy taxes would be required to defray the expense of a volunteer army in these circumstances and those taxes would have misallocative effects that might well exceed the misallocative effects of conscription.

Brad DeLong counters:

Let me channel Uncle Milton on one point: replacing a volunteer army with conscription does not get around the “very heavy taxes” with their enormous “misallocative effects” needed to man a wartime army. It simply loads those taxes onto a small group: young adult men (and these days women). It leaves the rest of us scot-free. But it is a redistribution away from the draftees – not an improvement in efficiency.

I’m listening to CNN discuss this issue in terms of the enormous cost of returning to a draft. It’s good to hear costs being discussed in terms beyond those that appear in the DoD budget.