Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bush and the Draft

In the last election-cycle, we heard a lot from Democrats about how George W. Bush had a secret plan to address waning recrtuitment numbers by re-instituting the military draft after the election. John Kerry alluded to it. Charles Rangel guaranteed it. Ted Kennedy suggested it was likely.

While recruiting numbers remain low and manpower requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan remain high, we are now eight months into Bush's second term and the only folks who have placed a neo-draft plan on the table are Fritz Hollings and my Congressman, Democrat Charles Rangel.

Despite the objections of Secretary Rumsfeld and the JCS, Democrats have been beating the draft drum for a long time in order to score political points. Of course, they hope that the American public has forgotten all about the reasons why we did away with the draft in the first place. But by way of Virginia Postrel, The Economics Journal takes us back to the heady days of 1966-67 when it seemed like anything, even putting an end to the draft, was possible. And as a consequence, learn why the return of a draft is unlikely:

One of the first empirical studies of the economics of the draft and of ending the draft was done by Walter Oi (1967a, 1967b), an economics professor then at the University of Washington and later at the University of Rochester’s Graduate School of Management. In his study published in the Sol Tax volume (Oi 1967b), Oi distinguished clearly between the budgetary cost of military manpower and the economic cost. Oi granted the obvious, that a military of given size could be obtained with a lower budgetary cost if the government used the threat of force to get people to join--that is, used the draft. But, he noted, the hidden cost of this was the loss of well-being among draftees and draft-induced volunteers. Using some empirical methods that were sophisticated for their day, Oi estimated the loss to draftees and draft-induced volunteers and found it quite high--between $826 million and $1.134 billion. While this number might seem low today, Oi’s data were in mid-1960s dollars. Inflation-adjusted to 2005, the losses would be $4.8 billion to $6.6 billion.

Additionally, it's rather instructive to learn how the young Rumsfeld and Kennedy felt about the issue during the 1960s.

In December 1966, various prominent and less-prominent academics, politicians, and activists were invited to a four-day conference at the University of Chicago. Papers were commissioned and the people who wrote them gave summaries, after which the discussion was open to all. Fortunately, the discussion was transcribed. The papers and discussions appear in the Sol Tax volume referenced earlier, which came out the following year. The invitees included two young anti-draft Congressmen, Robert Kastenmeier (D-Wisconsin) and Donald Rumsfeld (R-Illinois), and one pro-draft Senator, Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts).

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